Predicting Predation through Prey Ontogeny Using Size-Dependent Functional Response Models
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The functional response is a critical link between consumer and resource dynamics, describing how a consumer's feeding rate varies with prey density. Functional response models often assume homogenous prey size and size-independent feeding rates. However, variation in prey size due to ontogeny and competition is ubiquitous, and predation rates are often size dependent. Thus, functional responses that ignore prey size may not effectively predict predation rates through ontogeny or in heterogeneous populations. Here, we use short-term response-surface experiments and statistical modeling to develop and test prey size-dependent functional responses for water bugs and dragonfly larvae feeding on red-eyed treefrog tadpoles. We then extend these models through simulations to predict mortality through time for growing prey. Both conventional and size-dependent functional response models predicted average overall mortality in short-term mixed-cohort experiments, but only the size-dependent models accurately captured how mortality was spread across sizes. As a result, simulations that extrapolated these results through prey ontogeny showed that differences in size-specific mortality are compounded as prey grow, causing predictions from conventional and size-dependent functional response models to diverge dramatically through time. Our results highlight the importance of incorporating prey size when modeling consumer-prey dynamics in size-structured, growing prey populations.
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