We studied the effect of arena size on estimates of prey mortality rate in predation experiments. In a laboratory experiment involving two of the dominating benthic species in the northern Baltic Sea, the predacious isopod Saduria entomon, and its main prey, the amphipod Monoporeia affinis, the prey mortality rate increased with container radius. The densities of both predator and prey close to the wall increased with container size. We hypothesised that this scale-dependent coaggregation of predator and prey caused the mortality rates to increase with arena size. We tested the hypothesis with the help of a simple model, by calculating the expected number of prey eaten in containers of different size from experimental data on the distributions of predator and prey within the arenas. A significant relationship between expected and observed numbers eaten supported our hypothesis. As the aggregative response was most pronounced in large arenas, this leads to the counterintuitive conclusion that large containers produced more biased estimates of morality rates than small containers.
To further study the effects of coaggregation we explored a general simulation model where both predator and prey preferred the habitat close to the arena wall. The model predicted a humpshaped relationship between encounter rate and arena size. This suggests that when predators and prey show a scale-dependent tendency to aggregate along arena walls, the most accurate estimates of predation rates may be obtained with very small or very large arenas.