Secondary predation: quantification of food chain errors in an aphid–spider–carabid system using monoclonal antibodies


W. O. C. Symondson. Fax: 44-29-20874305;


‘Secondary predation’ occurs when one predator feeds on a second predator, which has in turn eaten a target prey. Detection of prey remains within predators using monoclonal antibodies cannot distinguish between primary and secondary predation, potentially leading to quantitative and qualitative food chain errors. We report the first fully replicated experiments to measure secondary predation effects, using an aphid–spider–carabid system. Aphids, Sitobion avenae, were fed to spiders, Lepthyphantes tenuis, which were allowed to digest their prey for a range of time intervals. The spiders were then fed to carabids, Poecilus (=Pterostichus) cupreus, which were again allowed to digest their prey for set periods. The anti-aphid monoclonal antibody used to identify S. avenae remains in P. cupreus was one that detected an epitope that increased in availability over the first few hours of digestion, amplifying the signal, extending detection periods and thus increasing the chances of detecting secondary predation. Despite this, and the fact that spiders are known to digest their prey more slowly than many other predators, detection of secondary predation was only possible if the carabids were killed immediately after consuming at least two spiders which were, in turn, eaten immediately after consuming aphids. As this scenario is unlikely to occur frequently in the field it was concluded that secondary predation is unlikely to be a serious source of error during field studies.