Foraging and vulnerability traits modify predator–prey body mass allometry: freshwater macroinvertebrates as a case study
- Predation is often size selective, but the role of other traits of the prey and predators in their interactions is little known. This hinders our understanding of the causal links between trophic interactions and the structure of animal communities. Better knowledge of trophic traits underlying predator–prey interactions is also needed to improve models attempting to predict food web structure and dynamics from known species traits.
- We carried out laboratory experiments with common freshwater macroinvertebrate predators (diving beetles, dragonfly and damselfly larvae and water bugs) and their prey to assess how body size and traits related to foraging (microhabitat use, feeding mode and foraging mode) and to prey vulnerability (microhabitat use, activity and escape behaviour) affect predation strength.
- The underlying predator–prey body mass allometry characterizing mean prey size and total predation pressure was modified by feeding mode of the predators (suctorial or chewing). Suctorial predators fed upon larger prey and had ˜3 times higher mass-specific predation rate than chewing predators of the same size and may thus have stronger effect on prey abundance.
- Strength of individual trophic links, measured as mortality of the focal prey caused by the focal predator, was determined jointly by the predator and prey body mass and their foraging and vulnerability traits. In addition to the feeding mode, interactions between prey escape behaviour (slow or fast), prey activity (sedentary or active) and predator foraging mode (searching or ambush) strongly affected prey mortality. Searching predators was ineffective in capturing fast-escape prey in comparison with the remaining predator–prey combinations, while ambush predators caused higher mortality than searching predators and the difference was larger in active prey.
- Our results imply that the inclusion of the commonly available qualitative data on foraging traits of predators and vulnerability traits of prey could substantially increase biological realism of food web descriptions.