Temperature dependence of trophic interactions are driven by asymmetry of species responses and foraging strategy

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Summary

  1. Environmental temperature has systematic effects on rates of species interactions, primarily through its influence on organismal physiology.
  2. We present a mechanistic model for the thermal response of consumer–resource interactions. We focus on how temperature affects species interactions via key traits – body velocity, detection distance, search rate and handling time – that underlie per capita consumption rate. The model is general because it applies to all foraging strategies: active-capture (both consumer and resource body velocity are important), sit-and-wait (resource velocity dominates) and grazing (consumer velocity dominates).
  3. The model predicts that temperature influences consumer–resource interactions primarily through its effects on body velocity (either of the consumer, resource or both), which determines how often consumers and resources encounter each other, and that asymmetries in the thermal responses of interacting species can introduce qualitative, not just quantitative, changes in consumer–resource dynamics. We illustrate this by showing how asymmetries in thermal responses determine equilibrium population densities in interacting consumer–resource pairs.
  4. We test for the existence of asymmetries in consumer–resource thermal responses by analysing an extensive database on thermal response curves of ecological traits for 309 species spanning 15 orders of magnitude in body size from terrestrial, marine and freshwater habitats. We find that asymmetries in consumer–resource thermal responses are likely to be a common occurrence.
  5. Overall, our study reveals the importance of asymmetric thermal responses in consumer–resource dynamics. In particular, we identify three general types of asymmetries: (i) different levels of performance of the response, (ii) different rates of response (e.g. activation energies) and (iii) different peak or optimal temperatures. Such asymmetries should occur more frequently as the climate changes and species' geographical distributions and phenologies are altered, such that previously noninteracting species come into contact.
  6. By using characteristics of trophic interactions that are often well known, such as body size, foraging strategy, thermy and environmental temperature, our framework should allow more accurate predictions about the thermal dependence of consumer–resource interactions. Ultimately, integration of our theory into models of food web and ecosystem dynamics should be useful in understanding how natural systems will respond to current and future temperature change.

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