Implications of flexible foraging for interspecific interactions: lessons from simple models


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1. Some types of flexible foraging behaviours were incorporated into ecological thought in the 1960s, but the population dynamical consequences of such behaviours are still poorly understood.

2. Flexible foraging-related traits can be classified as shifts in general and specific foraging effort, and shifts in general and specific defense.

3. Many flexible foraging behaviours suggested by theory have received very little empirical attention, and empirical techniques used to compare the magnitudes of behavioural and non-behavioural responses to predation are likely to have overestimated the behavioural components.

4. Adaptively flexible foraging in theory causes significant changes in the forms of consumer functional responses and generates a variety of indirect interactions. These can alter fundamental ecological processes, such as co-existence of competitors, and top-down or bottom-up effects in food webs.

5. Many aspects of flexible foraging are still largely unknown, including the issues of how to represent the dynamics of such phenotypically plastic traits, how flexible traits in multiple species interact, what types of adaptive movements occur in metacommunities, and how adaptive behaviours influence evolutionary change.

6. Population dynamics in large food webs may be less dependent on behavioural flexibility than in small webs because species replacement may preempt some potential types of behavioural change within species.