- 1Functional response models (e.g. Holling's disc equation) that do not take the spatial distributions of prey and predators into account are likely to produce biased estimates of predation rates.
- 2To investigate the consequences of ignoring prey distribution and predator aggregation, a general analytical model of a predator population occupying a patchy environment with a single species of prey is developed.
- 3The model includes the density and the spatial distribution of the prey population, the aggregative response of the predators and their mutual interference.
- 4The model provides explicit solutions to a number of scenarios that can be independently combined: the prey has an even, random or clumped distribution, and the predators show a convex, sigmoid, linear or no aggregative response.
- 5The model is parameterized with data from an acarine predator–prey system consisting of Phytoseiulus persimis and Tetranychus urticae inhabiting greenhouse cucumbers.
- 6The model fits empirical data quite well and much better than if prey and predators were assumed to be evenly distributed among patches, or if the predators were distributed independently of the prey.
- 7The analyses show that if the predators do not show an aggregative response it will always be an advantage to the prey to adopt a patchy distribution. On the other hand, if the predators are capable of responding to the distribution of prey, then it will be an advantage to the prey to be evenly distributed when its density is low and switch to a more patchy distribution when its density increases. The effect of mutual interference is negligible unless predator density is very high.
- 8The model shows that prey patchiness and predator aggregation in combination can change the functional response at the population level from type II to type III, indicating that these factors may contribute to stabilization of predator–prey dynamics.