Size-density scaling in protists and the links between consumer–resource interaction parameters



  1. Recent work indicates that the interaction between body-size-dependent demographic processes can generate macroecological patterns such as the scaling of population density with body size. In this study, we evaluate this possibility for grazing protists and also test whether demographic parameters in these models are correlated after controlling for body size.
  2. We compiled data on the body-size dependence of consumer–resource interactions and population density for heterotrophic protists grazing algae in laboratory studies. We then used nested dynamic models to predict both the height and slope of the scaling relationship between population density and body size for these protists. We also controlled for consumer size and assessed links between model parameters. Finally, we used the models and the parameter estimates to assess the individual- and population-level dependence of resource use on body-size and prey-size selection.
  3. The predicted size-density scaling for all models matched closely to the observed scaling, and the simplest model was sufficient to predict the pattern. Variation around the mean size-density scaling relationship may be generated by variation in prey productivity and area of capture, but residuals are relatively insensitive to variation in prey size selection. After controlling for body size, many consumer–resource interaction parameters were correlated, and a positive correlation between residual prey size selection and conversion efficiency neutralizes the apparent fitness advantage of taking large prey.
  4. Our results indicate that widespread community-level patterns can be explained with simple population models that apply consistently across a range of sizes. They also indicate that the parameter space governing the dynamics and the steady states in these systems is structured such that some parts of the parameter space are unlikely to represent real systems. Finally, predator–prey size ratios represent a kind of conundrum, because they are widely observed but apparently have little influence on population size and fitness, at least at this level of organization.