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Keywords:

  • aggregation;
  • conservation biological control;
  • displacement;
  • ELISA;
  • patch;
  • prey refuge

Abstract

Spatially explicit predator–prey interactions can alter the predatory potential of natural enemies augmented through conservation biological control. To test hypotheses regarding such interactions and predatory efficiency, we used a combination of molecular techniques and mark–release–recapture to study the foraging behaviour of a generalist carabid predator, Poecilus cupreus, in response to spatial patterns of its cereal aphid prey (Metapolophium dirhodum and Sitobion avenae). Beetle and aphid numbers were measured across two grids of sampling locations, within which aphid spatial pattern had been manipulated to generate patchy and more homogenous distributions. Aphid consumption was measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) of beetle gut contents, using an aphid-specific monoclonal antibody. Movement and distribution patterns suggest that P. cupreus does not aggregate at, nor instigate prey-taxis within, aphid patches. However, more than two-thirds of the 2169 P. cupreus tested by ELISA had consumed aphids and the proportion of beetles containing aphid proteins was positively related to aphid density. Against expectation, the proportion of predators feeding on aphids was greatest where prey were homogenously distributed, and this was attributed to the loss of partial refuges for prey in aphid patches. The functional value of this type of uniform foraging strategy is ideally suited to early colonization of the crop habitat, when aphid numbers are low, before populations build up and form strong spatial patterns.