What drives interaction strengths in complex food webs? A test with feeding rates of a generalist stream predator

Daniel L PrestonMark Novak


Describing the mechanisms that drive variation in species interaction strengths is central to understanding, predicting, and managing community dynamics. Multiple factors have been linked to trophic interaction strength variation, including species densities, species traits, and abiotic factors. Yet most empirical tests of the relative roles of multiple mechanisms that drive variation have been limited to simplified experiments that may diverge from the dynamics of natural food webs. Here, we used a field-based observational approach to quantify the roles of prey density, predator density, predator-prey body-mass ratios, prey identity, and abiotic factors in driving variation in feeding rates of reticulate sculpin (Cottus perplexus). We combined data on over 6,000 predator-prey observations with prey identification time functions to estimate 289 prey-specific feeding rates at nine stream sites in Oregon. Feeding rates on 57 prey types showed an approximately log-normal distribution, with few strong and many weak interactions. Model selection indicated that prey density, followed by prey identity, were the two most important predictors of prey-specific sculpin feeding rates. Feeding rates showed a positive relationship with prey...Continue Reading


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