NCEAS Product 22816

Abrams, Peter A. 2008. Measuring the impact of dynamic antipredator traits on predator-prey-resource interactions. Ecology. Vol: 89(6). Pages 1640-1649. (Abstract) (Online version)


This article analyzes the limitations of the most widely used method for quantifying the impact of dynamic antipredator traits on food chain dynamics and discusses alternative approaches. The standard method for a predator–prey–resource chain estimates the effects of the prey's defensive behavior by comparing population densities or fitness measures in a “predator cue” treatment to those in a no‐predator treatment. This design has been interpreted as providing a measure of the “nonconsumptive effect” of the predator on the prey and the “trait‐mediated indirect effect” of the predator on the resource. Other approaches involve measurements of the impact of the behavior in the presence of functional predators. The questions addressed here are: (1) How consistent are the results of different approaches? (2) How time‐dependent are their results? (3) How well do they correspond to theoretical measures of effect size? (4) How useful are the measurements in understanding system dynamics? A model of a tritrophic system in which the prey species adjusts a defensive trait adaptively is used to evaluate the experimental designs. Measures of changes in prey fitness or population density in a cue treatment generally include offsetting effects of the cost of the behavior and the benefit of more resources. This means that the sign of the effect, as well as its magnitude, may change depending on when the experiment is terminated. Because predation is not present in the cue treatment, few conclusions can be drawn about the impact of the behavior on population densities or fitness of the prey in a natural setting with predators. Cue experiments often do not accurately separate trait‐mediated from density‐mediated effects on the resource. Most scalar measures of effects are sensitive to experimental duration and initial densities. Use of a wider range of experimental designs to measure trait‐related effects is called for.