Bruckerhoff, L.A., C. A. Pennock, and K.B. Gido. 2021. Do fine-scale experiments underestimate predator consumption rates?. Journal of Animal Ecology. doi:0.1111/1365-2656.13549
Understanding ecological processes across spatial scales helps link observations and predictions from experiments to ecological patterns occurring at coarser scales relevant to management and conservation. Using fish, we experimentally manipulated the size of arenas to test the spatial scaling of predator–prey interactions. We measured variation in predator consumption and prey behaviour (prey aggregation, spatial overlap with predators and movement) across arena sizes. Variation in prey behaviour across arena sizes was hypothesized to drive consumption patterns by altering prey vigilance and encounter rates with predators. Per capita consumption and movement were highest in the largest arena relative to the smallest and we observed a mismatch between where bass were present and the highest densities of prey across all arena sizes. We hypothesize more movement in largest arenas increased encounter rates and drove the observed increase in consumption with increasing arena size. Consumption estimates obtained in experimental studies may underestimate consumption, but understanding the mechanisms driving bias across scales helps predict the outcomes of predator–prey interactions in natural systems.