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Arthropod food webs predicted from body size ratios are improved by incorporating prey defensive properties.

  • Van De Walle, Ruben1, 2
  • Logghe, Garben1, 3
  • Haas, Nina1
  • Massol, François2
  • Vandegehuchte, Martijn L1, 4
  • Bonte, Dries1
  • 1 Department of Biology, Terrestrial Ecology Unit, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium. , (Belgium)
  • 2 Univ. Lille, CNRS, Inserm, CHU Lille, Institut Pasteur de Lille, U1019-UMR 9017-CIIL-Center for Infection and Immunity of Lille, Lille, France. , (France)
  • 3 Research Institute for Nature and Forest (INBO), Brussels, Belgium. , (Belgium)
  • 4 Department of Biology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway. , (Norway)
Published Article
Journal of Animal Ecology
Wiley (Blackwell Publishing)
Publication Date
Apr 01, 2023
DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.13905
PMID: 36807906


Trophic interactions are often deduced from body size differences, assuming that predators prefer prey smaller than themselves because larger prey are more difficult to subdue. This has mainly been confirmed in aquatic ecosystems, but rarely in terrestrial ecosystems, especially in arthropods. Our goal was to validate whether body size ratios can predict trophic interactions in a terrestrial, plant-associated arthropod community and whether predator hunting strategy and prey taxonomy could explain additional variation. We conducted feeding trials with arthropods from marram grass in coastal dunes to test whether two individuals, of the same or different species, would predate each other. From the trial results, we constructed one of the most complete, empirically derived food webs for terrestrial arthropods associated with a single plant species. We contrasted this empirical food web with a theoretical web based on body size ratios, activity period, microhabitat, and expert knowledge. In our feeding trials, predator-prey interactions were indeed largely size-based. Moreover, the theoretical and empirically based food webs converged well for both predator and prey species. However, predator hunting strategy, and especially prey taxonomy improved predictions of predation. Well-defended taxa, such as hard-bodied beetles, were less frequently consumed than expected based on their body size. For instance, a beetle of average size (measuring 4 mm) is 38% less vulnerable than another average arthropod with the same length. Body size ratios predict trophic interactions among plant-associated arthropods fairly well. However, traits such as hunting strategy and anti-predator defences can explain why certain trophic interactions do not adhere to size-based rules. Feeding trials can generate insights into multiple traits underlying real-life trophic interactions among arthropods. © 2023 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of British Ecological Society.

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