Papers in the Biological Sciences


Quantifying predator functional responses under field conditions reveals interactive effects of temperature and interference with sex and stage

Kyle E. Coblentz, University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Amber Squires, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Stella Uiterwaal, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
John DeLong, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Open access.


1. Predator functional responses describe predator feeding rates and are central to predator–prey theory. Originally defined as the relationship between predator feeding rates and prey densities, it is now well known that functional responses are shaped by a multitude of factors. However, much of our knowledge about how these factors influence functional responses is based on laboratory studies that are generally logistically constrained to examining only a few factors simultaneously and that have unclear links to the conditions organisms experience in the field.

2. We apply an observational approach for measuring functional responses to understand how sex/stage differences, temperature and predator densities interact to influence the functional response of zebra jumping spiders on midges under natural conditions.

3. We used field surveys of jumping spiders to infer their feeding rates and examine the relationships between feeding rates, sex/stage, midge density, predator density and temperature using generalized additive models. We then used the relationships supported by the models to fit parametric functional responses to the data.

4. We find that feeding rates of zebra jumping spiders follow some expectations from previous laboratory studies such as increasing feeding rates with body size and decreasing feeding rates with predator densities. However, in contrast to previous results, our results also show a lack of temperature response in spider feeding rates and differential decreases in the feeding rates of females and juveniles with densities of different spider sexes/stages.

5. Our results illustrate the multidimensional nature of functional responses in natural settings and reveal how factors influencing functional responses can interact with one another through behaviour and morphology. Further studies investigating the influence of multiple mechanisms on predator functional responses under field conditions will increase our understanding of the drivers of predator–prey interaction strengths and their consequences for communities and ecosystems.