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Parsing handling time into its components: implications for responses to a temperature gradient

Sentis, A., Hemptinne, J.-L., Brodeur, J.
Ecology 2013 v.94 no.8 pp. 1675-1680
climate change, digestion, digestive system, equations, population dynamics, predation, predator-prey relationships, predators, prediction, temperature
The functional response is a key element of predator–prey interactions, and variations in its parameters influence interaction strength and population dynamics. Recent studies have used the equation of the metabolic theory of ecology (MTE) to quantify the effect of temperature on the parameter Th, called “handling time,” and then predict the responses of predators and communities to climate change. However, our understanding of the processes behind Th and how they vary with temperature remains limited. Using a ladybeetle–aphid system, we compared estimates of Th to direct observations of handling time across a temperature gradient. We found estimated Th values to be greater than observed Th values, suggesting that predation rate is not limited by the time available for handling prey. We next estimated the corrected digestion time, i.e., digestion time corrected for gut capacity, by subtracting observed to estimated Th values. We finally plotted the relationships between temperature and handling or digestion rates. As predicted by MTE, the corrected digestion rate increased exponentially with warming whereas, in contrast to MTE prediction, the relationship between handling rate and temperature was hump shaped. The parameter Th is thus confusing because it combines handling and digestive processes that have different thermal responses. This may explain why general patterns in the relationship between Th and temperature have been difficult to identify in previous studies.