Size-dependent functional response of Xenopus laevis on mosquito larvae

Corey J. Thorp, Mhairi E. Alexander, James R. Vonesh, John Measey

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Predators can play an important role in regulating prey abundance and diversity, determining food web structure and function, and contributing to important ecosystem services, including the regulation of agricultural pests and disease vectors. Thus, the ability to predict predator impact on prey is an important goal in ecology. Often predators of the same species are assumed to be functionally equivalent, despite considerable individual variation in predator traits known to be important for shaping predator-prey interactions, like body size. This assumption may greatly oversimplify our understanding of within species functional diversity and undermine our ability to predict predator effects on prey. Here we examine the degree to which predator-prey interactions are functionally homogenous across a natural range of predator body size. Specifically, we quantify the size-dependence of the functional response of African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis) preying on mosquito larvae (Culex pipiens). Three size classes of predators, small (15-30mm snout-vent length), medium (50-60mm) and large (105-120mm), were presented with five densities of prey to determine functional response type and to estimate search efficiency and handling time parameters generated from the models. The results of mesocosm experiments show that functional response of X. laevis changed with size: small predators exhibited a Type II response, while medium and large predators exhibited Type III responses. Both functional response and behavioural data showed an inversely proportional relationship between predator attack rate and predator size. Small and medium predators had highest and lowest handling time respectively. That the functional response changed with the size of predator suggests that predators with overlapping cohorts may have a dynamic impact on prey populations. Therefore, predicting the functional response of a single size-matched predator in an experiment may be a misrepresentation of the predator’s potential impact on a prey population.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5813
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2018


  • attack rate
  • handling time
  • functional response
  • predator
  • size
  • anura
  • pipidae


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