Searching efficiency and the functional response of a pause-travel forager
Poole, A. E., Stillman, R. A., Watson, H. K. and Norris, K. J. (2007) Searching efficiency and the functional response of a pause-travel forager. Functional Ecology, 21 (4). pp. 784-792. ISSN 0269-8463
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2435.2007.01288.x
1. The feeding rates of many predators and parasitoids exhibit type II functional responses, with a decelerating rate of increase to reach an asymptotic value as the density of their prey or hosts increases. Holling's disc equation describes such relationships and predicts that the asymptotic feeding rate at high prey densities is set by handling time, while the rate at which feeding rate increases with increased prey density is determined by searching efficiency. Searching efficiency and handling time are also parameters in other models which describe the functional response. Models which incorporate functional responses in order to make predictions of the effects of food shortage thus rely upon a clear understanding and accurate quantification of searching efficiency and handling time. 2. Blackbird Turdus merula exhibit a type II functional response and use pause-travel foraging, a foraging technique in which animals search for prey while stationary and then move to capture prey. Pause-travel foraging allows accurate direct measurement of feeding rate and both searching efficiency and handling time. We use Blackbirds as a model species to: (i) compare observed measures of both searching efficiency and handling time with those estimated by statistically fitting the disc equation to the observed functional response; and (ii) investigate alternative measures of searching efficiency derived by the established method where search area is assumed to be circular and a new method that we propose where it is not. 3. We find that the disc equation can adequately explain the functional response of blackbirds feeding on artificial prey. However, this depends critically upon how searching efficiency is measured. Two variations on the previous method of measuring search area (a component of searching efficiency) overestimated searching efficiency, and hence predicted feeding rates higher than those observed. Two variations of our alternative approach produced lower estimates of searching efficiency, closer to that estimated by fitting the disc equation, and hence more accurately predicted feeding rate. Our study shows the limitations of the previous method of measuring searching efficiency, and describes a new method for measuring searching efficiency more accurately.