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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 507:81-94 (2014)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10894

A biomechanical and optimality-based derivation of prey-size dependencies in planktonic prey selection and ingestion rates

Kai W. Wirtz*

Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht, Institute for Coastal Research, 21501 Geesthacht, Germany
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: In their natural environment, planktonic grazers encounter considerable size variation in prey species. As a quantitative representation of feeding on diverse prey, theoretical studies use feeding kernels to describe grazing intensity as a function of body size, a factor that is a strongly discriminative property of prey. However, kernel functions are in general based on heuristic and poorly tested choices, lack an unequivocal definition, and are often based on experiments using mono-specific prey rather than a broad prey spectrum as found in nature. The work reported here seeks to fill these theoretical gaps by exploring the distinction between the ingestion kernel and the selection kernel. While the ingestion kernel describes which size classes can be potentially used by a consumer, the selection kernel depicts the actual size-dependent grazing on prey assemblages. Simple biomechanical laws show that the ingestion kernel takes a log-normal shape with a universal width (1/√ 3 in log-diameter-space). Experimental data from the literature supported the predicted constant value of the ingestible logarithmic size range across plankton taxa. The selection kernel resolves behavioral modifications during the capture process. In particular, the inverse of the variable kernel width defines consumer selectivity as a quantitative behavioral trait. Small kernel width, and thus large selectivity values, represents an optimization by consumers towards high food availability. Optimality in selectivity was tested using observations on copepod grazing. Integral grazing rates that incorporate prey diversity and adaptive consumer selectivity are demonstrated to provide a sound mechanistic basis for size-based plankton models.


KEY WORDS: Zooplankton ·Selectivity ·Feeding kernel ·Trophic niche ·Feeding breadth ·Optimal foraging


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Cite this article as: Wirtz KW (2014) A biomechanical and optimality-based derivation of prey-size dependencies in planktonic prey selection and ingestion rates. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 507:81-94. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10894

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