Handling- or digestion-limited predators: the role of body mass and habitat complexity in predator functional response

Nan Hu, Yajuan Huang, Zhenglin Yu, Tao Zhang, Dapeng Liu, Marcus Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The predator functional response quantifies the per capita feeding rate of predators as a function of prey density and is a key element of feeding interactions. Variations in its parameters are strongly associated with interaction strength and population dynamics. We examined 18 functional responses within marine whelk−bivalve systems, varying predator body size, prey species, and habitat structure. Our findings suggest that the marine whelk Rapana venosa is handling-limited, a predator type that has received less attention in previous research. We propose further categorizing handling-limited predators into 2 types: pursuit-limited (where maximum feeding rate could be influenced by habitat complexity) and ingestion-limited (where maximum feeding rate is impacted not by habitat complexity, but by predator−prey body mass ratios and prey defense strategy). We found that handling time scales negatively with predator−prey body mass ratios, but this trend exhibits layers of complexity. We propose that the transition from handling to digestion limitation with increasing predator−prey body mass ratios underlies this trend. Our study also confirms the importance of prey types, in addition to known effects of body mass ratios and habitat structure. In summary, our study reveals that simple assumptions about body masses and prey defense strategy may usefully refine estimates of feeding interactions in complex food webs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Ecology

Free keywords

  • Body masses
  • Feeding interactions
  • Functional responses
  • Habitat complexity
  • Handling-limited predator
  • Prey types
  • Rapana venosa


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