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Ecology. 2007 Oct;88(10):2555-62.

Defining and measuring the impact of dynamic traits on interspecific interactions.

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  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Zoology Building, University of Toronto, 25 Harbord Street, Toronto, Ontario M5S3G5, Canada.


Trait- and density-mediated indirect effects describe different pathways by which indirect interactions in food webs are propagated from one species to another, through changes in intermediate species. A series of articles in Ecology has progressively altered the original definitions of "trait-mediated" to the point where understanding is being impeded. The most recent of these articles are two meta-analyses that use "trait-mediated" to describe the demographic costs to a prey species of employing anti-predator defenses. These same articles introduce a companion term, "density-mediated interaction", apparently to describe direct and indirect interactions that only involve changes in population density due to consumption by predators. This new terminology has many disadvantages, including (1) using a general term for a relatively narrow group of processes; (2) using "mediated" in a manner inconsistent with existing terminology; (3) confusing the accepted definitions of different types of indirect effects; and (4) providing a highly incomplete measure of the impact of behavior on the predator-prey interaction. Solutions to these problems and the meaning of the meta-analyses are discussed.

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