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J Theor Biol. 2010 Jul 7;265(1):45-54. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2010.04.016. Epub 2010 Apr 18.

Emergence of Holling type III zooplankton functional response: bringing together field evidence and mathematical modelling.

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Department of Mathematics, University of Leicester, UK.


Food-web population models are rather sensitive to parameterization of functional response in predation terms. Theoretical studies predict enhancing of ecosystems' stability for a functional response of sigmoid type (Holling type III). The choice of a correct type of response is especially important for modelling outcome of grazing control of algal blooms by zooplankton in nutrient-rich ecosystems. Extensive experiments on zooplankton feeding in laboratories show non-sigmoid nature of response for most herbivorous zooplankton species. As a consequence, there is a strong opinion in literature that the implementation of Holling III type grazing in plankton models is biologically meaningless. I argue, however, that such an 'evident' claim might be wrong and sigmoid functional responses in real plankton communities would emerge more often than was suggested earlier. Especially, this concerns plankton models without vertical resolution, which ignore heterogeneity in vertical distribution of species. Having conducted extensive literature search of data on zooplankton feeding in situ, I show that vertical heterogeneity in food distribution as well as active food searching behaviour of zooplankton can modify the type of functional response. In particular, the rate of food intake by the whole zooplankton population in the column, as a function of total amount of food, often exhibits a sigmoid behaviour, instead of a non-sigmoid one postulated previously based on laboratory experiments. This conceptual discrepancy is due to the ability of zooplankton to feed mostly in layers with high algal density. I propose a generic model explaining the observed alteration of type between overall and local functional responses. I show that emergence of Holling type III in plankton systems is due to mechanisms different from those well known in the ecological literature (e.g. food search learning, existence of alternative food, refuge for prey).

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