The influence of ontogenetic diet variation on consumption rate estimates: a marine example
Consumption rates are the foundation of trophic ecology, yet bioenergetics models used to estimate these rates can lack realism by not incorporating the ontogeny of diet. We constructed a bioenergetics model of a marine predatory fish (tailor, Pomatomus saltatrix) that incorporated high-resolution ontogenetic diet variation, and compared consumption estimates to those derived from typical bioenergetics models that do not consider ontogenetic diet variation. We found tailor consumption was over- or under-estimated by ~5–25% when only including the most common prey item. This error was due to a positive relationship between mean prey energy density and predator body size. Since high-resolution diet data isn’t always available, we also simulated how increasing dietary information progressively influenced consumption rate estimates. The greatest improvement in consumption rate estimates occurred when diet variation of 2–3 stanzas (1–2 juvenile stanzas, and adults) was included, with at least 5–6 most common prey types per stanza. We recommend increased emphasis on incorporating the ontogeny of diet and prey energy density in consumption rate estimates, especially for species with spatially segregated life stages or variable diets. A small-moderate increase in the resolution of dietary information can greatly benefit the accuracy of estimated consumption rates. We present a method of incorporating variable prey energy density into bioenergetics models.