This material has been published in the Journal of Animal Ecology (1999, vol 68, pp 836-838), the only definitive repository of the content that has been certified and accepted after peer review. Copyright and all rights therein are retained by Blackwell Science. This material may not be copied or reposted without explicit permission (Copyright 1999 by Blackwell Science Ltd / British Ecological Society).


A useful phenomenological difference between exploitation and interference in the distribution of ideal free predators

C.P. Doncaster

It seems an obvious truism that purely phenomenological models of animal interactions will always compare unfavourably to those based on the actual mechanisms by which individuals interact with each other and their environment. This is a conclusion drawn by van der Meer & Ens (1997) in their comprehensive comparison of model predictions for ideal free predators, and echoed by Weber (1998). We cannot do without phenomenological models, however, since they provide the conceptual framework of key processes, such as density dependent food intake for 'ideal' and 'free' predators, upon which to model the particular mechanisms such as food searching behaviour and time-wasting interactions. Phenomenological models often get a rough ride in the ecological literature because they are matched against mechanistic models as if the two types were alternatives. They accomplish different tasks, with the former type predicting the outcome of underlying processes while the latter distinguishes between alternative mechanisms. It is an incomplete appreciation of this difference which leads van der Meer & Ens (1997) to unfairly criticise the searching rate equation of Hassell & Varley (1969), which is one of the more popular phenomenological models of interference. My intention here is to show how this model can make useful predictions about the exploitation of renewable standing stock, when it is used in an appropriate setting.


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Doncaster, C.P. (1999) A useful phenomenological difference between exploitation and interference in the distribution of ideal free predators. Journal of Animal Ecology, 68: 836-838.


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