Quantifying insect predation with predator exclusion cages: the role of prey antipredator behavior as a source of bias

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There are limitations imposed by current methodologies to detect and quantify insect predation. However, there has been relatively little effort to experimentally document the sources of biases associated with the various methodologies. In this study, we examined how predation estimates in the field using predator exclusion cages may be biased when one fails to account for antipredator behavioral responses. To do this, we did the usual comparison of the number of insects missing from plants where predators were allowed access to the number missing from plants where predators were excluded, but also determined how many of the missing insects reacted to predators by dropping from plants and how many were actually preyed upon. Our results provide evidence that estimates of insect mortality in the field are significantly reduced if prey antipredator behavior is taken into account. As it is commonly assumed that prey missing in the field are predated, documenting the incidence of predator-mediated ‘disappearance’ and capturing insect prey before they escape can provide with a relevant estimate of bias.

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