Predation in the marine intertidal amphipod Echinogammarus marinus Leach: Implications of inter- and intra-individual variation
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Studies of competition, predator–prey dynamics and foodwebs typically consider conspecifics as equal, however, individuals from the same population that are seemingly identical can show considerable variation with regards to a number of processes. Such phenomena may be demonstrated in terms of diet, and the quantities and types of resources that are consumed are commonly considered. The marine amphipod Echinogammarus marinus, a recently demonstrated predator on intertidal rocky shores, has been shown to consume a wide range of food types but it is unknown how this may vary between individuals. Here, we investigated the variation that occurs both among and within individuals of a population of E. marinus with respect to the mean numbers consumed of a common prey item, the isopod Jaera nordmanni. First, by comparing the length of starvation times, used as a proxy for hunger level, individuals maintained without food for up to 24 h consumed significantly less prey during feeding trials than those starved for 48 h and longer. The degree of inter-individual variation within each starvation period was also found to differ, with greater variation among individuals starved for shorter periods of time than those starved for longer time periods. Secondly, we tested whether individual amphipods tracked over time consumed consistently similar numbers of prey or whether they showed intra-individual variation, and if so, to what degree. We found that the numbers of prey consumed per individual could be predicted in the short-term between consecutive feeding trials, however over the long-term this relationship broke down. These results are discussed with respect to potential physiological and behavioural mechanisms, as well as the implications that such variation may have for stability of prey populations in the field.