Measuring predation by integrating multiple types of data

Food web models allow ecologists to study how interspecific inter-actions drive the emergent complexity of communities. These models have revealed important relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem stability and have practical applications for understanding the sensitivity of popula-tions to the indirect effects of management decisions. Unfortunately, the difficulties inherent in parameterizing food webs limit both our ability to study empirical patterns in these complex systems and the empirical applications of these models.

In this study, we propose a new integrated modelling approach for parameterizing food webs. We show how to combine population abundance data collected at multiple trophic levels with proportional diets of consumers, derived from stable isotopes, to estimate the functional response of humpback whales. Combining multiple independent data sources mirrors integrated methods in population demography, which have successfully been used to parameterize complex models. Our approach constrains consumption estimates to be consistent with both the observed population dynamics and diets thus leading to predictions that are consistent with empirical dynamics.

Repository for code and data on humpback whales and their prey used in our integrated food web models paper.