An integrated experimental and mathematical approach to inferring the role of food exploitation and interference interactions in shaping life history

Barbara Joncour, William A. Nelson, Damie Pak, Ottar N. Bjørnstad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Intraspecific interactions can occur through many ways but the mechanisms can be broadly categorized as food exploitation and interference interactions. Identifying how intraspecific interactions impact life history is crucial to accurately predict how population density and structure influence dynamics. However, disentangling the effects of interference interactions from exploitation using experiments is challenging for most biological systems. Here we propose an approach that combines experiments with modelling to infer the pathways of intraspecific interactions in a system. First, a consumer-resource model is built without intraspecific interactions. Then, the model is parameterized by fitting it to life-history data from a first experiment in which food abundance was varied. Next, hypothesized scenarios of intraspecific interactions are incorporated into the model which is then used to predict life histories with increasing competitor density. Lastly, model predictions are compared against data from a second experiment which raised groups of competitors of different densities. This comparison allows us to infer the role of interference and exploitation in shaping life history. We demonstrated the approach using the smaller tea tortrix Adoxophyes honmai across a range of temperature. We investigated five scenarios of interactions that included exploitation and three pathways for interference through some effects either on energetics to represent changes in ingestion or activity, or on mortality to model deadly interactions, or on mortality and ingestion to model cannibalism. Overall, intraspecific interactions in tea tortrix are best explained by a high level of deadly interactions along with some level of interference that acts on energy such as escaping and blocking access to food. Deadly interactions increase with temperature while interference that acts on energy is strongest close to the optimal temperature for reproduction. Interestingly, exploitation is more important than interference at low competitor density. The combination of mathematical modelling and experimentation allowed us to mechanistically characterize the intraspecific interactions in tea tortrix in a way that is readily incorporated into population-level mathematical models. The primary value of this approach, however, is that it can be applied to a much wider range of taxa than is possible with pure experimental approaches. Read the free Plain Language Summary for this article on the Journal blog.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1098-1112
Number of pages15
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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