Abstract

The temporal dynamics of insect populations in agroecosystems are influenced by numerous biotic and abiotic interactions, including trophic interactions in complex food webs. Predicting the regulation of herbivorous insect pests by arthropod predators and parasitoids would allow for rendering crop production less dependent on chemical pesticides. Curtsdotter etal. (2019) developed a food-web model simulating the influences of naturally occurring arthropod predators on aphid population dynamics in cereal crop fields. The use of an allometric hypothesis based on the relative body masses of the prey and various predator guilds reduced the number of estimated parameters to just five, albeit field-specific. Here, we extend this model and test its applicability and predictive capacity. We first parameterized the original model with a dataset with the dynamic arthropod community compositions in 54 fields in six regions in France. We then integrated three additional biological functions to the model: parasitism, aphid carrying capacity and suboptimal high temperatures that reduce aphid growth rates. We developed a multi-field calibration approach to estimate a single set of generic allometric parameters for a given group of fields, which would increase model generality needed for predictions. The original and revised models, when using field-specific parameterization, achieved quantitatively good fits to observed aphid population dynamics for 59% and 53% of the fields, respectively, with pseudo-R2 up to 0.99. But the multi-field calibration showed that increased model generality came at the cost of reduced model reliability (goodness-of-fit). Our study highlights the need to further improve our understanding of how body size and other traits affect trophic interactions in food webs. It also points up the need to acquire high-resolution data to use this type of modelling approach. We propose that a hypothesis-driven strategy of model improvement based on the integration of additional biological functions and additional functional traits beyond body size (e.g., predator space search or prey defences) into the food-web matrix can improve model reliability.

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