Multiple factors, including arena size, shape the functional responses of ladybird beetles.
Functional response studies are often used to determine the suitability of predators as biocontrol agents. Ladybird beetles (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) are often used for the control of crop pests such as aphids. However, most functional response studies on coccinellids compare a limited number of species at different life stages, temperatures or sexes. A large-scale comparison of ladybird beetle functional responses is needed to evaluate the utility of these species as potential biocontrol predators and to understand the traits that influence the interaction strength between ladybird beetles and their prey. We compiled 158 ladybird beetle functional responses from 30 studies and tested for effects of taxa, traits, temperature and arena size on functional response parameters using linear mixed-effects models. Our results show that functional response parameters (handling time and space clearance rate) are affected by predator stage, predator mass, prey type, temperature and arena size. Although complicated by interaction terms, space clearance rate generally increased with predator size, temperature and predator stage, while handling time decreased with predator size, temperature and predator stage. Coleopteran prey induced the highest handling times. Our results also show that experimental arena size has a large, consistent effect on space clearance rate. Arena size is more important in determining foraging rates at low prey densities than any other factor considered here, including predator mass and temperature. Efforts to use laboratory-based functional response experiments to evaluate the efficacy of biocontrol predators are therefore confounded by the choice of arena size. Synthesis and applications. In addition to confirming known body mass and temperature effects, our study reveals previously unclear age-related effects and the importance of prey types, which can be used to optimize biocontrol programmes. The arena size effect is unexpected and problematic because failure to account for arena size precludes accurate comparison of biocontrol predator effectiveness. We suggest managers and biocontrol practitioners re-evaluate the efficacy of candidate biocontrol predators, perhaps by statistically controlling for arena size to minimize the influence of this widely unconsidered factor on functional response estimates.