A different kind of ecological modelling: the use of clay model organisms to explore predator–prey interactions in vertebrates
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We review the use of clay models to explore questions about predation rates on small vertebrate taxa that are typically difficult to observe directly. The use of models has a relatively long history and we examine the range of taxa studied, which includes squamate reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds. Within this review, we have also included studies of model eggs, which are used in nest predation studies. We review the questions that have been asked and the interpretations arising from the data. The use of clay model animals has provided us with insights into how differences in prey morphology, size, and colour influence the rate at which they are attacked by predators. This allows us insights into the ecological, behavioural and evolutionary selective pressures of different predators on small vertebrate prey, including analysis of what characteristics predators target and how predators approach their prey (e.g. which part of the body is attacked). Further available interpretations include how regional and habitat variation influences predation events on models. We also briefly discuss the potential for clay models to study interspecific sociality and competition. Finally, we review the problems and limitations with the method and make some suggestions for further studies and amendments to help standardize this creative tool for ecological research.
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