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Open Access Research article

Mutual interference is common and mostly intermediate in magnitude

John P DeLong* and David A Vasseur

Author Affiliations

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520 USA

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BMC Ecology 2011, 11:1  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-11-1

Published: 6 January 2011



Interference competition occurs when access to resources is negatively affected by the presence of other individuals. Within a species or population, this is known as mutual interference, and it is often modelled with a scaling exponent, m, on the number of predators. Originally, mutual interference was thought to vary along a continuum from prey dependence (no interference; m = 0) to ratio dependence (m = -1), but a debate in the 1990's and early 2000's focused on whether prey or ratio dependence was the better simplification. Some have argued more recently that mutual interference is likely to be mostly intermediate (that is, between prey and ratio dependence), but this possibility has not been evaluated empirically.


We gathered estimates of mutual interference from the literature, analyzed additional data, and created the largest compilation of unbiased estimates of mutual interference yet produced. In this data set, both the alternatives of prey dependence and ratio dependence were observed, but only one data set was consistent with prey dependence. There was a tendency toward ratio dependence reflected by a median m of -0.7 and a mean m of -0.8.


Overall, the data support the hypothesis that interference is mostly intermediate in magnitude. The data also indicate that interference competition is common, at least in the systems studied to date. Significant questions remain regarding how different factors influence interference, and whether interference can be viewed as a characteristic of a particular population or whether it generally shifts from low to high levels as populations increase in density.