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Inherent difficulties of tracking and observing organisms in the field often leave researchers with no choice but to conduct behavioral experiments under laboratory settings. However, results of laboratory experiments do not always translate accurately to natural conditions. A fundamental challenge in ecology is therefore to scale up from small area and short-duration laboratory experiments to large areas and long-durations over which ecological processes generally operate. In this study, we propose that stable isotope analysis may be a tool that can link laboratory behavioral observations to past field interactions or function of individual organisms. We conducted laboratory behavioral assays to measure dominance of invasive rusty crayfish, Orconectes rusticus, and used stable isotope analysis to hindcast trophic positions of these crayfish under preceding natural conditions. We hypothesized that more dominant crayfish in our assays would have higher trophic positions if dominance were related to competitive ability or willingness to pursue high-risk, high-reward prey. We did not find a relationship between crayfish dominance and trophic position, and therefore infer that laboratory dominance of crayfish may not necessarily relate to their ecology in the field. However, this is to our knowledge the first attempt to directly relate laboratory behavior to field performance via stable isotope analysis. We encourage future studies to continue to explore a possible link between laboratory and field behavior via stable isotope analysis, and propose several avenues to do so.
This article has been submitted for consideration of publication at PeerJ.
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