The functional response of a consumer is the relationship between its consumption rate and the abundance of its food. A functional response is said to be of type I if consumption rate increases linearly with food abundance up to a threshold level at which it remains constant. According to conventional wisdom, such type I responses are more frequent among filter feeders than among other consumers. However, the validity of this claim has never been tested. We review 814 functional responses from 235 studies, thereby showing that type I responses are not only exceptionally frequent among filter feeders but that they have only been reported from these consumers.
These findings can be understood by considering the conditions that a consumer must fulfil in order to show a type I response. First, the handling condition: the consumer must have a negligibly small handling time (i.e. the time needed for capturing and eating a food item), or it must be able to search for and to capture food while handling other food. Second, the satiation condition: unless its gut is completely filled and gut passage time is minimal, the consumer must search for food at a maximal rate with maximal effort. It thus has to spend much time on foraging (i.e. searching for food and handling it).
Our functional response review suggests that only filter feeders sometimes meet both of these conditions. This suggestion is reasonable because filter feeders typically fulfil the handling condition and can meet the satiation condition without losing time, for they are, by contrast to non-filter feeders, able simultaneously to perform foraging and non-foraging activities, such as migration or reproduction.