Ecological Research

, Volume 28, Issue 5, pp 675–681

Environmental determinants of food-chain length: a meta-analysis

Special Feature Trends in isotope ecology

DOI: 10.1007/s11284-012-0943-7

Cite this article as:
Takimoto, G. & Post, D.M. Ecol Res (2013) 28: 675. doi:10.1007/s11284-012-0943-7


Food-chain length is an important character of ecological communities that affects many of their functional aspects. Recently, an increasing number of studies have tested the effects of productivity, disturbance, or ecosystem size on food-chain length in a variety of natural systems. Here we conduct a formal meta-analysis to summarize findings from these empirical studies. We found significant positive mean effects of productivity and ecosystem size but no significant mean effect of disturbance on food-chain length. The strength of mean effect sizes was not significantly different between productivity and ecosystem size. These results lend general support to previous theories predicting the effect of productivity and ecosystem size, but fail to support the prediction that disturbance shortens food chains. In addition, our meta-analysis found that the effect sizes of primary studies were significantly heterogeneous for ecosystem size and disturbance, but not for productivity. This pattern might reflect that ecosystem size and disturbance can affect food-chain length through multiple different mechanisms, while productivity influences food-chain length in a simple manner through energy limitation.


DisturbanceEcosystem sizeFood-chain lengthRandom-effects meta-analysisProductivity

Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biology, Faculty of ScienceToho UniversityFunabashiJapan
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA