Ecological Research

, Volume 28, Issue 5, pp 675–681 | Cite as

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

Special Feature Trends in isotope ecology


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.


Disturbance Ecosystem size Food-chain length Random-effects meta-analysis Productivity 


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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

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