Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 13–24 | Cite as

How trophic interaction strength depends on traits

A conceptual framework for representing multidimensional trophic niche spaces
  • A. G. Rossberg
  • Å Brännström
  • U. Dieckmann
Original paper


A key problem in community ecology is to understand how individual-level traits give rise to population-level trophic interactions. Here, we propose a synthetic framework based on ecological considerations to address this question systematically. We derive a general functional form for the dependence of trophic interaction coefficients on trophically relevant quantitative traits of consumers and resources. The derived expression encompasses—and thus allows a unified comparison of—several functional forms previously proposed in the literature. Furthermore, we show how a community’s, potentially low-dimens ional, effective trophic niche space is related to its higher-dimensional phenotypic trait space. In this manner, we give ecological meaning to the notion of the “dimensionality of trophic niche space.” Our framework implies a method for directly measuring this dimensionality. We suggest a procedure for estimating the relevant parameters from empirical data and for verifying that such data matches the assumptions underlying our derivation.


Food webs Niche space Interaction strength Evolution 



The authors thank Jacob Johansson for inspiring discussions. A.G.R. gratefully acknowledges support from a Beaufort Marine Research Award by the Marine Institute, under the Sea Change Strategy and the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation, funded under the Irish National Development Plan (2007–2013). Å.B. and U.D. gratefully acknowledge support from the European Marie Curie Research Training Network on Fisheries-induced Adaptive Changes in Exploited Stocks (FishACE), funded through the European Community’s Sixth Framework Programme (Contract MRTN-CT-2004-005578). U.D. gratefully acknowledges additional financial support from the Austrian Science Fund, the Vienna Science and Technology Fund, and the European Science Foundation.


  1. Allesina S, Alonso D, Pascual M (2008) A general model for food web structure. Science 320:658–661CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Arthur W (1987) The niche in competition and evolution. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Bastolla U, Lässig M, Manrubia SC, Valleriani A (2005) Biodiversity in model ecosystems, II: species assembly and food web structure. J Theor Biol 235:531–539CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Begon M, Harper JL, Townsend CR (1996) Ecology. Blackwell Science, LondonGoogle Scholar
  5. Berlow EL, Neutel AM, Cohen JE, de Ruiter PC, Ebenman B, Emmerson M, Fox JW, Jansen VAA, Jones JI, Kokkoris GD, Logofet DO, McKane AJ, Montoya JM, Petchey O (2004) Interaction strengths in food webs: issues and opportunities. J Anim Ecol 73:585–598CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bersier LF, Kehrli P (2008) The signature of phylogenetic constraints on food-web structure. Ecol Complex 5(2):132–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Brose U, Jonsson T, Berlow EL, Warren P, Banasek-Richter C, Bersier LF, Blanchard JL, Brey T, Carpenter SR, Blandenier MFC, Cushing L, Dawah HA, Dell T, Edwards F, Harper-Smith S, Jacob U, Ledger ME, Martinez ND, Memmott J, Mintenbeck K, Pinnegar JK, Rall BC, Rayner TS, Reuman DC, Ruess L, Ulrich W, Williams RJ, Woodward G, Cohen JE (2006) Consumer–resource body-size relationships in natural food webs. Ecology 87(10):2411–2417CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Caldarelli G, Higgs PG, McKane AJ (1998) Modelling coevolution in multispecies communities. J Theor Biol 193:345CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Case TJ, Leibold MA (2003) Ecological niches: linking classical and contemporary approaches. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  10. Cattin MF, Bersier LF, Banasek-Richter C, Baltensperger R, Gabriel JP (2004) Phylogenetic constraints and adaptation explain food-web structure. Nature 427:835–839CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Christensen K, di Collobiano SA, Hall M, Jensen HJ (2002) Tangled nature: a model of evolutionary ecology. J Theor Biol 216:73–84CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Cohen JE (1977) Food webs and the dimensionality of trophic niche space. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 74(10):4533–4536CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Cohen JE (1978) Food webs and niche space. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  14. Cohen JE, Pimm SL, Yodzis P, Saldana J (1993) Body sizes of animal predators and animal prey in food webs. J Anim Ecol 62:67–78CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Daniel C, Wood FS (1999) Fitting equations to data: computer analysis of multifactor data, 2nd edn. Wiley-Interscience, TorontoGoogle Scholar
  16. Drossel B, Higgs PG, McKane AJ (2001) The influence of predator-prey population dynamics on the long-term evolution of food web structure. J Theor Biol 208:91–107CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Efron B (1987) The jackknife, the bootstrap, and other resampling plans. Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  18. Elton CS (1927) Animal ecology. Sidgwick & Jackson, LondonGoogle Scholar
  19. Fath BD, Scharler UM, Ulanowicz RE, Hannon B (2007) Ecological network analysis: network construction. Ecol Model 208:49–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Green RH (1971) A multivariate statistical approach to the Hutchinsonian niche: bivalve molluscs of central Canada. Ecology 52(4):544–556CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Grinnell J (1924) Geography and evolution. Ecology 5:225–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Harmon LJ, Kolbe JJ, Cheverud JM, Losos JB (2005) Convergence and the multidimensional niche. Evolution 59(2):409–421PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Harpole WS, Tilman D (2007) Grassland species loss resulting from reduced niche dimension. Nature 446:791–793CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Hutchinson GE (1957) Concluding remarks. Cold Spring Harbor Symp Quant Biol 22(2):415–427Google Scholar
  25. Hutchinson GE (1965) The ecologial theater and the evolutionary play. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  26. ICES (2006) Report of the ICES Advisory Committee on Fisheries Management, Advisory Committee on the Marine Environment and Advisory Committee on Ecosystems. ICES Advice 2006Google Scholar
  27. Ito HC, Ikegami T (2006) Food-web formation with recursive evolutionary branching. J Theor Biol 238(1):1–10CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Jennings S, Pinnegar JK, Polunin NVC, Warr KJ (2002) Linking size-based and trophic analyses of benthic community structure. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 266:77–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kenny D, Loehle C (1991) Are food webs randomly connected? Ecology 72(5):1794–1799CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kitching I, Forey P, Humphries C, Williams D (1998) Cladistics—theory and practice of parsimony analysis, 2nd edn. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  31. Laird S, Jensen HJ (2006) The tangled nature model with inheritance and constraint: evolutionary ecology restricted by a conserved resource. Ecol Complex 3:253–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Leibold MA (1995) The niche concept revisited: mechanistic models and community context. Ecology 76(5):1371–1382CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Loeuille N, Loreau M (2005) Evolutionary emergence of size-structured food webs. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 102(16):5761–5766CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Lugo CA, McKane AJ (2008) The robustness of the Webworld model to changes in its structure. Ecol Complex 5(2):106–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. MacArthur RH (1968) The theory of the niche. In: Lewontin RC (ed) Population biology and evolution. Syracuse University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  36. Maguire B Jr (1967) A partial analysis of the niche. Am Nat 101:515–523CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Memmott J, Martinez ND, Cohen JE (2000) Predators, parasitoids and pathogens: species richness, trophic generality and body size in a natural food web. J Anim Ecol 69:1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Meszéna G, Gyllenberg M, Pásztor L, Metz JAJ (2006) Competitive exclusion and limiting similarity: a unified theory. Theor Popul Biol 69:68–87CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Motulsky H, Christopoulos A (2004) Fitting models to biological data using linear and nonlinear regression: a practical guide to curve fitting. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  40. Neubert M, Blumenshine S, Duplisea D, Jonsson T, Rashlei B (2000) Body size and food web structure: testing the equiprobability assumption of the cascade model. Oecologia 123:241–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Otto SB, Rall BC, Brose U (2007) Allometric degree distributions facilitate food-web stability. Nature 450(7173):1226–1229CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Passy SI (2008) Continental diatom biodiversity in stream benthos declines as more nutrients become limiting. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 105(28):9663–9667CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Pianka ER (1983) Evolutionary ecology, 3rd edn, chap 7. Harper & Row, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  44. Rikvold PA (2007) Self-optimization, community stability, and fluctuations in two individual-based models of biological coevolution. J Math Biol 55:653–677CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Rossberg AG (2008) Part-whole relations between food webs and the validity of local food-web descriptions. Ecol Complex 5(2):121–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rossberg AG, Matsuda H, Amemiya T, Itoh K (2006a) Food webs: experts consuming families of experts. J Theor Biol 241(3):552–563CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Rossberg AG, Matsuda H, Amemiya T, Itoh K (2006b) Some properties of the speciation model for food-web structure—mechanisms for degree distributions and intervality. J Theor Biol 238(2):401–415CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Rossberg AG, Ishii R, Amemiya T, Itoh K (2008) The top-down mechanism for body-mass–abundance scaling. Ecology 89(2):567–580CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. de Ruiter PC, Neutel AM, Moore JC (1995) Energetics, patterns of interaction strengths, and stability in real ecosystems. Science 269:1257–1260CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Sibbing FA, Nagelkerke LA (2001) Resource partitioning by Lake Tana barbs predicted from fish morphometrics and prey characteristics. Rev Fish Biol Fish 10:393–437CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tokita K, Yasutomi A (2003) Emergence of a complex and stable network in a model ecosystem with extinction and mutation. Theor Popul Biol 63:131–146CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Troost TA, Kooi BW, Dieckmann U (2008) Joint evolution of predator body size and prey-size preference. Evol Ecol 22(6):771–799Google Scholar
  53. Ulanowicz RE, Wolff WF (1991) Ecosystem flow networks: loaded dice? Math Biosci 103:45–68CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  54. Vandermeer JH (1972) Niche theory. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 3:107–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Warren PH (1989) Spatial and temporal variation in the structure of a freshwater food web. Oikos 55:299–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Warren RJ, Lawton JH (1987) Invertebrate predator–prey body size relationships: an explanation of upper triangularity in food webs and patterns in food web structure. Oecologia 74:231–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Whittaker RH, Levin SA (eds) (1975) Niche—theory and application. Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, StroudsburgGoogle Scholar
  58. Williams RJ, Martinez ND (2000) Simple rules yield complex food webs. Nature 404:180–183CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Yoshida K (2003) Dynamics of evolutionary patterns of clades in a food web system model. Ecol Res 18:625–637CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Yoshida K (2006) Ecosystem models on the evolutionary time scale: a review and perspective. Paleontol Res 10(4):375–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. G. Rossberg
    • 1
    • 2
  • Å Brännström
    • 2
    • 3
  • U. Dieckmann
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesQueen’s University BelfastBelfastUK
  2. 2.Evolution and Ecology ProgramInternational Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)LaxenburgAustria
  3. 3.Department of Mathematics and Mathematical StatisticsUmeå UniversityUmeåSweden

Personalised recommendations