Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 417–429 | Cite as

Trait selection during food web assembly: the roles of interactions and temperature

  • Isabelle Gounand
  • Sonia Kéfi
  • Nicolas Mouquet
  • Dominique Gravel


Understanding the processes driving community assembly is a central theme in ecology, yet this topic is marginally studied in food webs. Bioenergetic models have been instrumental in the development of food web theory, using allometric relationships with body mass, temperature, and explicit energy flows. However, despite their popularity, little is known about the constraints they impose on assembly dynamics. In this study, we build on classical consumer–resource theory to analyze the implications of the assembly process on trait selection in food webs. Using bioenergetic models, we investigate the selective pressure on body mass and conversion efficiency and its dependence on trophic structure and temperature. We find that the selection exerted by exploitative competition is highly sensitive to how the energy fluxes are modeled. However, the addition of a trophic level consistently selects for smaller body masses of primary producers. An increase in temperature triggers important cascading changes in food webs via a reduction of producer biomass, which is detrimental to herbivore persistence. This affects the structure of trait distributions, which in turn strengthens the exploitative competition and the selective pressure on traits. Our results suggest that greater attention should be devoted to the effects of food web assembly on trait selection to understand the diversity and the functioning of real food webs, as well as their possible response to ongoing global changes.


Community assembly Consumer–resource interactions Bioenergetic model Temperature Size spectrum Body mass Metabolic theory of ecology 



We thank Tanguy Daufresne, Ulrich Brose, Daniel Stouffer, and Barbara Drossel for early discussions and helpful suggestions. We also thank James Caveen, Rémy Dernat, and Khali Belkhir for technical assistance. The simulations largely benefited from the computing clusters of Université du Québec à Rimouski and from the Montpellier Bioinformatics Biodiversity platform (funded by the LabEx CeMEB). I.G. thanks the Frontenac program (Fonds de recherche du Québec—Nature et Technologies, and French consulate at Québec) for their financial support. This is ISEM publication number ISEM 2016-061.

Supplementary material

12080_2016_299_MOESM1_ESM.docx (337 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 336 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Isabelle Gounand
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 5
  • Sonia Kéfi
    • 1
  • Nicolas Mouquet
    • 1
  • Dominique Gravel
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Institut des Sciences de l’EvolutionUniversité de Montpellier, CNRS, IRD, EPHEMontpellier Cedex 05France
  2. 2.Département de Biologie, Chimie et GéographieUniversité du Québec à RimouskiQuébecCanada
  3. 3.Quebec Center for Biodiversity ScienceQuebecCanada
  4. 4.Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental StudiesUniversity of ZurichZürichSwitzerland
  5. 5.Department of Aquatic EcologyEawag, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and TechnologyDübendorfSwitzerland

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