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