Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 453–463 | Cite as

Accounting for activity respiration results in realistic trophic transfer efficiencies in allometric trophic network (ATN) models

  • Nadja J. KathEmail author
  • Alice Boit
  • Christian Guill
  • Ursula Gaedke


Allometric trophic network (ATN) models offer high flexibility and scalability while minimizing the number of parameters and have been successfully applied to investigate complex food web dynamics and their influence on food web diversity and stability. However, the realism of ATN model energetics has never been assessed in detail, despite their critical influence on dynamic biomass and production patterns. Here, we compare the energetics of the currently established original ATN model, considering only biomass-dependent basal respiration, to an extended ATN model version, considering both basal and assimilation-dependent activity respiration. The latter is crucial in particular for unicellular and invertebrate organisms which dominate the metabolism of pelagic and soil food webs. Based on metabolic scaling laws, we show that the extended ATN version reflects the energy transfer through a chain of four trophic levels of unicellular and invertebrate organisms more realistically than the original ATN version. Depending on the strength of top-down control, the original ATN model yields trophic transfer efficiencies up to 71% at either the third or the fourth trophic level, which considerably exceeds any realistic values. In contrast, the extended ATN version yields realistic trophic transfer efficiencies ≤ 30% at all trophic levels, in accordance with both physiological considerations and empirical evidence from pelagic systems. Our results imply that accounting for activity respiration is essential for consistently implementing the metabolic theory of ecology in ATN models and for improving their quantitative predictions, which makes them more powerful tools for investigating the dynamics of complex natural communities.


Food web Trophic transfer efficiency Allometric trophic network model Allometry Energy transfer Activity respiration 



We thank P. de Ruiter and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Funding information

This work was funded by DFG (GA 401/26-1) as part of the Priority Programme 1704 (DynaTrait).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nadja J. Kath
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alice Boit
    • 1
  • Christian Guill
    • 1
  • Ursula Gaedke
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut für Biochemie und BiologieUniversität PotsdamPotsdamGermany

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