Size-based predictions of food web patterns
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- Zhang, L., Hartvig, M., Knudsen, K. et al. Theor Ecol (2014) 7: 23. doi:10.1007/s12080-013-0193-5
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We employ size-based theoretical arguments to derive simple analytic predictions of ecological patterns and properties of natural communities: size-spectrum exponent, maximum trophic level, and susceptibility to invasive species. The predictions are brought about by assuming that an infinite number of species are continuously distributed on a size–trait axis. It is, however, an open question whether such predictions are valid for a food web with a finite number of species embedded in a network structure. We address this question by comparing the size-based predictions to results from dynamic food web simulations with varying species richness. To this end, we develop a new size- and trait-based food web model that can be simplified into an analytically solvable size-based model. We confirm existing solutions for the size distribution and derive novel predictions for maximum trophic level and invasion resistance. Our results show that the predicted size-spectrum exponent is borne out in the simulated food webs even with few species, albeit with a systematic bias. The predicted maximum trophic level turns out to be an upper limit since simulated food webs may have a lower number of trophic levels, especially for low species richness, due to structural constraints. The size-based model possesses an evolutionary stable state and is therefore un-invadable. In contrast, the food web simulations show that all communities, irrespective of number of species, are equally open to invasions. We use these results to discuss the validity of size-based predictions in the light of the structural constraints imposed by food webs.