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Open Life Sciences

formerly Central European Journal of Biology

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Macroecological patterns and niche structure in a new marine food web

1School of Biological & Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London, London, E1 4NS, UK

2Complex Systems Lab, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, 08003, Barcelona, Spain

3Environmental Research Institute, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland

4Department of Zoology, Ecology and Plant Sciences, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland

© 2008 Versita Warsaw. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 License. (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Citation Information: Open Life Sciences. Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 91–103, ISSN (Online) 2391-5412, DOI: 10.2478/s11535-008-0004-y, March 2008

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The integration of detailed information on feeding interactions with measures of abundance and body mass of individuals provides a powerful platform for understanding ecosystem organisation. Metabolism and, by proxy, body mass constrain the flux, turnover and storage of energy and biomass in food webs. Here, we present the first food web data for Lough Hyne, a species rich Irish Sea Lough. Through the application of individual-and size-based analysis of the abundance-body mass relationship, we tested predictions derived from the metabolic theory of ecology. We found that individual body mass constrained the flux of biomass and determined its distribution within the food web. Body mass was also an important determinant of diet width and niche overlap, and predator diets were nested hierarchically, such that diet width increased with body mass. We applied a novel measure of predator-prey biomass flux which revealed that most interactions in Lough Hyne were weak, whereas only a few were strong. Further, the patterning of interaction strength between prey sharing a common predator revealed that strong interactions were nearly always coupled with weak interactions. Our findings illustrate that important insights into the organisation, structure and stability of ecosystems can be achieved through the theoretical exploration of detailed empirical data.

Keywords: Biomass spectra; Body size; Ecological networks; Food webs; Interaction strength; Marine ecosystems; Metabolic theory; Numerical abundance; Stability

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