Ulrich Brose Body size is recognized as an important determinant of trophic structure as it affects individual energetic demands, population density, and the interaction between potential prey and predators. However, its relationship with trophic position remains unclear. It has been hypothesized that a positive relationship between body size and trophic position would be associated to some particular trophic structures, which would allow larger organisms to satisfy their energetic demand and sustain viable population sizes at higher trophic positions, where fewer resources are available. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed the diet of 619 killifishes from four species (Austrolebias cheradophilus, A. luteoflammulatus, A. viarius and Cynopoecilus melanotaenia), collected in temporary ponds occurring in the grasslands of Rocha, Uruguay. Trophic position, diet richness, number of energy sources, and evenness were estimated for 20 size classes, formed by consecutive groups of 31 individuals. Gape limitation and preference for the larger available prey were evaluated as explanations for observed patterns with an individual based model (IBM). In agreement with the hypothesis, killifishes presented a strong positive relationship between trophic position and body size (R2=0.86), associated with a trophic structure that could allow larger organisms to have access to more energy from the environment. This was reflected in a positive relationship between body size and 1) prey richness, 2) number of basal energy sources (i.e. plants, detritus, phytoplankton and terrestrial prey), and 3) evenness in prey use. IBM results showed that changes in trophic structure with body size are well explained by gape limitation, but not by size preferences. Our results suggest that the fulfilment of the greater energetic demands of larger organism will depend on community diversity, which typically increases with ecosystem size, indicating a novel connection between area, diversity, body size, and food chain length.
Oikos – Wiley
Published: Jan 1, 2010
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