Predicting the effects of temperature on food web connectance

  • Petchey O
  • Brose U
  • Rall B
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Few models concern how environmental variables such as temperature affect community structure. Here, we develop a model of how temperature affects food web connectance, a powerful driver of population dynamics and community structure. We use the Arrhenius equation to add temperature dependence of foraging traits to an existing model of food web structure. The model predicts potentially large temperature effects on connectance. Temperature-sensitive food webs exhibit slopes of up to 0.01 units of connectance per 1°C change in temperature. This corresponds to changes in diet breadth of one resource item per 2°C (assuming a food web containing 50 species). Less sensitive food webs exhibit slopes down to 0.0005, which corresponds to about one resource item per 40°C. Relative sizes of the activation energies of attack rate and handling time determine whether warming increases or decreases connectance. Differences in temperature sensitivity are explained by differences between empirical food webs in the body size distributions of organisms. We conclude that models of temperature effects on community structure and dynamics urgently require considerable development, and also more and better empirical data to parameterize and test them.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Activation energy
  • Allometric diet breadth model
  • Body size
  • Foraging
  • Functional response

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