Food web interaction strength distributions are conserved by greater variation between than within predator-prey pairs

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Daniel PrestonMark Novak


Species interactions in food webs are usually recognized as dynamic, varying across species, space and time due to biotic and abiotic drivers. Yet food webs also show emergent properties that appear consistent, such as a skewed frequency distribution of interaction strengths (many weak, few strong). Reconciling these two properties requires an understanding of the variation in pairwise interaction strengths and its underlying mechanisms. We estimated stream sculpin feeding rates in three seasons at nine sites in Oregon to examine variation in trophic interaction strengths both across and within predator-prey pairs. We considered predator and prey densities, prey body mass, and abiotic factors as putative drivers of within-pair variation over space and time. We hypothesized that consistently skewed interaction strength distributions could result if individual interaction strengths show relatively little variation, or alternatively, if interaction strengths vary but shift in ways that conserve their overall frequency distribution. We show that feeding rate distributions remained consistently and positively skewed across all sites and seasons. The mean coefficient of variation in feeding rates within each of 25 focal species pairs...Continue Reading

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