Food Webs: From Connectivity to Energetics: 36 (Advances in Ecological Research)

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Metapopulation models have been used to explain life-history evolution, such as the ecological stability of amphibian metamorphosis in small vernal ponds. Alternative ecological strategies have evolved. For example, some salamanders forgo metamorphosis and sexually mature as aquatic neotenes. The seasonal duration of wetlands and the migratory range of the species determines which ponds are connected and if they form a metapopulation. The duration of the life history stages of amphibians relative to the duration of the vernal pool before it dries up regulates the ecological development of metapopulations connecting aquatic patches to terrestrial patches.

In metapopulation terminology there are emigrants individuals that leave a patch , immigrants individuals that move into a patch and sites are classed either as sources or sinks. A site is a generic term that refers to places where ecologists sample populations, such as ponds or defined sampling areas in a forest.

Source patches are productive sites that generate a seasonal supply of juveniles that migrate to other patch locations.


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Sink patches are unproductive sites that only receive migrants and will go extinct unless rescued by an adjacent source patch or environmental conditions become more favorable. Metapopulation models examine patch dynamics over time to answer questions about spatial and demographic ecology. The ecology of metapopulations is a dynamic process of extinction and colonization.

What is Ecology

Small patches of lower quality i. A dynamic metapopulation structure evolves from year to year, where some patches are sinks in dry years and become sources when conditions are more favorable. Ecologists use a mixture of computer models and field studies to explain metapopulation structure. These ecosystems, as we may call them, are of the most various kinds and sizes. They form one category of the multitudinous physical systems of the universe, which range from the universe as a whole down to the atom.

The concept of the ecosystem was first introduced in to describe habitats within biomes that form an integrated whole and a dynamically responsive system having both physical and biological complexes. Within an ecosystem there are inseparable ties that link organisms to the physical and biological components of their environment to which they are adapted. Community ecology examines how interactions among species and their environment affect the abundance, distribution and diversity of species within communities. Community ecology is a subdiscipline of ecology which studies the distribution, abundance, demography, and interactions between coexisting populations.

An example of a study in community ecology might measure primary production in a wetland in relation to decomposition and consumption rates. This requires an understanding of the community connections between plants i.

Secondary Production, Quantitative Food Webs, and Trophic Position

A food web is the archetypal ecological network. They are a type of concept map that illustrate pathways of energy flows in an ecological community, usually starting with solar energy being used by plants during photosynthesis. As plants grow, they accumulate carbohydrates and are eaten by grazing herbivores. Step by step lines or relations are drawn until a web of life is illustrated.

Food Webs: From Connectivity to Energetics: Volume 36

Generalized food web of waterbirds from Chesapeake Bay. There are different ecological dimensions that can be mapped to create more complicated food webs, including: species composition type of species , richness number of species , biomass the dry weight of plants and animals , productivity rates of conversion of energy and nutrients into growth , and stability food webs over time. A food web diagram illustrating species composition shows how change in a single species can directly and indirectly influence many others. Microcosm studies are used to simplify food web research into semi-isolated units such as small springs, decaying logs, and laboratory experiments using organisms that reproduce quickly, such as daphnia feeding on algae grown under controlled environments in jars of water.

Principles gleaned from food web microcosm studies are used to extrapolate smaller dynamic concepts to larger systems. The food web illustration right only shows a small part of the complexity connecting the aquatic system to the adjacent terrestrial land. Many of these species migrate into other habitats to distribute their effects on a larger scale. In other words, food webs are incomplete, but are nonetheless a valuable tool in understanding community ecosystems.

Food chain length is another way of describing food webs as a measure of the number of species encountered as energy or nutrients move from the plants to top predators. The relative amount or strength of influence that these parameters have on the food web address questions about:.

Bestselling Series

Links in food-webs primarily connect feeding relations or trophism among species. Biodiversity within ecosystems can be organized into vertical and horizontal dimensions.


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The vertical dimension represents feeding relations that become further removed from the base of the food chain up toward top predators. The horizontal dimension represents the abundance or biomass at each level. Heterotrophs can be further sub-divided into different functional groups, including: primary consumers strict herbivores , secondary consumers predators that feed exclusively on herbivores and tertiary consumers predators that feed on a mix of herbivores and predators.

It has been suggested, however, that omnivores have a greater functional influence as predators because relative to herbivores they are comparatively inefficient at grazing. Ecologist collect data on trophic levels and food webs to statistically model and mathematically calculate parameters, such as those used in other kinds of network analysis e.

The emergent pyramidal arrangement of trophic levels with amounts of energy transfer decreasing as species become further removed from the source of production is one of several patterns that is repeated amongst the planets ecosystems. The decomposition of dead organic matter, such as leaves falling on the forest floor, turns into soils that feed plant production. The total sum of the planet's soil ecosystems is called the pedosphere where a very large proportion of the Earth's biodiversity sorts into other trophic levels.

Invertebrates that feed and shred larger leaves, for example, create smaller bits for smaller organisms in the feeding chain.

Bestselling Series

Collectively, these are the detrivores that regulate soil formation. As organisms feed and migrate through soils they physically displace materials, which is an important ecological process called bioturbation. Biomass of soil microorganisms are influenced by and feed back into the trophic dynamics of the exposed solar surface ecology.

Upcoming Events

Paleoecological studies of soils places the origin for bioturbation to a time before the Cambrian period. Other events, such as the evolution of trees and amphibians moving into land in the Devonian period played a significant role in the development of soils and ecological trophism. Functional trophic groups sort out hierarchically into pyramidic trophic levels because it requires specialized adaptations to become a photosynthesizer or a predator, so few organisms have the adaptations needed to combine both abilities.

This explains why functional adaptations to trophism feeding organizes different species into emergent functional groups.

Food Chains vs Food Webs

Grouping functionally similar species into a trophic system gives a macroscopic image of the larger functional design. Links in a food-web illustrate direct trophic relations among species, but there are also indirect effects that can alter the abundance, distribution, or biomass in the trophic levels. For example, predators eating herbivores indirectly influence the control and regulation of primary production in plants.

go site Although the predators do not eat the plants directly, they regulate the population of herbibores that are directly linked to plant trophism. The net effect of direct and indirect relations is called trophic cascades. Trophic cascades are separated into species-level cascades, where only a subset of the food-web dynamic is impacted by a change in population numbers, and community-level cascades, where a change in population numbers has a dramatic effect on the entire food-web, such as the distribution of plant biomass.

A keystone species is a species that is disproportionately connected to more species in the food-web. Keystone species have lower levels of biomass in the trophic pyramid relative to the importance of their role. The many connections that a keystone species holds means that it maintains the organization and structure of entire communities. The loss of a keystone species results in a range of dramatic cascading effects that alters trophic dynamics, other food-web connections and can cause the extinction of other species in the community.

Sea otters Enhydra lutris are commonly cited as an example of a keystone species because they limit the density of sea urchins that feed on kelp. If sea otters are removed from the system, the urchins graze until the kelp beds disappear and this has a dramatic effect on community structure. It is very difficult to experimentally determine in each different ecosystem what species may hold a keystone role. Furthermore, food-web theory suggests that keystone species may not be all that common. It is therefore unclear how generally the keystone species model can be applied.

Ecological units of organization are defined through reference to any magnitude of space and time on the planet. Communities of organisms, for example, are somewhat arbitrarily defined, but the processes of life integrate at different levels and organize into more complex wholes. Biomes, for example, are a larger unit of organization that categorize regions of the Earth's ecosystems mainly according to the structure and composition of vegetation.