NCEAS Product 22432

Arim, Matias; Bozinovic, F.; Marquet, Pablo A. 2007. On the relationship between trophic position, body mass and temperature: reformulating the energy limitation hypothesis. Oikos. Vol: 116. Pages 1524-1530. (Abstract) (Online version)


Understanding the factors that constrain and drive changes in food chain length represents an open challenge in ecology. Although several explanatory hypotheses have been proposed, no synthesis has yet been achieved. The role of body size has been well‐studied in recent years because the hierarchy of trophic connections – in which large animals consume small ones – suggests a positive relationship between trophic position and body size. Empirical evidence, however, supports the existence of both positive and negative associations, and some studies have even reported no significant relationship between trophic position and body size. These results suggest that the relationship may be non‐monotonic and driven by several interacting mechanisms. Here, we analyze the effects of energetic limitations and structural constraints on species’ trophic positions. We show that the trophic position of small‐bodied animals can be limited by their ability to consume large prey, whereas energetic limitations strongly constrain trophic positions for large‐bodied animals, with the intensity of this constraint depending on the amount of energy available to top predators. These differences in limiting mechanisms can account for the observed variability in the association between the trophic position of top predators and size. Furthermore, our derivation makes use of the Metabolic theory of ecology and predicts a negative relationship between temperature and the maximum achievable food chain length, providing a mechanistic foundation for the observed reductions in food chain length with temperature.