Resolving the roles of body size and species identity in driving functional diversity

Volker H. W. Rudolf, Nick L. Rasmussen, Christopher J. Dibble, Benjamin G. Van Allen


Efforts to characterize food webs have generated two influential approaches that reduce the complexity of natural communities. The traditional approach groups individuals based on their species identity, while recently developed approaches group individuals based on their body size. While each approach has provided important insights, they have largely been used in parallel in different systems. Consequently, it remains unclear how body size and species identity interact, hampering our ability to develop a more holistic framework that integrates both approaches. We address this conceptual gap by developing a framework which describes how both approaches are related to each other, revealing that both approaches share common but untested assumptions about how variation across size classes or species influences differences in ecological interactions among consumers. Using freshwater mesocosms with dragonfly larvae as predators, we then experimentally demonstrate that while body size strongly determined how predators affected communities, these size effects were species specific and frequently nonlinear, violating a key assumption underlying both size- and species-based approaches. Consequently, neither purely species- nor size-based approaches were adequate to predict functional differences among predators. Instead, functional differences emerged from the synergistic effects of body size and species identity. This clearly demonstrates the need to integrate size- and species-based approaches to predict functional diversity within communities.

  • Received December 6, 2013.
  • Accepted February 3, 2014.
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