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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 226:77-85 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps226077

Linking size-based and trophic analyses of benthic community structure

Simon Jennings1,*, John K. Pinnegar1, Nicholas V. C. Polunin2, Karema J. Warr1

1Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science, Lowestoft Laboratory, Lowestoft NR33 0HT, United Kingdom
2Department of Marine Sciences & Coastal Management, University of Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 7RU, United Kingdom

ABSTRACT: Models of biomass size spectra assume that organisms with higher body mass feed at higher trophic levels, but explicit empirical tests of this pattern are rare. We used nitrogen stable isotopes (δ15N) as an index of the trophic level in a benthic fish and invertebrate size-spectrum, and demonstrated that body mass was positively and significantly related to trophic level. This pattern was consistent with the expectation that predator-prey relationships led to powerful size-based trophic structuring in marine communities and ecosystems. Further analysis of intra- and interspecific relationships between body mass and trophic level in the community showed that increases in trophic level across the size spectrum were predominantly a consequence of intra-specific increases in trophic level with body mass and not a consequence of larger species (species with greater maximum body mass) feeding at higher trophic levels. We confirmed the absence of strong inter-specific relationships between maximum body mass and trophic level with cross-species and phylogenetic comparative approaches. Size-based models are easier and cheaper to parameterise than most food-web models. Subject to the persistence of relationships between body mass and trophic level in space and time, our results suggest that size spectra could be parameterised with body mass-trophic level relationships and used to describe the trophic structure of some marine communities and ecosystems.

KEY WORDS: Size-spectra · Trophic level · Food web · Community structure · Stable isotopes · Phylogeny

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