Trait- and size-based descriptions of trophic links in freshwater food webs: current status and perspectives

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David S. Boukal *
(*) Corresponding Author:
David S. Boukal |


Biotic interactions in aquatic communities are dominated by predation, and the distribution of trophic link strengths in aquatic food webs crucially impacts their dynamics and stability. Although individual body size explains a large proportion of variation in trophic link strengths in aquatic habitats, current predominately body size-based views can gain additional realism by incorporating further traits. Functional traits that potentially affect the strength of trophic links can be classified into three groups: i) body size, ii) traits that identify the spatiotemporal overlap between the predators and their prey, and iii) predator foraging and prey vulnerability traits, which are readily available for many taxa. Relationship between these trait groups and trophic link strength may be further modified by population densities, habitat complexity, temperature and other abiotic factors. I propose here that this broader multi-trait framework can utilize concepts, ideas and existing data from research on metabolic ecology, ecomorphology, animal personalities and role of habitats in community structuring. The framework can be used to investigate non-additive effects of traits on trophic interactions, shed more light on the structuring of local food webs and evaluate the merits of taxonomic and functional group approaches in the description of predator-prey interactions. Development of trait- and size-based descriptions of food webs could be particularly fruitful in limnology given the relative paucity of well resolved datasets in standing waters.


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