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Food web structure in riverine landscapes


Dr Guy Woodward, Institute of Ecology and Resource Management, University of Edinburgh, Darwin Building, Mayfield Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JU, U.K. E-mail:


1. Most research on freshwater (and other) food webs has focused on apparently discrete communities, in well-defined habitats at small spatial and temporal scales, whereas in reality food webs are embedded in complex landscapes, such as river corridors. Food web linkages across such landscapes may be crucial for ecological pattern and process, however. Here, we consider the importance of large scale influences upon lotic food webs across the three spatial dimensions and through time.

2. We assess the roles of biotic factors (e.g. predation, competition) and physical habitat features (e.g. geology, land-use, habitat fragmentation) in moulding food web structure at the landscape scale. As examples, external subsidies to lotic communities of nutrients, detritus and prey vary along the river corridor, and food web links are made and broken across the land–water interface with the rise and fall of the flood.

3. We identify several avenues of potentially fruitful research, particularly the need to quantify energy flow and population dynamics. Stoichiometric analysis of changes in C : N : P nutrient ratios over large spatial gradients (e.g. from river source to mouth, in forested versus agricultural catchments), offers a novel method of uniting energy flow and population dynamics to provide a more holistic view of riverine food webs from a landscape perspective. Macroecological approaches can be used to examine large-scale patterns in riverine food webs (e.g. trophic rank and species–area relationships). New multivariate statistical techniques can be used to examine community responses to environmental gradients and to assign traits to individual species (e.g. body-size, functional feeding group), to unravel the organisation and trophic structure of riverine food webs.

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