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Keywords:

  • Abundance–body mass relationships;
  • energetic equivalence;
  • food web;
  • marine ecosystem;
  • scaling;
  • size spectra;
  • stable isotope analysis

Abstract

In communities sharing a common energy source, the energetic equivalence hypothesis predicts that numerical abundance (N) scales with body mass (M) as M−0.75. However, in size-structured food webs all individuals do not share a common energy source, and the energy available (E) to larger individuals is constrained by inefficient energy transfer through the food chains that support them. This is expected to lead to steeper scalings of N with M. Here, we formalize and test an existing model for predicting abundance–body mass scaling, where the decline in E with M is calculated from the mean predator–prey body mass ratio (from size-based nitrogen stable isotope analysis) and trophic transfer efficiency. We show that the steep predicted scalings of abundance and body mass (N scales as M−1.2, B scales as M−0.2) in a marine food web are consistent with empirical estimates and can be attributed to the small predator–prey body mass ratio (106 : 1). As a previous study has shown that environmental stability may favour low predator–prey mass ratios and long food chains, we predict that steeper abundance–body mass relationships will be found in more stable environments.