Biomass transformation webs provide a unified approach to consumer–resource modelling




Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 113–124


An approach to modelling food web biomass flows among live and dead compartments within and among species is formulated using metaphysiological principles that characterise population growth in terms of basal metabolism, feeding, senescence and exploitation. This leads to a unified approach to modelling interactions among plants, herbivores, carnivores, scavengers, parasites and their resources. Also, dichotomising sessile miners from mobile gatherers of resources, with relevance to feeding and starvation time scales, suggests a new classification scheme involving 10 primary categories of consumer types. These types, in various combinations, rigorously distinguish scavenger from parasite, herbivory from phytophagy and detritivore from decomposer. Application of the approach to particular consumer–resource interactions is demonstrated, culminating in the construction of an anthrax-centred food web model, with parameters applicable to Etosha National Park, Namibia, where deaths of elephants and zebra from the bacterial pathogen, Bacillus anthracis, provide significant subsidies to jackals, vultures and other scavengers.