Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 733–740
Here, we review consumer-resource (C-R) theory to show that the paradox of enrichment is a special case of a more general theoretical result. That is, we show that increased energy flux, relative to the consumer loss rate, makes C-R interactions top heavy (i.e., greater C : R biomass ratio) and less stable. We then review the literature on the attributes of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems to argue that empirical estimates of parameters governing energy flux find that aquatic ecosystems have higher rates of relative energy flux than terrestrial ecosystems. Consistent with theory, we then review empirical work that shows aquatic ecosystems have greater herbivore : plant biomass ratios while we produce novel data to show that aquatic ecosystems have greater variability in population dynamics than their terrestrial counterparts. We end by arguing that theory, allometric relationships and a significant, negative correlation between body size and population variability suggest that these results may be driven by the smaller average body sizes of aquatic organisms relative to terrestrial organisms.