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Taxonomic versus allometric constraints on non-linear interaction strengths


G. Kalinkat, J. F. Blumenbach Inst. of Zoology and Anthropology, Georg-August-Univ. Göttingen, Berliner Straße 28, DE–37073 Göttingen. E-mail:


Recently, the importance of body mass and allometric scaling for the structure and dynamics of ecological networks has been highlighted in several ground-breaking studies. However, advances in the understanding of generalities across ecosystem types are impeded to a considerable extent by a methodological dichotomy contrasting a considerable portion of marine ecology on the one hand opposite to traditional community ecology on the other hand. Many marine ecologists are bound to the taxonomy-neglecting size spectrum approach when describing and analysing community patterns. In contrast, the mindset of the other school is focused on taxonomies according to the Linnean system at the cost of obscuring information due to applying species or population averages of body masses and other traits. Following other pioneering studies, we addressed this lingering gap, and studied non-linear interaction strengths (i.e. functional responses) between two taxonomically-distinct terrestrial arthropod predators (centipedes and spiders) of varying individual body masses and their prey. We fitted three non-linear functional response models to the data: (1) a taxonomic model not accounting for variance in body masses amongst predator individuals, (2) an allometric model ignoring taxonomic differences between predator individuals, and (3) a combined model including body mass and taxonomic effects. Ranked according to their AICs, the combined model performs better than the allometric model, which provides a superior fit to the data than the taxonomic model. These results strongly indicate that the body masses of predator and prey individuals were responsible for most of the variation in non-linear interaction strengths. Taxonomy explained some specific patterns in allometric exponents between groups and revealed mechanistic insights in predation efficiencies. Reconciling quantitative allometric models as employed by the marine size-spectrum approach with taxonomic information may thus yield quantitative results that are generalized across ecosystem types and taxonomic groups. Using these quantitative models as novel null models should also strengthen subsequent taxonomic analyses.