The consequences of size dependent foraging for food web topology


A. Thierry, Dept of Animal and Plant Sciences, Alfred Denny Building, Univ. of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK. E-mail:


A general question in biology is how processes at one scale, for example that of individual organisms, influence patterns at larger scales, for example communities of interacting individuals. Here we ask how changing the size-dependence of the foraging behaviour of individuals can influence the structure of food webs. We assembled communities using a model in which species interactions are determined by allometric foraging rules of (1) handling time and (2) attack rates, and also (3) the distribution of body sizes. We systematically varied these three factors and examined their effects on three community level, food web allometries: the generality - mass correlation, the vulnerability - mass correlation and the trophic height - mass correlation. The results demonstrate how allometries of individual foraging behaviour (handling time and attack rates) are linked across scales of organisation: different community level allometries are influenced by different individual level allometries. For example, generality allometries in the community are most affected by the individual allometric relationships of the attack rate, whereas trophic level allometries in the community are more strongly influenced by variation in individual handling time allometries. Importantly, we also find that the shape of the body size distribution from which species are drawn has a substantial influence on how these links between scales operate. This study suggests that understanding the variation of size structure among ecological networks requires knowledge about the causes of variation in individual foraging behaviour and determinants of the regional body size distribution.