Geographic differences in body size distributions underlie food web connectance of tropical forest mammals


Understanding variation in food web structure over large spatial scales is an emerging research agenda in food web ecology. The density of predator–prey links in a food web (i.e., connectance) is a key measure of network complexity that describes the mean proportional dietary breadth of species within a food web. Connectance is a critical component of food web robustness to species loss: food webs with lower connectance have been shown to be more susceptible to secondary extinctions. Identifying geographic variation in food web connectance and its drivers may provide insight into community robustness to species loss. We investigated the food web connectance of ground-dwelling tropical forest mammal communities in multiple biogeographic regions to test for differences among regions in food web connectance and to test three potential drivers: primary productivity, contemporary anthropogenic pressure, and variation in mammal body mass distributions reflective of historical extinctions. Mammal communities from fifteen protected forests throughout the Neo-, Afro-, and Asian tropics were identified from systematic camera trap arrays. Predator–prey interaction data were collected from published literature, and we calculated connectance for each community as the number of observed predator–prey links relative to the number of possible predator–prey links. We used generalized linear models to test for differences among regions and to identify the site level characteristics that best predicted connectance. We found that mammal food web connectance varied significantly among continents and that body size range was the only significant predictor. More possible predator–prey links were observed in communities with smaller ranges in body size and therefore sites with smaller body size ranges had higher mean proportional dietary breadth. Specifically, mammal communities in the Neotropics and in Madagascar had significantly higher connectance than mammal communities in Africa. This geographic variation in contemporary mammalian food web structure may be the product of historical extinctions in the Late Quaternary, which led to greater losses of large-bodied species in the Neotropics and Madagascar thus contributing to higher average proportional dietary breadth among the remaining smaller bodied species in these regions.

Scientific Reports
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Miguel Acevedo
Miguel Acevedo
Assistant Professor of Quantitative Wildlife Population Ecology

My research interests include global change, lizard malaria, and quantitative applications for conservation planning.