Predicting Food-Web Structure With Metacommunity Models

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Predicting Food-Web Structure With Metacommunity Models

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Title: Predicting Food-Web Structure With Metacommunity Models
Author: Ellison, Aaron M.; Baiser, Benjamin H.; Gotelli, Nicholas; Buckley, Hannah L.

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Citation: Baiser, Benjamin, Hannah L. Buckley, Nicholas J. Gotelli, and Aaron M. Ellison. Forthcoming. Predicting food-web structure with metacommunity models. Oikos 121.
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Abstract: The metacommunity framework explores the relative influence of local and regional-scale processes in generating diversity patterns across the landscape. Metacommunity models and empirical studies have focused mostly on assemblages of competing organisms within a single trophic level. Studies of multi-trophic metacommunities are predominantly restricted to simplified trophic motifs and rarely consider entire food webs. We tested the ability of the patch-dynamics, species-sorting, mass-effects, and neutral metacommunity models, as well as three hybrid models, to reproduce empirical patterns of food web structure and composition in the complex aquatic food web found in the northern pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea. We used empirical data to determine regional species pools and estimate dispersal probabilities, simulated local food-web dynamics, dispersed species from regional pools into local food webs at rates based on the assumptions of each metacommunity model, and tested their relative fits to empirical data on food-web structure. The species-sorting and patch-dynamics models most accurately reproduced nine food web properties, suggesting that local-scale interactions were important in structuring Sarracenia food webs. However, differences in dispersal abilities were also important in models that accurately reproduced empirical food web properties. Although the models were tested using pitcher-plant food webs, the approach we have developed can be applied to any well-resolved food web for which data are available from multiple locations.
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