Quantifying the effects of biodiversity on food web structure: a stable isotope approach
Perkins, Matthew James
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Abstract Food web structure is of underlying importance to ecological functions and processes. Whilst it is understood that a range of biotic and abiotic factors affect structure, relatively little is known of the role of biodiversity per se in structuring food webs. In this thesis I utilise novel multi-dimensional estimates of food web structure based on stable isotope ratios of nitrogen (δ15N) and carbon (δ13C) to quantify structural responses to changing community diversity. I additionally investigate methodological aspects of sample preparation and stable isotope quantifications of food chains. Using an arthropod prey-predator system, in chapter 2 I demonstrate that tissue selection and lipid extraction are important methodological procedures for deriving accurate δ15N and δ13C signatures. In chapter 3 I test the utility of δ15N to quantify food chain length, and δ13C to trace primary energy sources through to end consumers. Bayesian resampling of variance in sample means for plant and arthropod food chains produces robust isotopic estimates that match known food chain length well despite some error variance, and estimates of δ13C-range that trace trophic transfers. Chapter 4 represents a change in system from lab to field as I determine δ15N and δ13C signatures for plant and invertebrate species within three grassland communities representing a gradient of biodiversity. Quantifications of community bivariate isotopic space using isotopic metrics revealed that greater taxonomic richness increased both diversity of resource space exploited and overlap in resource space. These results therefore suggest that loss of diversity affected structure through altering relative patterns of niche partitioning in resource exploitation amongst community members. In chapter 5, I additionally find evidence that grassland management mediated changes in food web compartmental structure that were associated with differences in generalist invertebrate predator feeding habits. Taken together, these findings develop and demonstrate the utility of isotopic approaches to quantifying food web structure, and provide evidence of important mechanisms by which biodiversity affects food web structure. I conclude that the preservation of natural food web structure and trophic dynamics are further reasons for halting loss of biodiversity.
The Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA)
Perkins, M.J., McDonald, R.A., van Veen, F.J.F., Kelly, S.D., Rees, G. & Bearhop, S. (2013) Important impacts of tissue selection and lipid extraction on ecological parameters derived from stable isotope ratios. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 4: 944-953.
van Veen, Frank
PhD in Biological Sciences