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Ecology. 2008 Sep;89(9):2436-45.

From individuals to ecosystem function: toward an integration of evolutionary and ecosystem ecology.

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  • 1School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06511, USA.


An important goal in ecology is developing general theory on how the species composition of ecosystems is related to ecosystem properties and functions. Progress on this front is limited partly because of the need to identify mechanisms controlling functions that are common to a wide range of ecosystem types. We propose that one general mechanism, rooted in the evolutionary ecology of all species, is adaptive foraging behavior in response to predation risk. To support our claim, we present two kinds of empirical evidence from plant-based and detritus-based food chains of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The first kind comes from experiments that explicitly trace how adaptive foraging influences ecosystem properties and functions. The second kind comes from a synthesis of studies that individually examine complementary components of particular ecosystems that together provide an integrated perspective on the link between adaptive foraging and ecosystem function. We show that the indirect effects of predators on plant diversity, plant productivity, nutrient cycling, trophic transfer efficiencies, and energy flux caused by consumer foraging shifts in response to risk are qualitatively different from effects caused by reductions in prey density due to direct predation. We argue that a perspective of ecosystem function that considers effects of consumer behavior in response to predation risk will broaden our capacity to explain the range of outcomes and contingencies in trophic control of ecosystems. This perspective also provides an operational way to integrate evolutionary and ecosystem ecology, which is an important challenge in ecology.

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