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Ecology. 2007 Jan;88(1):140-8.

Meta-analysis: trophic level, habitat, and productivity shape the food web effects of resource subsidies.

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  • 1University of British Columbia, Department of Forest Sciences, 3041-2424 Main Mall, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada.


Studies of the effects of cross-habitat resource subsidies have been a feature of food web ecology over the past decade. To date, most studies have focused on demonstrating the magnitude of a subsidy or documenting its effect in the recipient habitat. Ecologists have yet to develop a satisfactory framework for predicting the magnitude of these effects. We used 115 data sets from 32 studies to compare consumer responses to resource subsidies across recipient habitat type, trophic level, and functional group. Changes in consumer density or biomass in response to subsidies were inconsistent across habitats, trophic, and functional groups. Responses in stream cobble bar and coastline habitats were larger than in other habitats. Contrary to expectation, the magnitude of consumer response was not affected by recipient habitat productivity or the ratio of productivity between donor and recipient habitats. However, consumer response was significantly related to the ratio of subsidy resources to equivalent resources in the recipient habitat. Broad contrasts in productivity are modified by subsidy type, vector, and the physical and biotic characteristics of both donor and recipient habitats. For this reason, the ratio of subsidy to equivalent resources is a more useful tool for predicting the possible effect of a subsidy than coarser contrasts of in situ productivity. The commonness of subsidy effects suggests that many ecosystems need to be studied as open systems.

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