Food Web Assembly at the Landscape Scale: Using Stable Isotopes to Reveal Changes in Trophic Structure During Succession

Maarten Schrama*, Jeltje Jouta, Matty P. Berg, Han Olff

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Food webs are increasingly evaluated at the landscape scale, accounting for spatial interactions involving different nutrient and energy channels. Also, while long viewed as static, food webs are increasingly seen as dynamic entities that assemble during vegetation succession. The next necessary step is, therefore, to link nutrient flows between ecosystems to local food web assembly processes. In this study, we used a 100-year salt marsh succession in which we investigated the long-term changes in food web organization, especially focusing on the balance between internal versus external nutrient sources. We found that during food web assembly, the importance of internal (terrestrial) nutrient cycling increases at the expense of external (marine) inputs. This change from external to internal nutrient cycling is associated with strong shifts in the basis of energy channels within the food web. In early succession, detritivores are mostly fuelled by marine inputs whereas in later succession they thrive on locally produced plant litter, with consequences for their carnivores. We conclude that this 100 years of food web assembly proceeds by gradual decoupling of terrestrial nutrient cycling from the marine environment, and by associated rearrangements in the herbivore and detritivore energy channels. Food web assembly thus interacts with nutrient and energy flows across ecosystem boundaries.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)627-638
    Number of pages12
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2013


    • chronosequence
    • detritivores
    • ecosystem assembly rules
    • food web
    • herbivores
    • salt marsh
    • stable isotope analysis
    • succession


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