Trophic plasticity, environmental gradients and food-web structure of tropical pond communities
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2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Freshwater pond communities exhibit strong patterns in species composition in response to environmental gradients such as ecosystem size, disturbance and productivity, serving as excellent systems for studies of food-web structure. We surveyed 13 ponds that varied along environmental gradients of canopy cover, pond size and hydroperiod at the beginning and end of the rainy season in the semi-arid thorn forests of the Gran Chaco ecoregion of Bolivia. We collected basal resources and consumers (tadpoles, macroinvertebrates and fishes) from these ponds and used stable isotope ratios of carbon (13C/12C) and nitrogen (15N/14N), to quantify the spatiotemporal dynamics of the food webs in these tropical ponds. There were no relationships between vertical structure of the food webs and the environmental gradients associated with the ponds. Consumers within these ponds exhibited high trophic variability, with multiple taxa occupying more than one trophic position across space or time. Consumers from larger ponds had a greater degree of trophic redundancy. More shaded ponds supported food webs that had lower trophic diversity. More permanent ponds had significantly greater trophic diversity as well as a greater range of basal resource diversity. The breeding ponds utilised by tadpoles and macroinvertebrates are patchily distributed across space and time. In these dynamic habitats, a feeding strategy of trophic generalism and plasticity enables consumers to exploit a broad range of resources and promote species coexistence. These results suggest that high diversity in tropical ponds does not necessarily translate into specialisation of trophic function.