Hydrogeomorphology and river impoundment affect food-chain length of diverse Neotropical food webs
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Food-chain length is a central characteristic of ecological communities that affects community structure and ecosystem function. What determines the length of food chains is not well resolved for most ecosystems. Herein, we examine environmental correlates of food-chain length based on the productivity hypothesis, compare food-chain lengths among aquatic ecosystem types and identify bi-directional effects of river impoundment on food-chain length in the Paran River Basin of South America. Both temperature regime, a surrogate of productivity, and ecosystem type significantly affected food-chain length in independent analyses. However, when analyzed together, only ecosystem type explained significant variation in food-chain length. Food chains were longest in reservoirs, and shortest in high-gradient rivers. The proximate mechanism driving this pattern appears to be body-size ratios of primary consumers to apex predators, which differ among trophic pathways. Food chains based on phytoplankton production may have an additional size-structured link not present in food chains based on other basal sources such as detritus and algae. Hydrogeomorphology is the ultimate mechanism influencing food-chain length because it affects the relative importance of basal carbon sources supporting higher trophic levels, which through differences in the number of trophic links along the different size-structured pathways, appears to drive the observed patterns in food-chain length. We discuss a hypothesis of food-chain length that integrates energy flow and size-structure, facilitates inclusion of temporal dynamics and which is readily testable in both 'closed' and 'open' ecosystems. 2008 The Authors.