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Abiotic, Biotic, and Evolutionary Control of the Distribution of C and N Isotopes in Food Webs

AuthorsLaiolo, Paola ; Illera, Juan Carlos ; Meléndez; Leandro; Segura, Amalia; Obeso, José Ramón
KeywordsBiogeochemical fluxes
Elevation gradients
Nitrogen cycle
Trophic relationships
Evolutionary legacy
Issue Date22-Dec-2014
PublisherAmerican Society of Naturalists
CitationThe American Naturalist 185(2): 169-182 (2015)
AbstractEcosystem functioning depends on nutrient cycles and their responses to abiotic and biotic determinants, with the influence of evolutionary legacies being generally overlooked in ecosystem ecology. Along a broad elevation gradient characterized by shifting climatic and grazing environments, we addressed clines of plant N and C∶N content and of δ13C and δ15N in producers (herbs) and in primary (grasshoppers) and secondary (birds) consumers, both within and between species in phylogenetically controlled scenarios. We found parallel and significant intra- and interspecific trends of isotopic variation with elevation in the three groups. In primary producers, nutrient and isotope distributions had a detectable phylogenetic signal that constrained their variation along the environmental gradient. The influence of the environment could not be ascribed to any single factor, and both grazing and climate had an effect on leaf stoichiometry and, thus, on the resources available to consumers. Trends in consumers matched those in plants but often became nonsignificant after controlling for isotopic values of their direct resources, revealing direct bottom-up control and little phylogenetic dependence. By integrating ecosystem and mechanistic perspectives, we found that nutrient dynamics in food webs are governed at the base by the complex interaction between local determinants and evolutionary factors.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.5061/dryad.g4p92
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