Food web structure changes with elevation but not rainforest stratum
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Changes in species richness along elevational gradients are well documented. However, little is known about how trophic interactions between species and, in particular, the food webs that these interactions comprise, change with elevation. Here we present results for the first comparison of quantitative food webs in forest understorey and canopy along an elevational gradient. Replicate quantitative food webs were constructed for assemblages involving 23 species of cavity‐nesting Hymenoptera and 12 species of their parasitoids and kleptoparasites in subtropical rainforest in Australia. A total of 1589 insects were collected using trap nests across 20 plots distributed at sites ranging from 300 to 1100 m a.s.l. Insect abundance, insect diversity and parasitism rate generally decreased with increasing elevation. Food web structure significantly changed with elevation. In particular, weighted quantitative measures of linkage density, interaction evenness, nestedness (weighted NODF) and potential for enemy mediated interactions (PAC) decreased with increasing elevation, and network specialisation (H2′) increased with increasing elevation, even after controlling for matrix size; but there was no change in weighted connectance. Changes in forest type and temperature along the elevational gradient are likely to be, at least partly, responsible for the patterns observed. We found no significant differences in insect abundance, insect diversity or parasitism rate between canopy and understorey. Furthermore, there were no differences in food web structure between strata. These results contribute further evidence to studies revealing changes in food web structure along natural environmental gradients and provide information that can potentially be used for predicting how communities may respond to climate change.
Environmental Science and Management not elsewhere classified