Across ecosystem comparisons of size structure: methods, approaches and prospects


Understanding how ecological communities are structured and how this may vary between different types of ecosystems is a fundamental question in ecology. We develop a general framework for quantifying size-structure within and among different ecosystem types (e.g. terrestrial, freshwater or marine), via the use of a suite of bivariate relationships between organismal size and properties of individuals, populations, assemblages, pair-wise interactions, and network topology. Each of these relationships can be considered a dimension of size-structure, along which real communities lie on a continuous scale. For example, the strength, slope, or elevation of the body mass-versus-abundance or predator size-versus-prey size relationships may vary systematically among ecosystem types. We draw on examples from the literature and suggest new ways to use allometries for comparing among ecosystem types, which we illustrate by applying them to published data. Finally, we discuss how dimensions of size-structure are interconnected and how we could approach this complex hierarchy systematically. We conclude: (1) there are multiple dimensions of size-structure; (2) communities may be size-structured in some of these dimensions, but not necessarily in others; (3) across-system comparisons via rigorous quantitative statistical methods are possible, and (4) insufficient data are currently available to illuminate thoroughly the full extent and nature of differences in size-structure among ecosystem types.