Variability in biotic interaction strength is an integral part of food web functioning. However, the consequences of the spatial and temporal variability of biotic interactions are poorly known, in particular for predicting species abundance and distribution. The amplitude of rodent population cycles (i.e., peak-phase abundances) has been hypothesized to be determined by vegetation properties in tundra ecosystems. We assessed the spatial and temporal predictability of food and shelter plants effects on peak-phase small rodent abundance during two consecutive rodent population peaks. Rodent abundance was related to both food and shelter biomass during the first peak, and spatial transferability was mostly good. Yet, the temporal transferability of our models to the next population peak was poorer. Plant-rodent interactions are thus temporally variable and likely more complex than simple one-directional (bottom-up) relationships or variably overruled by other biotic interactions and abiotic factors. We propose that parametrizing a more complete set of functional links within food webs across abiotic and biotic contexts would improve transferability of biotic interaction models. Such attempts are currently constrained by the lack of data with replicated estimates of key players in food webs. Enhanced collaboration between researchers whose main research interests lay in different parts of the food web could ameliorate this.
Cites: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Feb 1;108(5):1970-4 PMID 21245340