Detritus is a central feature in marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems. Despite the ubiquity of detritus, ecologists have largely ignored its role in influencing food web structure. We used a meta-analytic approach to ask three questions about how detritus affects food web structure in a wide variety of ecosystems. First, what is the effect strength of detritus on primary producers, detritivores, herbivores, and predators? Second, what functional role does detritus serve for consumers (energetic, habitat, or both)? Third, how does the effect of detritus on consumers vary between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems? We found that detritus has strong positive effects on primary producers and consumers in a wide range of ecosystems types. Detritus has a positive direct effect on detritivores by providing both an energetic resource and habitat (refuge from predators). Detritus has equally strong positive effects on herbivores and predators, driven by a positive direct effect of habitat. Detritus has positive effects on consumers in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems with 1.7 times stronger effects in terrestrial ecosystems. These results suggest that detritus has strong effects on food-web structure in a variety of ecosystem types. Even the portion of the food web that is linked most strongly to living plant tissue as its primary energy source is strongly positively affected.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics