Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: December 2009

17 - Body size in aquatic ecology: important, but not the whole story



Ecologists have long been aware of regularities and patterns in the body size of organisms in populations and communities, observations that go back at least to Alfred Wallace and continue through the works of Elton, Thienemann, Hutchinson, MacArthur and many others. The classical contribution of R. H. Peters (1983) codified such patterns through the concept of body-size allometry, of metabolic rate and other features, and led on to many of the phenomena now included under macroecology (Blackburn & Gaston, 2003). Brown and colleagues (Brown et al., 2004; Brown, Allen & Gillooly, this volume), in particular, added new advances in scaling theory and, incorporating the exponential effect of temperature on metabolic rate, sought to explain a wide variety of patterns and processes in ecology at levels of organization from individuals to ecosystems.

The focus on aquatic systems at the Hatfield symposium, and in this resultant volume, is justified because body-size patterns may be more important, or at least more obvious, in aquatic ecosystems. Woodward and Warren (this volume) offer three possible reasons. First, the most important primary producers in water are small and, along with small heterotrophic micro-organisms and small detritus particles, are gathered from suspension by larger consumers. Second, they point out that conventional predators, larger in turn than their prey, seem particularly prominent in aquatic systems where there may be fewer parasite food chains (see Cohen, this volume).

Blackburn, T. M. & Gaston, K. J. (2003). Macroecology: Concepts and Consequences. Oxford: Blackwell Science.
Brown, J. H. (1995). Macroecology. Chicago:University of Chicago Press.
Brown, J. H., Gillooly, J. F., Allen, A. P., Savage, V. M. & West, G. B. (2004). Towards a metabolic theory of ecology. Ecology, 85, 1771–1789.
Cousins, S. H., Bracewell, K. V. & Attree, K. (2005). Measuring the ability of food to fuel work in ecosystems. In Dynamic Food Webs, ed. Ruiter, et al. London: Academic Press, pp. 248–257.
Dixon, P. M. & Pechmann, J. H. K. (2005). A statistical test to show neglible trend. Ecology, 86, 1751–1756.
Leaper, R. & Raffaelli, D. G. (1999). Defining the body size-abundance constraint space: data from a real web. Ecology Letters, 2, 191–199.
Peters, R. H. (1983). The Ecological Implications of Body Size. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Raffaelli, D., Solan, M. & Webb, T. J. (2005). Do marine and terrestrial ecologists do it differently?Marine Ecology Progress Series, 304, 271–307.
Schwinghamer, P. (1981). Characteristic size distributions of integral benthic communities. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 38, 1255–1263.
Stead, T. K., Schmid-Araya, J. M., Schmid, P. & Hildrew, A. G. (2005). The distribution of body size in a stream community: one system, many patterns. Journal of Animal Ecology, 74, 475–487.
Strong, D. R. (1992). Are trophic cascades all wet? – differentiation and donor-control in speciose ecosytems. Ecology, 73, 747–754.
Southwood, T. R. E. (1977). The habitat, the templet for ecological strategies. Journal of Animal Ecology, 46, 337–365.
Townsend, C. R. & Hildrew, A. G. (1994). Species traits in relation to a habitat templet for river systems. Freshwater Biology, 31, 265–275.