Understanding temporal variability across trophic levels and spatial scales in freshwater ecosystems

Tadeu Siqueira*, Charles P. Hawkins, Julian D. Olden, Jonathan Tonkin, Lise Comte, Victor S. Saito, Thomas L. Anderson, Gedimar P. Barbosa, Núria Bonada, Claudia C. Bonecker, Miguel Cañedo-Argüelles, Thibault Datry, Michael B. Flinn, Pau Fortuño, Gretchen A. Gerrish, Peter Haase, Matthew J. Hill, James M. Hood, Kaisa-Leena Huttunen, Michael J. JeffriesTimo Muotka, Daniel R. O'Donnell, Riku Paavola, Petr Paril, Michael J. Paterson, Christopher J. Patrick, Gilmar Perbiche-Neves, Luzia C. Rodrigues, Susanne C. Schneider, Michal Straka, Albert Ruhi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A tenet of ecology is that temporal variability in ecological structure and processes tends to decrease with increasing spatial scales (from locales to regions) and levels of biological organization (from populations to communities). However, patterns in temporal variability across trophic levels and the mechanisms that produce them remain poorly understood. Here we analyzed the abundance time series of spatially structured communities (i.e., metacommunities) spanning basal resources to top predators from 355 freshwater sites across three continents. Specifically, we used a hierarchical partitioning method to disentangle the propagation of temporal variability in abundance across spatial scales and trophic levels. We then used structural equation modeling to determine if the strength and direction of relationships between temporal variability, synchrony, biodiversity, and environmental and spatial settings depended on trophic level and spatial scale. We found that temporal variability in abundance decreased from producers to tertiary consumers but did so mainly at the local scale. Species population synchrony within sites increased with trophic level, whereas synchrony among communities decreased. At the local scale, temporal variability in precipitation and species diversity were associated with population variability (linear partial coefficient, β = 0.23) and population synchrony (β = −0.39) similarly across trophic levels, respectively. At the regional scale, community synchrony was not related to climatic or spatial predictors, but the strength of relationships between metacommunity variability and community synchrony decreased systematically from top predators (β = 0.73) to secondary consumers (β = 0.54), to primary consumers (β = 0.30) to producers (β = 0). Our results suggest that mobile predators may often stabilize metacommunities by buffering variability that originates at the base of food webs. This finding illustrates that the trophic structure of metacommunities, which integrates variation in organismal body size and its correlates, should be considered when investigating ecological stability in natural systems. More broadly, our work advances the notion that temporal stability is an emergent property of ecosystems that may be threatened in complex ways by biodiversity loss and habitat fragmentation.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere4219
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Issue number2
Early online date18 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2024

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