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Metabolic partitioning across individuals in ecological communities

Harte, John, Newman, Erica A., Rominger, Andrew J.
Global ecology and biogeography 2017 v.26 no.9 pp. 993-997
arthropods, body size, ecosystems, herbaceous plants, meadows, models, prediction, trees, tropical forests
The mechanistic origin and shape of body‐size distributions within communities are of considerable interest in ecology. A recently proposed light‐limitation model provides a good fit to the distribution of tree sizes in a tropical forest plot. The maximum entropy theory of ecology (METE) also predicts size distributions, but without explicit mechanistic assumptions, and thus its predictions should hold in ecosystems generally, regardless of whether they are light limited. A comparison of the form and success of the predictions of the model and the theory can provide insight into the role that mechanisms play in shaping patterns in macroecology. The prediction by the METE of the size distribution of organisms is remarkably similar in form to that of the model: power‐law behaviour in the size range where the light‐limitation model predicts a power law, and exponential behaviour in the size range where the model predicts an exponential tail. The METE prediction matches data widely, including data in ecosystems where light is not limiting. We show examples for three disparate communities: trees in a tropical forest plot; herbaceous plants in a treeless subalpine meadow; and island arthropods. We conclude that the success of METE's predicted form across systems, including those that are clearly not light limited, enriches our capacity to predict patterns in macroecology without making explicit mechanistic assumptions and provides a unified framework that can capture ubiquitous features of those patterns across diverse ecosystems governed by a variety of mechanisms.