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Marine and Continental Food Webs: Three Paradoxes? [and Discussion]

Joel E. Cohen and T. Fenchel
Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences
Vol. 343, No. 1303, Generalizing across Marine and Terrestrial Ecology (Jan. 29, 1994), pp. 57-69
Published by: Royal Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/55758
Page Count: 13
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Marine and Continental Food Webs: Three Paradoxes? [and Discussion]
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Abstract

Carbon stocks and flows give a picture of marine and continental biotas different from that based on food webs. Measured per unit of volume or per unit of surface area, biomass is thousands to hundreds of thousands of times more dilute in the oceans than on the continents. The number of described species is lower for the oceans than for the continents. One might expect that each species of organism would therefore feed on or be consumed by fewer other species in the oceans than on the continents. Yet in reported food webs, the average oceanic species interacts trophically with more other species than the average terrestrial or aquatic species. Carbon turnover times imply that the mean adult body length of oceanic organisms is 240 to 730 times shorter than that of continental organisms. By contrast, in reported food webs, marine animal predators are larger than continental animal predators, and marine animal prey are larger than continental animal prey, by as much as one to two orders of magnitude. Estimates of net primary productivity (NPP) per unit of surface area or per unit of occupied volume indicate that the oceans are several to hundreds of times less productive than the continents, on average. If NPP limited mean chain length in food webs, oceanic food chains should be shorter than continental chains. Yet average chain lengths reported in published food webs are longer in oceans than on land or in fresh water. In reconciling these unexpected contrasts, the challenge is to determine which (if any) of the many plausible explanations is or are correct.

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