How to estimate community energy flux? A comparison of approaches reveals that size-abundance trade-offs alter the scaling of community energy flux

Giulia Ghedini, Martino E. Malerba, Dustin J. Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Size and metabolism are highly correlated, so that community energy flux might be predicted from size distributions alone. However, the accuracy of predictions based on interspecific energy-size relationships relative to approaches not based on size distributions is unknown. We compare six approaches to predict energy flux in phytoplankton communities across succession: assuming a constant energy use among species (per cell or unit biomass), using energy-size interspecific scaling relationships and species-specific rates (both with or without accounting for density effects). Except for the per cell approach, all others explained some variation in energy flux but their accuracy varied considerably. Surprisingly, the best approach overall was based on mean biomass-specific rates, followed by the most complex (species-specific rates with density). We show that biomass-specific rates alone predict community energy flux because the allometric scaling of energy use with size measured for species in isolation does not reflect the isometric scaling of these species in communities. We also find energy equivalence throughout succession, even when communities are not at carrying capacity. Finally, we discuss that species assembly can alter energy-size relationships, and that metabolic suppression in response to density might drive the allometry of community energy flux as biomass accumulates.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20200995
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1933
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2020


  • competition
  • homeostasis
  • metabolism
  • phenotype
  • species interactions
  • stability

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