Variable and complex food web structures revealed by exploring missing trophic links between birds and biofilm

Tomohiro Kuwae, Eiichi Miyoshi, Shinya Hosokawa, Kazuhiko Ichimi, Jun Hosoya, Tatsuya Amano, Toshifumi Moriya, Michio Kondoh, Ronald C. Ydenberg, Robert W. Elner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)


Food webs are comprised of a network of trophic interactions and are essential to elucidating ecosystem processes and functions. However, the presence of unknown, but critical networks hampers understanding of complex and dynamic food webs in nature. Here, we empirically demonstrate a missing link, both critical and variable, by revealing that direct predator-prey relationships between shorebirds and biofilm are widespread and mediated by multiple ecological and evolutionary determinants. Food source mixing models and energy budget estimates indicate that the strength of the missing linkage is dependent on predator traits (body mass and foraging action rate) and the environment that determines food density. Morphological analyses, showing that smaller bodied species possess more developed feeding apparatus to consume biofilm, suggest that the linkage is also phylogenetically dependent and affords a compelling re-interpretation of niche differentiation. We contend that exploring missing links is a necessity for revealing true network structure and dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-356
Number of pages10
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012 Apr


  • Behavioural ecology
  • Feeding ecology
  • Foraging behaviour
  • Functional morphology
  • Omnivory
  • Phylogeny
  • Tongue spine
  • Trophic relationship
  • Wader


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