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  1. null (Ed.)
  2. Abstract

    Production of animal biomass and the number of trophic levels supported by an ecosystem depend in part on rates of primary production, disturbance, predator–prey interactions, and the efficiency of energy flow through food webs. Of these factors, food web efficiency has been among the most difficult to quantify empirically. Thus, both the drivers and consequences of variation in food web efficiency remain largely unstudied in field settings. We estimated food web efficiency in nine desert streams spanning gradients of flash flood recurrence, resource availability, and trophic structure. Food web efficiency was estimated as fish community production relative to gross primary production at an annual timescale, based on quarterly observations of fish biomass and stream metabolism. Gross primary production was greatest in streams characterized by flashier flow regimes and greater relative light, temperature, and nitrogen availability. Fish production ranged from 0.02 to 0.50 g C m−2 yr−1, food web efficiency ranged from 9.5 × 10−5to 1.8 × 10−2, and both properties decreased with flashier flow regime, light, temperature, and nitrogen availability, but were not associated with food chain length. These results, combined with opposite effects of environmental variation on primary vs. fish production, indicated that the effects of disturbance regime (i.e., scouring floods), light, and temperature on fish production were not strongly mediated by bottom‐up controls. Estimates of food web efficiency under ambient disturbance and resource regimes suggest that a decoupling of energy flow from primary producers to upper trophic levels may prevail in hydrologically dynamic desert stream ecosystems.

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  3. Abstract

    Environmental regimes, which encompass decadal‐scale or longer variation in climate and disturbance, shape communities by selecting for adaptive life histories, behaviors, and morphologies. In turn, at ecological timescales, extreme events may cause short‐term changes in composition and structure via mortality and recolonization of the species pool. Here, we illustrate how short‐term variation in desert stream fish communities following floods and droughts depends on the context of the long‐term flow regime through ecological filtering of life history strategies. Using quarterly measures of fish populations in streams spanning a 10‐fold gradient in flow variation in Arizona, USA, we quantified temporal change in community composition and life history strategies. In streams with highly variable flow regimes, fish communities were less diverse, fluctuation in species richness was the principle mechanism of temporal change in diversity, and communities were dominated by opportunistic life history strategies. Conversely, relatively stable flow regimes resulted in more diverse communities with greater species replacement and dominance of periodic and equilibrium strategies. Importantly, the effects of anomalous high‐ and low‐flow events depended on flow regime. Under more stable flow regimes, fish diversity was lower following large floods than after seasons without floods, whereas diversity was independent of high‐flow events in streams with flashier flow regimes. Likewise, community life history composition was more dependent on antecedent anomalous events in stable compared to more temporally variable regimes. These findings indicate that extreme events may be a second‐level filter on community composition, with effects contingent on the long‐term properties of the disturbance regime (e.g., overall degree of variation) in which extremes take place. Ongoing changes to global environmental regimes will likely drive new patterns of community response to extreme events.

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  4. Williams et al . claim that the data used in Sabo et al . were improperly scaled to account for fishing effort, thereby invalidating the analysis. Here, we reanalyze the data rescaled per Williams et al . and following the methods in Sabo et al . Our original conclusions are robust to rescaling, thereby invalidating the assertion that our original analysis is invalid. 
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  5. Abstract

    Ecosystems are defined, studied, and managed according to boundaries constructed to conceptualize patterns of interest at a certain scale and scope. The distinction between ecosystems becomes obscured when resources from multiple origins cross porous boundaries and are assimilated into food webs through repeated trophic transfers. Ecosystem compartments can define bounded localities in a heterogeneous landscape that simultaneously retain and exchange energy in the form of organic matter. Here we developed and tested a framework to quantify reciprocal reliance on cross‐boundary resource exchange and calculate the contribution of primary production from adjacent ecosystem compartments cycling through food webs to support consumers at different trophic levels. Under this framework, an integrated ecosystem can be measured and designated when the boundary between spatially distinct compartments is permeable and the bidirectional exchange of resources contributes significantly to sustaining both food webs. Using a desert river and riparian zone as a case study, we demonstrate that resources exchanged across the aquatic–riparian boundary cycle through multiple trophic levels. Furthermore, predators on both sides of the boundary were supported by externally produced resources to a similar extent, indicating this is a tightly integrated river–riparian ecosystem and that changes to either compartment will substantially impact the other. Using published data on lake ecosystems, we demonstrated that benthic and pelagic ecosystem compartments are likely not fully integrated, but differences between lakes could be used to test ecological hypotheses. Finally, we discuss how the integrated ecosystem framework could be applied in urban‐preserve and field‐forest ecosystems to address a broad range of ecological concepts. Because few systems function in complete isolation, this novel approach has application to research and management strategies globally as ecosystems continue to face novel pressures that precipitate cascading ecological repercussions well beyond a bounded system of focus.

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