Habitat size and ecosystem function

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Understanding the direct effects of habitat size on community structure provides only one piece of the puzzle of predicting community consequences to habitat fragmentation. While ecological communities may directly respond to habitat size, such changes may ultimately affect the storage, processing, and cycling of nutrients within habitats. We are studying the role of habitat size on ecosystem processes by using model systems, such as aquatic invertebrate food webs in tank bromeliads. Bromeliads trap both water and detritus, which support larvae of many insects that in turn are consumed by aquatic predators. Bromeliads also vary substantially in their size (i.e. volume of water). By merging community ecology (i.e., numerical abundance of species and their body sizes) with ecological stoichiometry (i.e., nutrient content of organisms), we are studying how the pools and fluxes of nitrogen and phosphorus within detritivore and predator compartments scale along habitat size.

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