Moosmann, M., Cuenca-Cambronero, M., De Lisle, S., Greenway, R., Hudson, C. M., Lürig, M., & Matthews, B. (2021). On the evolution of trophic position. Ecology Letters. https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.13888
The trophic structure of food webs is primarily determined by the variation in trophic position among species and individuals. Temporal dynamics of food web structure are central to our understanding of energy and nutrient fluxes in changing environments, but little is known about how evolutionary processes shape trophic position variation in natural populations. We propose that trophic position, whose expression depends on both environmental and genetic determinants of the diet variation in individual consumers, is a quantitative trait that can evolve via natural selection. Such evolution can occur either when trophic position is correlated with other heritable morphological and behavioural traits under selection, or when trophic position is a target of selection, which is possible if the fitness effects of prey items are heterogeneously distributed along food chains. Recognising trophic position as an evolving trait, whose expression depends on the food web context, provides an important conceptual link between behavioural foraging theory and food web dynamics, and a useful starting point for the integration of ecological and evolutionary studies of trophic position.