A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to be able to attend a workshop about monitoring terrestrial arthropod biodiversity in the Arctic. In advance of that workshop, I offered to prepare a draft of a food-web that was ‘Arthropod-centric’. There are many ways to build a food-web, and my first draft was focused on who eats whom. In other words, an arrow depicting interactions would indicate predation (loosely defined). An alternative would be to focus on energy moving through the system (i.e., the arrow would move ‘up’ from trophic level to trophic level, to indicate a transfer of energy).
Putting this together is a challenging, yet rewarding process. I consulted with many of my colleagues with expertise in Arctic systems (including the folks involved with our Northern Biodiversity Program), and I am struggling to find the right balance between generality and specificity. Here’s a portion of the (draft) food-web, showing some of the interactions:
When working on this food web, some interesting generalities are emerging: First, the overall dominance of Diptera (flies). This is certainly because they do everything (e.g., decomposers, pollinators, blood-feeders) and they are very diverse. Second, arthropods are integrators - meaning they connect different processes, and they bridge different systems (aquatic/terrestrial). Third, highly valued vertebrates (and humans!) depend on arthropods (and/or are affected by them).
Does all of this pique your interest? Want to help? Together with colleagues, I am seeking help as this food-web develops. Send me an e-mail or drop a comment on this post and think about some of these questions and provide some feedback if you are so inclined:
….what interactions do you think are important in the Arctic, from an arthropod perspective?
….how can the interactions between vertebrates and invertebrates best be depicted?
….what interactions between humans and arthropods need to be included? (other than biting flies – that one is pretty obvious!)
….what ecological processes should be included in an Arctic food-web?
There are other Arctic food-webs out there. The Bear Island food-web is probably the best one that focuses on Arctic arthropods. If you’ve not seen it, the paper by Ian Hodkinson and Stephen Coulson (2004) is worth a look. That food-web is more specific than the one I am working on (it should be since it’s focused on a specific location and it can be because a lot of research has occurred there!). I really like one of the last sentences in their paper: ...the Svalbard high Arctic terrestrial food web is far more complex than has previously been appreciated but further sections remain to be resolved. Indeed! I would argue that we need to develop these kind of specific food-webs from other locations in the Arctic, but to get there, we also need a general, broad overview that encapsulates the overall role and importance of Arthropods to the Arctic. Hence the development of a general food web.
I’ll finish with some thoughts about using this blog as a platform for generating and refining ideas about this food web. Last year I had a long discussion with my PhD student Crystal Ernst (aka the Bug Geek) about the use of social media in the creative thinking process. Some parts of the discussion we had showed up in one of her posts about the role of social media in science. There’s a nice quote in that post that really hits the nail on the head:
Social media is just another kind of “hallway talk…in a really, really, long hallway”. (Crystal attributes part of that quote to another fine blogger, Bug Girl)
Social media can be used effectively as a platform for soliciting feedback and generating ideas about science, including specific projects such as building a food-web diagram. At this stage, I admit that I’m not ready to put the entire draft food-web in this post – it’s far too incomplete. However, it is the perfect time to ask for help, and solicit ideas.
….I welcome your feedback.
D. Hodkinson, I., & J. Coulson, S. (2004). Are high Arctic terrestrial food chains really that simple? – The Bear Island food web revisited Oikos, 106 (2), 427-431 DOI: 10.1111/j.0030-1299.2004.13091.x