Assessing trophic interactions in pioneer communities: macro-invertebrate food webs in recently deglaciated alpine areas

Daniela Sint, Lorna Raso, Rüdiger Kaufmann (co-PI) & Michael Traugott (PI)


The dramatic retreat of the glaciers over the last 150 years is one of the evident signs of climate change in alpine landscapes. Because of their relative simplicity, glacier forelands are model systems for investigating fundamental ecological processes such as colonization, population establishment and community assembly. Interestingly, early successional stages of primary successions are dominated by predatory coloniser communities, and although the rather simple faunal pioneer communities are characterised quite well, we still do not understand on which trophic interactions community assembly depends.

This project directly addresses this gap of knowledge. Its aims are two-fold:

1) To determine the trophic links within macro-invertebrate communities colonizing recently deglaciated alpine terrain using, for the first time, a molecular approach.

2) To compare macro-invertebrate food webs between early and late pioneer stages and test the hypothesis that time since deglaciation impacts food web structure more than site-specific characters.

This work will take research on glacier forelands and primary succession one step further, as it will not only describe changes in invertebrate community structure but focus on a key functional aspect, trophic linking, within animal pioneer communities. Employing the latest approaches in molecular prey detection and merging these data with a comprehensive analysis on community composition will allow creating semi-quantitative food webs, depicting trophic linking in terrestrial invertebrate communities at an entirely new level of resolution.


Funding: Austrian Science Fund (FWF), Project number P20859

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