About this Research Topic
Food web interactions are not only central in ecology but also affect eco-evolutionary dynamics. In community ecology, food webs provide a conceptual framework for studying ecosystem functioning such as material and energy transfer between populations. In evolutionary ecology, however, food web interactions are the means of heterotrophic organisms to acquire and compete for limiting resources, and nutritional adaptations can act as strong selection pressure.
Constraints on the biochemical level can lead to imbalances and limitations within food web compartments, both for populations within and between trophic levels. A vivid example are omega3 and omega6 polyunsaturated long-chain fatty acids, important to sustain membrane fluidity and as precursors for tissue hormones, which generally cannot be synthesized by higher animals.
Further, cholesterol is essential for arthropods, with fungi as main producers at the base of the food web. Less is known on the distribution and limitation potential of essential amino acids or vitamins. Overall, dietary essential biomolecules can be critical in determining trophic transfer efficiencies but also impact the consumers’ fitness. Hence differences in biochemical pathways and nutritional requirements can be viewed as adaptations to maximize the fitness for inter- and intraspecific competition of animal populations.
Interest in food web dynamics and their eco-evolutionary implications has increased considerably in recent years. Progress in theoretical modelling combined with technological advances providing a suite of biomarkers (e.g. fatty acids, stable isotopes) now allow determining the structure and function of food webs at an unprecedented level of detail. These studies revealed that essential biomolecules can be transferred within food webs in a very conservative way. Their distribution is not only depending on specific taxonomic groups, it further relates to environmental conditions, and even to biomes, with fundamental differences between terrestrial and aquatic habitats. The exchange of these nutritional compounds can be very important for biomass and energy fluxes between systems as well as the fitness of populations, including humans’ health.
This Research Topic aims to bring together knowledge on essential or semi-essential biomolecules related to food web processes. The focus is on, but not restricted to, fatty acids and other lipids (e.g. sterols), amino acids and vitamins. Studies on biomolecules as trophic marker as well as their relevance for nutritional quality, affecting fitness and consumer life cycle adaptations, are welcome. Especially encouraged is work that highlights the forces behind environmental distributions and food web dynamics of essential biomolecules, including eco-evolutionary feedbacks, as well as ecosystem relationships, such as allochthonous versus autochthonous sources or the link between aquatic and terrestrial habitats.
Keywords: Food web, essential nutrients, lipids, amino acids, environmental distribution