Habitat-based constraints on food web structure and parasite life cycles

Wayne Rossiter, Michael V.K. Sukhdeo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Habitat is frequently implicated as a powerful determinant of community structure and species distributions, but few studies explicitly evaluate the relationship between habitat-based patterns of species' distributions and the presence or absence of trophic interactions. The complex (multi-host) life cycles of parasites are directly affected by these factors, but almost no data exist on the role of habitat in constraining parasite-host interactions at the community level. In this study the relationship(s) between species abundances, distributions and trophic interactions (including parasitism) were evaluated in the context of habitat structure (classic geomorphic designations of pools, riffles and runs) in a riverine community (Raritan River, Hunterdon County, NJ, USA). We report 121 taxa collected over a 2-year period, and compare the observed food web patterns to null model expectations. The results show that top predators are constrained to particular habitat types, and that species' distributions are biased towards pool habitats. However, our null model (which incorporates cascade model assumptions) accurately predicts the observed patterns of trophic interactions. Thus, habitat strongly dictates species distributions, and patterns of trophic interactions arise as a consequence of these distributions. Additionally, we find that hosts utilized in parasite life cycles are more overlapping in their distributions, and this pattern is more pronounced among those involved in trophic transmission. We conclude that habitat structure may be a strong predictor of parasite transmission routes, particularly within communities that occupy heterogeneous habitats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1311-1321
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


  • Aquatic
  • Parasitism
  • Predator-prey
  • Trophic structure
  • Trophic transmission

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