John Sabo talks with
ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about
this month's Fast Moving Fronts paper in the field of
Environment & Ecology.
Article: Detritus, trophic dynamics and
Authors: Moore, JC;Berlow, EL;Coleman, DC;de Ruiter, PC;Dong,
Q;Hastings, A;Johnson, NC;McCann, KS;Melville, K;Morin,
PJ;Nadelhoffer, K;Rosemond, AD;Post, DM;Sabo,
JL;Scow, KM;Vanni, MJ;Wall, DH
Journal: ECOL LETT, 7 (7): 584-600 JUL 2004
Addresses: Natl Ctr Ecol Anal & Synth, Detritus Dynam
Working Grp, Santa Barbara, CA 93101 USA.
Natl Ctr Ecol Anal & Synth, Detritus Dynam Working Grp,
Santa Barbara, CA 93101 USA. (addresses have been
Why do you think your paper is highly
It is a review article, and more importantly, a review article that fills a
previously empty niche in the ecological literature.
Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or
synthesis of knowledge?
It's a new synthesis: previously food-web ecology was focused on "the
living channel," i.e., primary production and its effects on food-chain
length and trophic dynamics.
This view had been changing, as described in works by John C. Moore,
Director of The Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State
University and colleagues, as well as in works by Just Cebrian, Don Strong,
and the late Gary Polis.
This review provides a synthetic view of how "dead stuff" = "detritus
channel" is important, if not paramount, in trophic dynamics and food-web
theory. It brings us back to the American ecologist Raymond L. Lindeman
(1915–1942), who, in 1942, put detritus—which he called
"ooze"—in a central place in his "food cycle."
Detritus is central to food webs. See: Lindeman RL, "The Trophic-Dynamic
Aspect of Ecology," Ecology 23:4, 399-417, October 1942.
Would you summarize the significance of your paper
in layman's terms?
In a great many ecosystems, most of the energy available to animals is
encapsulated in dead tissues of plants and animals. This dead stuff is
critical in the structure and function of the living components of food
How did you become involved in this research and
were any particular problems encountered along the way?
I was a postdoc at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and
Synthesis (NCEAS) in Santa Barbara, where Gary Polis had originally gotten
the working group funded prior to his death. John Moore took over
leadership of the group after Gary passed away and I asked John if I could
Where do you see your research leading in the
We have a paper currently in revision in Ecology that is a
quantitative (rather than conceptual) follow-up to this article—a
cross-ecosystem meta-analysis of the impacts of detritus on trophic
dynamics. John Moore is coauthor. As I suspect it will not be published for
another year or so, please feel free to follow up later on.
John Sabo, Ph.D.
Faculty of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Sciences
School of Life Sciences
Arizona State University
Tempe Arizona, USA Web