The nature of abundance–body size relationships in animal communities, and especially the drivers behind the observed patterns, have been a focus of persistent debate in animal ecology. In a recent review, Allen et al. (2006) categorized five mechanistic explanations behind the commonly observed polymodality in these relationships: energetic constraints; phylogenetic constraints; biogeographical determinants; habitat structure; and community interactions. Progress in understanding of these patterns and the processes underlying them have been hindered by the use of a range of methods that differ in their validity and robustness.2.
Here, we used data on invertebrate body sizes from a variety of sandy beaches in the UK to test the hypothesis that these communities display modality in their abundance–body size relationships. We quantified modality in the relationships using kernel density estimation and smoothed bootstrap resampling and then evaluated the competing explanations for this modality based on the patterns identified in conjunction with measurements of the physical beach environment.3.
We found bimodal distributions in the body size spectrum for benthic invertebrates at nine of 16 sites. There was a consistent trough in the spectrum at around 0·5–1 mm diameter, which reflected the traditional split between meiofauna and macrofauna. Beaches with finer particle sizes and more heterogeneous macrofauna hosted communities with more than two modes.4.
Our results suggest that modality in sandy beach benthic communities is unlikely to be explained by any single hypothesis. There will be an interplay between physical and biological factors, with different explanations accounting for modality at different scales.