Meta-analysis Shows a Consistent and Strong Latitudinal Pattern in Fish Omnivory Across Ecosystems

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Ecosystems, Springer-Verlag, Volume 15, p.492-503 (2012)



omnivory; herbivory; latitudinal gradient; temperature gradient; trophic structure; food webs; digestive constraint; scale invariance; fish diet


Several studies have demonstrated a latitudinal gradient in the proportion of omnivorous fish species (that is, consumers of both vegetal and animal material) in marine ecosystems. To establish if this global macroecological pattern also exists in fresh and brackish waters, we compared the relative richness of omnivorous fish in freshwater, estuarine, and marine ecosystems at contrasting latitudes. Furthermore, we sought to determine the main environmental correlates of change in fish omnivory. We conducted a meta-analysis of published data focusing on change in the relative richness of omnivorous fishes in native fish communities along a broad global latitudinal gradient, ranging from 41°S to 81.5 N° including all continents except for Antarctica. Data from streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, estuaries, and open marine waters (ca. 90 papers covering 269 systems) were analyzed. Additionally, the relationship between the observed richness in omnivory and key factors influencing trophic structure were explored. For all ecosystems, we found a consistent increasing trend in the relative richness of omnivores with decreasing latitude. Furthermore, omnivore richness was higher in freshwaters than in marine ecosystems. Our results suggest that the observed latitudinal gradient in fish omnivory is a global ecological pattern occurring in both freshwater and marine ecosystems. We hypothesize that this macroecological pattern in fish trophic structure is, in part, explained by the higher total fish diversity at lower latitudes and by the effect of temperature on individual food intake rates; both factors ultimately increasing animal food limitation as the systems get warmer.