Percent ash-free dry weight as robust method to estimate energy density across taxa




Weil, Jacob
Trudel, Marc
Tucker, Strahan
Brodeur, Richard D.
Juanes, Francis

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Ecology and Evolution


Determining how energy flows through ecosystems reveals underlying ecological patterns that drive processes such as growth and food web dynamics. Models that assess the transfer of energy from producers to consumers require information on the energy content or energy density (ED) of prey species. ED is most accurately measured through bomb calorimetry, but this method suffers from limitations of cost, time, and sample requirements that often make it unrealistic for many studies. Percent dry weight (DW) is typically used as a proxy for ED, but this measure includes an indigestible portion (e.g., bones, shell, salt) that can vary widely among organisms. Further, several distinct models exist for various taxonomic groups, yet none can accurately estimate invertebrate, vertebrate and plant ED with a single equation. Here, we present a novel method to estimate the ED of organisms using percent ash‐free dry weight (AFDW). Using data obtained from 11 studies diverse in geographic, temporal and taxonomic scope, AFDW, DW as well as percent protein and percent lipid were compared as predictors of ED. Linear models were produced on a logarithmic scale, including dummy variables for broad taxonomic groups. AFDW was the superior predictor of ED compared to DW, percent protein content and percent lipid content. Model selection revealed that using correction factors (dummy variables) for aquatic animals (AA) and terrestrial invertebrates (TI) produced the best‐supported model—log10(ED) = 1.07*log10(AFDW) − 0.80 (R 2 = 0.978, p < .00001)—with an intercept adjustment of 0.09 and 0.04 for AA and TI, respectively. All models including AFDW as a predictor had high predictive power (R 2 > 0.97), suggesting that AFDW can be used with high degrees of certainty to predict the ED of taxonomically diverse organisms. Our AFDW model will allow ED to be determined with minimal cost and time requirements and excludes ash‐weight from estimates of digestible mass. Its ease of use will allow for ED to be more readily and accurately determined for diverse taxa across different ecosystems.



bioenergetics, diet analysis, dry weight, energy density, food webs, percent ash-free dry weight, predictive model, water content


Weil, J., Trudel, M., Tucker, S., Brodeur, R. D., & Juanes, F. (2019). Percent ashfree dry weight as a robust method to estimate energy density across taxa. Ecology and Evolution, 9(23), 13244-13254.