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Spatial aspects of food webs
Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany.
University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA.
Linköping University, Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, Theoretical Biology. Linköping University, The Institute of Technology.
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden.
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2005 (English)In: Dynamic Food Webs: Multispecies Assemblages, Ecosystem Development and Environmental Change / [ed] P.C. deRuiter, V. Wolters & J.C. Moore, London, UK: Elsevier, 2005, Vol. 3, 463-469 p.Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Aspects of spatial scale have until recently been largely ignored in empirical and theoretical food web studies (e.g., Cohen & Briand 1984, Martinez 1992, but see Bengtsson et al. 2002, Bengtsson & Berg, this book). Most ecologists tend to conceptualize and represent food webs as static representations of communities, depicting a community assemblage as sampled at a particular point in time, or highly aggregated trophic group composites over broader scales of time and space (Polis et al. 1996). Moreover, most researchers depict potential food webs, which contain all species sampled and all potential trophic links based on literature reviews, several sampling events, or laboratory feeding trials. In reality, however, not all these potential feeding links are realized as not all species co-occur, and not all samples in space or time can contain all species (Schoenly & Cohen 1991), hence, yielding a variance of food web architecture in space (Brose et al. 2004). In recent years, food web ecologists have recognized that food webs are open systems – that are influence by processes in adjacent systems – and spatially heterogeneous (Polis et al. 1996). This influence of adjacent systems can be bottom-up, due to allochthonous inputs of resources (Polis & Strong 1996, Huxel & McCann 1998, Mulder & De Zwart 2003), or top-down due to the regular or irregular presence of top predators (e.g., Post et al. 2000, Scheu 2001). However, without a clear understanding of the size of a system and a definition of its boundaries it is not possible to judge if flows are internal or driven by adjacent systems. Similarly, the importance of allochthony is only assessable when the balance of inputs and outputs are known relative to the scale and throughputs within the system itself. At the largest scale of the food web – the home range of a predator such as wolf, lion, shark or eagle of roughly 50 km2 to 300 km2 –the balance of inputs and outputs caused by wind and movement of water may be small compared to the total trophic flows within the home range of the large predator (Cousins 1990). Acknowledging these issues of space, Polis et al (1996) argued that progress toward the next phase of food web studies would require addressing spatial and temporal processes. Here, we present a conceptual framework with some nuclei about the role of space in food web ecology. Although we primarily address spatial aspects, this framework is linked to a more general concept of spatio-temporal scales of ecological research.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
London, UK: Elsevier, 2005. Vol. 3, 463-469 p.
, Theoretical Ecology Series, ISSN 1875-306X
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-31067Local ID: 16789ISBN: 9780120884582ISBN: 0120884585OAI: diva2:251890
Food Web Symposium 2003, Giessen, Germany, 13-16 November 2003
Available from: 2009-10-09 Created: 2009-10-09 Last updated: 2015-09-14Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Species extinctions in food webs: local and regional processes
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Species extinctions in food webs: local and regional processes
2009 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Loss of biodiversity is one of the most severe threats to the ecosystems of the world. The major causes behind the high population and species extinction rates are anthropogenic activities such as overharvesting of natural populations, pollution, climate change and destruction and fragmentation of natural habitats. There is an urgent need of understanding how these species losses affect the ecological structure and functioning of our ecosystems. Ecological communities exist in a landscape but the spatial aspects of community dynamics have until recently to large extent been ignored. However, the community’s response to species losses is likely to depend on both the structure of the local community as well as its interactions with surrounding communities. Also the characteristics of the species going extinct do affect how the community can cope with species loss. The overall goal of the present work has been to investigate how both local and regional processes affect ecosystem stability, in the context of preserved biodiversity and maintained ecosystem functioning. The focus is particularly on how these processes effects ecosystem’s response to species loss. To accomplish this goal I have formulated and analyzed mathematical models of ecological communities. We start by analyzing the local processes (Paper I and II) and continue by adding the regional processes (Paper III, IV and V).

In Paper I we analyze dynamical models of ecological communities of different complexity (connectance) to investigate how the structure of the communities affects their resistance to species loss. We also investigate how the resistance is affected by the characteristics, like trophic level and connectivity, of the initially lost species. We find that complex communities are more resistant to species loss than simple communities. The loss of species at low trophic levels and/or with high connectivity (many links to other species) triggers, on average, the highest number of secondary extinctions. We also investigate the structure of the post-extinction community. Moreover, we compare our dynamical analysis with results from topological analysis to evaluate the importance of incorporating dynamics when assessing the risk and extent of cascading extinctions.

The characteristics of a species, like its trophic position and connectivity (number of ingoing and outgoing trophic links) will affect the consequences of its loss as well as its own vulnerability to secondary extinction. In Paper II we characterize the species according to their trophic/ecological uniqueness, a new measure of species characteristic we develop in this paper. A species that has no prey or predators in common with any other species in the community will have a high tropic uniqueness. Here we examine the effect of secondary extinctions on an ecological community’s trophic diversity, the range of different trophic roles played by the species in a community. We find that secondary extinctions cause loss of trophic diversity greater than expected from chance. This occurs because more tropically unique species are more vulnerable to secondary extinctions.

In Paper III, IV and V we expand the analysis to also include the spatial dimension. Paper III is a book chapter discussing spatial aspects of food webs. In Paper IV we analyze how metacommunities (a set of local communities in the landscape connected by species dispersal) respond to species loss and how this response is affected by the structure of the local communities and the number of patches in the metacommunity. We find that the inclusion of space reduces the risk of global and local extinctions and that lowly connected communities are more sensitive to species loss.

In Paper V we investigate how the trophic structure of the local communities, the spatial structure of the landscape and the dispersal patterns of species affect the risk of local extinctions in the metacommunity. We find that the pattern of dispersal can have large effects on local diversity. Dispersal rate as well as dispersal distance are important: low dispersal rates and localized dispersal decrease the risk of local and global extinctions while high dispersal rates and global dispersal increase the risk. We also show that the structure of the local communities plays a significant role for the effects of dispersal on the dynamics of the metacommunity. The species that are most affected by the introduction of the spatial dimension are the top predators.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Linköping: Linköping University Electronic Press, 2009. 45 p.
Linköping Studies in Science and Technology. Dissertations, ISSN 0345-7524 ; 1291
Extinction, food web, metacommunity, dispersal, species loss, migration, habitat fragmentation, connectance
National Category
Natural Sciences
urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-51815 (URN)978-91-7393-480-0 (ISBN)
Public defence
2009-12-18, Planck, Fysikhuset, Campus Valla, Linköpings universitet, Linköping, 10:15 (English)
Available from: 2009-11-24 Created: 2009-11-19 Last updated: 2009-11-24Bibliographically approved

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