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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2011 May 12;366(1569):1425-37. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2010.0241.

Genetic variation, predator-prey interactions and food web structure.

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  • Cantabrian Institute of Biodiversity (ICAB), Universidad de Oviedo-Principado de Asturias, 33006 Oviedo, Asturias, Spain. jordi@eeza.csic.es


Food webs are networks of species that feed on each other. The role that within-population phenotypic and genetic variation plays in food web structure is largely unknown. Here, I show via simulation how variation in two key traits, growth rates and phenology, by influencing the variability of body sizes present through time, can potentially affect several structural parameters in the direction of enhancing food web persistence: increased connectance, decreased interaction strengths, increased variation among interaction strengths and increased degree of omnivory. I discuss other relevant traits whose variation could affect the structure of food webs, such as morphological and additional life-history traits, as well as animal personalities. Furthermore, trait variation could also contribute to the stability of food web modules through metacommunity dynamics. I propose future research to help establish a link between within-population variation and food web structure. If appropriately established, such a link could have important consequences for biological conservation, as it would imply that preserving (functional) genetic variation within populations could ensure the preservation of entire communities.

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