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Nature. 2000 Sep 21;407(6802):370-4.

Variance in ecological consumer-resource interactions.

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Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Uomo e dell'Ambiente, Pisa, Italy.


Food-web models use the effect size of trophic interactions to predict consumer-resource dynamics. These models anticipate that strong effects of consumers increase spatial and temporal variability in abundance of species, whereas weak effects dampen fluctuations. Empirical evidence indicates that opposite patterns may occur in natural assemblages. Here I show that spatial variance in the distribution of resource populations is sensitive to changes in the variance of the trophic interaction, in addition to the mean effect of consumers, relative to other causes of spatial variability. Simulations indicate that both strong and weak direct effects of consumers can promote spatial variability in abundance of resources, but only trophic interactions with a large mean effect size can reduce variation. Predictions of the model agree with the results of repeated field experiments and are consistent with data from published consumer-resource interactions, proving to be robust across widely varying environmental conditions and species' life histories. Thus, food-web models that embody variance in trophic interactions may have increased capacity to explain the wide range of effects of consumers documented in empirical studies.

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