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PLoS One. 2007 Mar 14;2(3):e295.

Invasions and extinctions reshape coastal marine food webs.

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Center for Population Biology, University of California, Davis, California, United States of America.


The biodiversity of ecosystems worldwide is changing because of species loss due to human-caused extinctions and species gain through intentional and accidental introductions. Here we show that the combined effect of these two processes is altering the trophic structure of food webs in coastal marine systems. This is because most extinctions ( approximately 70%) occur at high trophic levels (top predators and other carnivores), while most invasions are by species from lower trophic levels (70% macroplanktivores, deposit feeders, and detritivores). These opposing changes thus alter the shape of marine food webs from a trophic pyramid capped by a diverse array of predators and consumers to a shorter, squatter configuration dominated by filter feeders and scavengers. The consequences of the simultaneous loss of diversity at top trophic levels and gain at lower trophic levels is largely unknown. However, current research suggests that a better understanding of how such simultaneous changes in diversity can impact ecosystem function will be required to manage coastal ecosystems and forecast future changes.

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