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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Jun 27;364(1524):1789-801. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0273.

The more food webs change, the more they stay the same.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada.


Here, we synthesize a number of recent empirical and theoretical papers to argue that food-web dynamics are characterized by high amounts of spatial and temporal variability and that organisms respond predictably, via behaviour, to these changing conditions. Such behavioural responses on the landscape drive a highly adaptive food-web structure in space and time. Empirical evidence suggests that underlying attributes of food webs are potentially scale-invariant such that food webs are characterized by hump-shaped trophic structures with fast and slow pathways that repeat at different resolutions within the food web. We place these empirical patterns within the context of recent food-web theory to show that adaptable food-web structure confers stability to an assemblage of interacting organisms in a variable world. Finally, we show that recent food-web analyses agree with two of the major predictions of this theory. We argue that the next major frontier in food-web theory and applied food-web ecology must consider the influence of variability on food-web structure.

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