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Ecol Lett. 2014 Dec;17(12):1518-25. doi: 10.1111/ele.12354. Epub 2014 Sep 16.

Predator decline leads to decreased stability in a coastal fish community.

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Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada; Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada.


Fisheries exploitation has caused widespread declines in marine predators. Theory predicts that predator depletion will destabilise lower trophic levels, making natural communities more vulnerable to environmental perturbations. However, empirical evidence has been limited. Using a community matrix model, we empirically assessed trends in the stability of a multispecies coastal fish community over the course of predator depletion. Three indices of community stability (resistance, resilience and reactivity) revealed significantly decreasing stability concurrent with declining predator abundance. The trophically downgraded community exhibited weaker top-down control, leading to predator-release processes in lower trophic levels and increased susceptibility to perturbation. At the community level, our results suggest that high predator abundance acts as a stabilising force to the naturally stochastic and highly autocorrelated dynamics in low trophic species. These findings have important implications for the conservation and management of predators in marine ecosystems and provide empirical support for the theory of predatory control.


Autoregressive model; community matrix; community stability; ecological role of predators; stability analysis; top-down control; trophic dynamics

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