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Nature. 2007 Dec 20;450(7173):1226-9.

Allometric degree distributions facilitate food-web stability.

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Darmstadt University of Technology, Department of Biology, Schnittspahnstrasse 10, 64287 Darmstadt, Germany.


In natural ecosystems, species are linked by feeding interactions that determine energy fluxes and create complex food webs. The stability of these food webs enables many species to coexist and to form diverse ecosystems. Recent theory finds predator-prey body-mass ratios to be critically important for food-web stability. However, the mechanisms responsible for this stability are unclear. Here we use a bioenergetic consumer-resource model to explore how and why only particular predator-prey body-mass ratios promote stability in tri-trophic (three-species) food chains. We find that this 'persistence domain' of ratios is constrained by bottom-up energy availability when predators are much smaller than their prey and by enrichment-driven dynamics when predators are much larger. We also find that 97% of the tri-trophic food chains across five natural food webs exhibit body-mass ratios within the predicted persistence domain. Further analyses of randomly rewired food webs show that body mass and allometric degree distributions in natural food webs mediate this consistency. The allometric degree distributions hold that the diversity of species' predators and prey decreases and increases, respectively, with increasing species' body masses. Our results demonstrate how simple relationships between species' body masses and feeding interactions may promote the stability of complex food webs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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