Global change alters the stability of food webs


Mark Emmerson, tel. +353 (0)21 490 4190. fax: +353 (0)21 427 0562, e-mail:


Recent research has generally shown that a small change in the number of species in a food web can have consequences both for community structure and ecosystem processes. However ‘change’ is not limited to just the number of species in a community, but might include an alteration to such properties as precipitation, nutrient cycling and temperature. How such changes might affect species interactions is important, not just through the presence or absence of interactions, but also because the patterning of interaction strengths among species is intimately associated with community stability. Interaction strengths encompass such properties as feeding rates and assimilation efficiencies, and encapsulate functionally important information with regard to ecosystem processes. Interaction strengths represent the pathways and transfer of energy through an ecosystem. We review the best empirical data available detailing the frequency distribution of interaction strengths in communities. We present the underlying (but consistent) pattern of species interactions and discuss the implications of this patterning. We then examine how such a basic pattern might be affected given various scenarios of ‘change’ and discuss the consequences for community stability and ecosystem functioning.