Modifying modifiers: what happens when interspecific interactions interact?


  • Antonio J. Golubski,

    Corresponding authorSearch for more papers by this author
    • Present address: Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan, 2041 Kraus Natural Science Building, 830 N University Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1048, USA.

  • Peter A. Abrams

    1. Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, 25 Harbord St., Toronto, ON M5S 3G5, Canada
    Search for more papers by this author


1. The strength of the trophic link between any given pair of species in a food web is likely to depend on the presence and/or densities of other species in the community. How these trophic interaction modifications (TIMs) interact with one another to produce a net modifying effect is an important but under-explored issue.

2. We review several specific types of TIMs that are well understood to address whether the magnitude of the net modification changes with the number of modifiers, and whether modifiers usually increase or decrease each other’s effects.

3. Modifications of interactions are generally not independent. It is likely that TIMs interact antagonistically in the majority of cases; the magnitudes of TIMs decrease as more modifiers are added, or new TIMs reduce the magnitudes of modifications that are already present.

4. Individual modifications are likely to have a smaller effect in many-species systems than expected from independent combination of modifications measured in systems with relatively few species. Thus, models that lack explicit TIMs may in some cases yield adequate predictions for species-level perturbations, provided that the net effects of TIMs are implicitly included in measured interaction strengths.

5. Many types of TIMs share structural similarities. Nevertheless, a complete understanding of their effects may require theory that distinguishes different ‘functional groups’ of modifiers and addresses how these are structured according to trophic relationships.