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Keywords:

  • Compartment;
  • consumer-resource interaction;
  • food web;
  • foraging;
  • scale;
  • space;
  • stability

Abstract

The dynamics of ecological systems include a bewildering number of biotic interactions that unfold over a vast range of spatial scales. Here, employing simple and general empirical arguments concerning the nature of movement, trophic position and behaviour we outline a general theory concerning the role of space and food web structure on food web stability. We argue that consumers link food webs in space and that this spatial structure combined with relatively rapid behavioural responses by consumers can strongly influence the dynamics of food webs. Employing simple spatially implicit food web models, we show that large mobile consumers are inordinately important in determining the stability, or lack of it, in ecosystems. More specifically, this theory suggests that mobile higher order organisms are potent stabilizers when embedded in a variable, and expansive spatial structure. However, when space is compressed and higher order consumers strongly couple local habitats then mobile consumers can have an inordinate destabilizing effect. Preliminary empirical arguments show consistency with this general theory.