Get access

Variable interaction strengths stabilize marine community pattern


  • Sergio A. Navarrete,

    Corresponding author
    1. Estación Costera de Investigaciones Marinas and Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology and Biodiversity, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Casilla 114-D, Santiago, Chile
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Eric L. Berlow

    1. White Mountain Research Station, University of California, San Diego, 3000 E. Line St., Bishop, CA 93514, USA
    2. Sierra Nevada Research Institute, University of California, Merced, 4000 Chilnuala Falls Rd, Yosemite National Park, Wawona, CA 95389, USA
    3. Pacific Ecoinformatics and Computational Ecology Laboratory, 1604 McGee Ave, Berkeley, CA 94703, USA
    Search for more papers by this author

* E-mail:


High variability in the strength of species interactions is usually considered a source of unstable or unpredictable community patterns. However, recent theoretical work suggests that some types of variance in interaction strength may actually promote stability. Here we provide the first empirical evidence that highly variable, context-dependent species interaction strengths and resilient community patterns can be two sides of the same coin. Field experiments show that a persistent rocky intertidal seascape is remarkably resilient to multiple sources of environmental stochasticity largely because of scale dependent and variable species interaction strengths. Biological interactions exert a stabilizing effect because their intensity varies systematically with changes in both physical sources of mortality of established species, as well as recruitment of new individuals. Strong variation in species interaction strengths with disturbance size and environmental conditions is ubiquitous in nature. Elucidating when this context dependency will be stabilizing is critical to predict community-level responses to anthropogenic disturbances.