Ecology Letters (2012)
Body-size structure of food webs and adaptive foraging of consumers are two of the dominant concepts of our understanding how natural ecosystems maintain their stability and diversity. The interplay of these two processes, however, is a critically important yet unresolved issue. To fill this gap in our knowledge of ecosystem stability, we investigate dynamic random and niche model food webs to evaluate the proportion of persistent species. We show that stronger body-size structures and faster adaptation stabilise these food webs. Body-size structures yield stabilising configurations of interaction strength distributions across food webs, and adaptive foraging emphasises links to resources closer to the base. Moreover, both mechanisms combined have a cumulative effect. Most importantly, unstructured random webs evolve via adaptive foraging into stable size-structured food webs. This offers a mechanistic explanation of how size structure adaptively emerges in complex food webs, thus building a novel bridge between these two important stabilising mechanisms.