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Food-web structure mediates dramatic effects of biodiversity loss including secondary and 'cascading' extinctions. We studied these effects by simulating primary species loss in 16 food webs from terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and measuring robustness in terms of the secondary extinctions that followed. As observed in other networks, food webs are more(More)
Networks from a wide range of physical, biological, and social systems have been recently described as "small-world" and "scale-free." However, studies disagree whether ecological networks called food webs possess the characteristic path lengths, clustering coefficients, and degree distributions required for membership in these classes of networks. Our(More)
Classic local stability theory predicts that complex ecological networks are unstable and are unlikely to persist despite empiricists' abundant documentation of such complexity in nature. This contradiction has puzzled biologists for decades. While some have explored how stability may be achieved in small modules of a few interacting species, rigorous(More)
It has been suggested that differences in body size between consumer and resource species may have important implications for interaction strengths, population dynamics, and eventually food web structure, function, and evolution. Still, the general distribution of consumer-'resource body-size ratios in real ecosystems, and whether they vary systematically(More)
While trophic levels have found broad application throughout ecology, they are also in much contention on analytical and empirical grounds. Here, we use a new generation of data and theory to examine long-standing questions about trophic-level limits and degrees of omnivory. The data include food webs of the Chesapeake Bay, U.S.A., the island of Saint(More)
Darwin's classic image of an "entangled bank" of interdependencies among species has long suggested that it is difficult to predict how the loss of one species affects the abundance of others. We show that for dynamical models of realistically structured ecological networks in which pair-wise consumer-resource interactions allometrically scale to the (3/4)(More)
The global biodiversity crisis concerns not only unprecedented loss of species within communities, but also related consequences for ecosystem function. Community ecology focuses on patterns of species richness and community composition, whereas ecosystem ecology focuses on fluxes of energy and materials. Food webs provide a quantitative framework to(More)
Localized ecological systems are known to shift abruptly and irreversibly from one state to another when they are forced across critical thresholds. Here we review evidence that the global ecosystem as a whole can react in the same way and is approaching a planetary-scale critical transition as a result of human influence. The plausibility of a(More)