NCEAS Project 12541

Linking network theory and biodiversity-ecosystem function research: Topology modifies the consequences of species loss for the flow of energy and nutrients within food webs

  • Jarrett E. Byrnes

ActivityDatesFurther Information
Postdoctoral Fellow1st November 2010—31st August 2012Participant List  

Over the past decade, the field of biodiversity-ecosystem function research has sought to understand the consequences of declines in species diversity due to human activities. The field has yielded many robust conclusions regarding the consequences of plant species loss for primary production and nutrient cycling. It has not, however, arrived at many generalities regarding the consequences of species loss at higher trophic levels for the flow of energy and nutrients through food webs, even in the most simplified of experimental systems. Nor do we have a strong idea of the consequences of extinction in food webs of real-world complexity. This lack of understanding is due to extinction altering not just the number of species in a food web, but also degrading the network structure of feeding connections between species. I propose uniting biodiversity-ecosystem function research with food web network theory to better understand the consequences of species loss for the efficiency of trophic transfer within food webs. I propose developing a unified theoretical framework that examines the consequences of species loss in the context of food web network structure. I will then examine how real-world complexity alters the dynamics of trophic transfer by applying this framework to multiple long-term community data sets. Lastly, I will perform a meta-analysis of published food web manipulations to examine how the topology of even simplified experiments can influence the dynamics of resource use. The results of this research will therefore fill a critical gap for managers in predicting the consequences of consumer species extinction in nature.

TypeProduct of NCEAS Research
Journal Article Hooper, Dave U.; Adair, Elizabeth C.; Cardinale, Bradley J.; Byrnes, Jarrett E.; Hungate, Bruce A.; Matulich, Kristin L.; Gonzalez, Andrew; Duffy, J. Emmett; Gamfeldt, Lars; O'Connor, Mary I. 2012. A global synthesis reveals biodiversity loss as a major driver of ecosystem change. Nature. Vol: 486. Pages 105-108. (Online version)