NCEAS Product 21127

Bascompte, Jordi; Melian, Carlos J.; Sala, Enric. 2005. Interaction strength combinations and the overfishing of a marine food web. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Vol: 102(15). Pages 5443-5447. (Abstract) (Online version)


The stability of ecological communities largely depends on the strength of interactions between predators and their prey. Here we show that these interaction strengths are structured nonrandomly in a large Caribbean marine food web. Specifically, the cooccurrence of strong interactions on two consecutive levels of food chains occurs less frequently than expected by chance. Even when they occur, these strongly interacting chains are accompanied by strong omnivory more often than expected by chance. By using a food web model, we show that these interaction strength combinations reduce the likelihood of trophic cascades after the overfishing of top predators. However, fishing selectively removes predators that are overrepresented in strongly interacting chains. Hence, the potential for strong community-wide effects remains a threat.