Food web stability and weighted connectance: the complexity-stability debate revisited

Cassandra van Altena, Lia Hemerik*, Peter C. de Ruiter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

How the complexity of food webs relates to stability has been a subject of many studies. Often, unweighted connectance is used to express complexity. Unweighted connectance is measured as the proportion of realized links in the network. Weighted connectance, on the other hand, takes link weights (fluxes or feeding rates) into account and captures the shape of the flux distribution. Here, we used weighted connectance to revisit the relation between complexity and stability. We used 15 real soil food webs and determined the feeding rates and the interaction strength matrices. We calculated both versions of connectance, and related these structural properties to food web stability. We also determined the skewness of both flux and interaction strength distributions with the Gini coefficient. We found no relation between unweighted connectance and food web stability, but weighted connectance was positively correlated with stability. This finding challenges the notion that complexity may constrain stability, and supports the ‘complexity begets stability’ notion. The positive correlation between weighted connectance and stability implies that the more evenly flux rates were distributed over links, the more stable the webs were. This was confirmed by the Gini coefficients of both fluxes and interaction strengths. However, the most even distributions of this dataset still were strongly skewed towards small fluxes or weak interaction strengths. Thus, incorporating these distribution with many weak links via weighted instead of unweighted food web measures can shed new light on classical theories.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9
Pages (from-to)49-58
JournalTheoretical Ecology
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Keywords

  • Jacobian matrix
  • Link distribution
  • Weighted connectance

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