How habitat-modifying organisms structure the food web of two coastal ecosystems

Els M. van der Zee, Christine Angelini, Laura L. Govers, Marjolijn J.A. Christianen, Andrew H. Altieri, Karin J. van der Reijden, Brian R. Silliman, Johan van de Koppel, Matthijs van der Geest, Jan A. van Gils, Henk W. van der Veer, Theunis Piersma, Peter C. de Ruiter, Han Olff*, Tjisse van der Heide

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The diversity and structure of ecosystems has been found to depend both on trophic interactions in food webs and on other species interactions such as habitat modification and mutualism that form non-trophic interaction networks. However, quantification of the dependencies between these two main interaction networks has remained elusive. In this study, we assessed how habitat-modifying organisms affect basic food web properties by conducting in-depth empirical investigations of two ecosystems: North American temperate fringing marshes and West African tropical seagrass meadows. Results reveal that habitat-modifying species, through non-trophic facilitation rather than their trophic role, enhance species richness across multiple trophic levels, increase the number of interactions per species (link density), but decrease the realized fraction of all possible links within the food web (connectance). Compared to the trophic role of the most highly connected species, we found this non-trophic effects to be more important for species richness and of more or similar importance for link density and connectance. Our findings demonstrate that food webs can be fundamentally shaped by interactions outside the trophic network, yet intrinsic to the species participating in it. Better integration of non-trophic interactions in food web analyses may therefore strongly contribute to their explanatory and predictive capacity.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20152326
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1826
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2016


  • Consumer–resource interactions
  • Ecological networks
  • Ecosystem engineering
  • Facilitation
  • Foundation species
  • Non-trophic interactions

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    van der Zee, E. M. (Creator), Angelini, C. (Creator), Govers, L. L. (Creator), Christianen, M. J. A. (Creator), Altieri, A. H. (Creator), van der Reijden, K. J. (Creator), Silliman, B. R. (Creator), van de Koppel, J. (Creator), van der Geest, M. (Creator), van Gils, J. A. (Creator), van der Veer, H. W. (Creator), Piersma, T. (Creator), de Ruiter, P. (Creator), Olff, H. (Creator) & van der Heide, T. (Creator), University of Groningen, 16 Feb 2016


    Cite this

    van der Zee, E. M., Angelini, C., Govers, L. L., Christianen, M. J. A., Altieri, A. H., van der Reijden, K. J., Silliman, B. R., van de Koppel, J., van der Geest, M., van Gils, J. A., van der Veer, H. W., Piersma, T., de Ruiter, P. C., Olff, H., & van der Heide, T. (2016). How habitat-modifying organisms structure the food web of two coastal ecosystems. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1826), [20152326].