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Trophic coherence determines food-web stability [PNAS]

by Frédéric Magné - published on , updated on

The fact that large, complex ecosystems are particularly robust is mysterious in the light of mathematical arguments that suggest they should be unstable; i.e., susceptible to runaway fluctuations in species’ abundances. Here we show that food webs (networks describing who eats whom in an ecosystem) exhibit a property we call trophic coherence, a measure of how neatly the species fall into distinct levels. We find that this property makes networks far more linearly stable than if the links (predator–prey interactions) were placed randomly between species, or according to existing structural models. A simple model we propose to capture this feature shows that networks can, in fact, become more stable with size and complexity, suggesting a possible solution to the paradox.

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