With Size Comes Stability

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Science  17 Nov 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5802, pp. 1050
DOI: 10.1126/science.314.5802.1050b

The webs of interactions between producers, consumers and decomposers in natural ecosystems confront the ecologist with a bewildering complexity. Much effort has gone into exploring the structure of food webs and the forces that contribute to their stability.

In two studies, Brose et al. estimate the consequences for food-web stability of the body-size distributions of consumer and resource species. Their theoretical simulations suggest that the population persistence of predator and prey species in food webs increases as the ratio of the predator-to-prey body-mass increases, up to a saturation point that is higher for vertebrates than invertebrates. These patterns were found to hold in a survey of body-size distributions in natural food webs, which also revealed that body-size ratios of predators and prey differed across freshwater, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems. These effects of body-size ratio on stability and complexity in food webs add an important dimension to the study of this fundamental ecological question. — AMS

Ecol. Lett. 9, 1228 (2006); Ecology 87, 2411 (2006).

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