No complexity-stability relationship in empirical ecosystems

Understanding the mechanisms responsible for stability and persistence of ecosystems is one of the greatest challenges in ecology. Robert May showed that, contrary to intuition, complex randomly built ecosystems are less likely to be stable than simpler ones. Few attempts have been tried to test May's prediction empirically, and we still ignore what is the actual complexity-stability relationship in natural ecosystems. Here we perform a stability analysis of 116 quantitative food webs sampled worldwide. We find that classic descriptors of complexity (species richness, connectance and interaction strength) are not associated with stability in empirical food webs. Further analysis reveals that a correlation between the effects of predators on prey and those of prey on predators, combined with a high frequency of weak interactions, stabilize food web dynamics relative to the random expectation. We conclude that empirical food webs have several non-random properties contributing to the absence of a complexity-stability relationship.

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Jacquet Claire, Moritz Charlotte, Morissette Lyne, Legagneux Pierre, Massol Francois, Archambault Philippe, Gravel Dominique (2016). No complexity-stability relationship in empirical ecosystems. Nature Communications. 7 (12573). 8p..,

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