No complexity-stability relationship in empirical ecosystems

Type Article
Date 2016-08
Language English
Author(s) Jacquet ClaireORCID1, 2, 3, Moritz Charlotte4, 5, Morissette Lyne6, Legagneux Pierre1, 2, Massol FrancoisORCID7, Archambault Philippe4, 8, Gravel Dominique1, 2, 9
Affiliation(s) 1 : Univ Quebec, Dept Biol, 300 Allee Ursulines, Rimouski, PQ G5L 3A1, Canada.
2 : Quebec Ctr Biodivers Sci, Montreal, PQ H3A 1B1, Canada.
3 : Univ Montpellier, UMR MARBEC, Pl Eugene Bataillon, F-34095 Montpellier 05, France.
4 : Univ Quebec, Inst Sci Mer Rimouski, 310 Allee Ursulines, Rimouski, PQ G5L 3A1, Canada.
5 : PSL Res Univ, UPVD, Ctr Rec Insulaires & Observ Environm, EPHE,CNRS,USR 3278,CRIOBE, F-98729 Moorea, France.
6 : M Expertise Marine, 10 Rue Luce Drapeau, St Luce, PQ G0K1P0, Canada.
7 : Univ Lille 1, CNRS UMR 8198, Unite Evolut Ecol & Paleontol EEP, SPICI Grp, Batiment SN2, F-59655 Villeneuve Dascq, France.
8 : Univ Laval, Dept Biol, Quebec Ocean, Pavillon Alexandre Vachon 1045,Ave Med, Quebec City, PQ G1V 0A6, Canada.
9 : Univ Sherbrooke, Dept Biol, Fac Sci, 2500 Blvd Univ, Sherbrooke, PQ J1K 2R1, Canada.
Source Nature Communications (2041-1723) (Nature Publishing Group), 2016-08 , Vol. 7 , N. 12573 , P. 8p.
DOI 10.1038/ncomms12573
WOS© Times Cited 93

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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