Food-web stability signals critical transitions in temperate shallow lakes

Jan J. Kuiper, Cassandra van Altena, P.C. de Ruiter, Luuk P.A. Van Gerven, Jan H. Janse, Wolf M. Mooij

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A principal aim of ecologists is to identify critical levels of environmental change beyond which ecosystems undergo radical shifts in their functioning. Both food-web theory and alternative stable states theory provide fundamental clues to mechanisms conferring stability to natural systems. Yet, it is unclear how the concept of food-web stability is associated with the resilience of ecosystems susceptible to regime change. Here, we use a combination of food web and ecosystem modelling to show that impending catastrophic shifts in shallow lakes are preceded by a destabilizing reorganization of interaction strengths in the aquatic food web. Analysis of the intricate web of trophic interactions reveals that only few key interactions, involving zooplankton, diatoms and detritus, dictate the deterioration of food-web stability. Our study exposes a tight link between food-web dynamics and the dynamics of the whole ecosystem, implying that trophic organization may serve as an empirical indicator of ecosystem resilience.
Original languageEnglish
Article number7727
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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  • Prizes

    1st prize PE&RC Publication Award 2015

    Jan J. Kuiper (Recipient), 05 Nov 2015

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)Academic

  • 2nd prize NERN Publication Award 2016

    Jan J. Kuiper (Recipient), 10 Feb 2016

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)Academic

    MCED Award for Innovative Contributions to Ecological Modelling

    Jan J. Kuiper (Recipient), 2016

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)Academic

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