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The Nature of Ecological Stability: Integrating Theory from Modules to Whole Food Webs

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Title: The Nature of Ecological Stability: Integrating Theory from Modules to Whole Food Webs
Author: Gellner, Gabriel
Department: Department of Integrative Biology
Program: Integrative Biology
Advisor: McCann, Kevin
Abstract: The dynamics of ecosystems include a bewildering number of weak to strong biotic interactions. Global human development has begun to erode this natural complexity making it important that we rapidly assess the structural aspects of food webs that are critical to the stable function of our life-support systems. Here, for the first time, employing simple and general arguments I outline a whole food web theory that yields an interaction strength result that is compatible in every way to theory that spans the entire ecological hierarchy (i.e., from populations to whole ecosystems). This general whole ecosystem result suggests that strong interactions in food webs are not “stabilizing” as has been suggested recently, but rather potent destabilizers of diversity. I then show how it is possible to characterize the models that generate the recent examples of stabilization through strong interactions and determine that this effect arises from three implausible assumptions on the structure of natural food webs. I end by determining how the general stability pattern found across food webs of all complexity can be understood from a stochastic perspective that unites different interpretations of ecological stability into a duality of dynamic responses to increasing interactions strength. This theory, therefore, suggests that nature’s weak interactions are the glue that binds ecosystems together and maintains biodiversity.
Date: 2014-06
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