Pyramids and cascades: a synthesis of food chain functioning and stability

Abstract : Food chain theory is one of the cornerstones of ecology, providing many of its basic predictions, such as biomass pyramids, trophic cascades and predator-prey oscillations. Yet, ninety years into this theory, the conditions under which these patterns may occur and persist in nature remain subject to debate. Rather than address each pattern in isolation, we propose that they must be understood together, calling for synthesis in a fragmented landscape of theoretical and empirical results. As a first step, we propose a minimal theory that combines the long-standing energetic and dynamical approaches of food chains. We chart theoretical predictions on a concise map, where two main regimes emerge: across various functioning and stability metrics, one regime is charac-terised by pyramidal patterns and the other by cascade patterns. The axes of this map combine key physiological and ecological variables, such as metabolic rates and self-regulation. A quantitative comparison with data sheds light on conflicting theoretical predictions and empirical puzzles, from size spectra to causes of trophic cascade strength. We conclude that drawing systematic connections between various existing approaches to food chains, and between their predictions on functioning and stability, is a crucial step in confronting this theory to real ecosystems.
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Submitted on : Thursday, November 7, 2019 - 8:47:15 AM
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Matthieu Barbier, Michel Loreau. Pyramids and cascades: a synthesis of food chain functioning and stability. Ecology Letters, Wiley, 2019, 22 (2), pp.405-419. ⟨10.1111/ele.13196⟩. ⟨hal-02350598⟩



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