Coupled energy pathways and the resilience of size-structured food webs

Julia L. Blanchard, Richard Law, Matthew D. Castle, Simon Jennings

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80 Citations (Scopus)


Size-based food-web models, which focus on body size rather than species identity, capture the generalist and transient feeding interactions in most marine ecosystems and are well-supported by data. Here, we develop a size-based model that incorporates dynamic interactions between marine benthic (detritus-based) and pelagic (primary producer based) pathways to investigate how the coupling of these pathways affects food web stability and resilience. All model configurations produced stable steady-state size spectra. Resilience was measured by the return speed obtained from local stability analysis. Return times following large perturbations away from steady-state were also measured. Resilience varied nonlinearly with both predator and detrital coupling, and high resilience came from predators (1) feeding entirely in the slow benthic zone or (2) feeding across the two energy pathways, with most food coming from the fast pelagic pathway. When most of the energy flowed through the pelagic pathway, resilience was positively related to turnover rate. When most of the energy flowed through the benthic pathway, resilience was negatively related to turnover rate. Analysis of the effects of large perturbations revealed that resilience for pelagic ecosystems depended on the nature of the perturbation and the degree of benthic–pelagic coupling. Areas with very little or no benthic–pelagic coupling (e.g. deep seas or highly stratified water columns) may return more quickly following pulses of detrital fallout or primary production but could be much less resilient to the effects of human-induced mortality (harvesting).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-300
Number of pages12
JournalTheoretical Ecology
Issue number3
Early online date21 May 2010
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011

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