, Volume 11, Issue 6, pp 939–960

Structural Degradation in Mediterranean Sea Food Webs: Testing Ecological Hypotheses Using Stochastic and Mass-Balance Modelling


DOI: 10.1007/s10021-008-9171-y

Cite this article as:
Coll, M., Lotze, H.K. & Romanuk, T.N. Ecosystems (2008) 11: 939. doi:10.1007/s10021-008-9171-y


Human-mediated disturbances such as fishing, habitat modification, and pollution have resulted in significant shifts in species composition and abundance in marine ecosystems which translate into degradation of food-web structure. Here, we used a comparative ecological modelling approach and data from two food webs (North-Central Adriatic and South Catalan Sea) and two time periods (mid-late 1970s and 1990s) in the Mediterranean Sea to evaluate how changes in species composition and biomass have affected food-web properties and the extent of ecosystem degradation. We assembled species lists and ecological information for both regions and time periods into stochastic structural and mass-balance food-web models, and compared the outcomes of 22 food-web properties. Our results show strong similarities in structural food-web properties between the North-Central Adriatic and South Catalan Seas indicating similar ecosystem structure and levels of ecological degradation between regions and time periods. In contrast, a comparison with other published marine food webs (Caribbean, Benguela, and US continental shelf) suggested that Mediterranean webs are in an advanced state of ecological degradation. This was reflected by lower trophic height, linkage density, connectance, omnivory, species involved in looping, trophic chain length and fraction of biomass at higher trophic levels, as well as higher generality and fraction of biomass at lower trophic levels. An analysis of robustness to simulated species extinction revealed lower robustness to species removals in Mediterranean webs and corroborated their advanced state of degradation. Importantly, the two modelling approaches used delivered comparable results suggesting that they both capture fundamental information about how food webs are structured.


food-web modelling network analysis ecosystem degradation human impacts robustness to species removal Niche model Ecopath model Mediterranean Sea 

Supplementary material

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marta Coll
    • 1
  • Heike K. Lotze
    • 1
  • Tamara N. Romanuk
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada