Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 95–106 | Cite as

Patterns in intraspecific interaction strengths and the stability of food webs

  • Cassandra van AltenaEmail author
  • Lia Hemerik
  • Johan A. P. Heesterbeek
  • Peter C. de Ruiter


A common approach to analyse stability of biological communities is to calculate the interaction strength matrix. Problematic in this approach is defining intraspecific interaction strengths, represented by diagonal elements in the matrix, due to a lack of empirical data for these strengths. Theoretical studies have shown that an overall increase in these strengths enhances stability. However, the way in which the pattern in intraspecific interaction strengths, i.e. the variation in these strengths between species, influences stability has received little attention. We constructed interaction strength matrices for 11 real soil food webs in which four patterns for intraspecific interaction strengths were chosen, based on the ecological literature. These patterns included strengths that were (1) similar for all species, (2) trophic level dependent, (3) biomass dependent, or (4) death rate dependent. These four patterns were analysed for their influence on (1) ranking food webs by their stability and (2) the response in stability to variation of single interspecific interaction strengths. The first analysis showed that ranking the 11 food webs by their stability was not strongly influenced by the choice of diagonal pattern. In contrast, the second analysis showed that the response of food web stability to variation in single interspecific interaction strengths was sensitive to the choice of diagonal pattern. Notably, stability could increase using one pattern and decrease using another. This result asks for deliberate approaches to choose diagonal element values in order to make predictions on how particular species, interactions, or other food web parameters affect food web stability.


Food web stability Interaction strength matrix Intraspecific interaction strength Press perturbations 



We thank two anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments. This research was funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), as project 645.000.013.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cassandra van Altena
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lia Hemerik
    • 1
  • Johan A. P. Heesterbeek
    • 2
  • Peter C. de Ruiter
    • 1
  1. 1.Biometris, Plant Sciences GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Department of Farm Animal Health, Faculty of Veterinary MedicineUniversity of UtrechtUtrechtThe Netherlands

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