Theoretical Ecology

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 59–71 | Cite as

Interaction strength revisited—clarifying the role of energy flux for food web stability

  • Karin A. NilssonEmail author
  • Kevin S. McCann


Interaction strength (IS) has been theoretically shown to play a major role in governing the stability and dynamics of food webs. Nonetheless, its definition has been varied and problematic, including a range of recent definitions based on biological rates associated with model parameters (e.g., attack rate). Results from food web theory have been used to argue that IS metrics based on energy flux ought to have a clear relationship with stability. Here, we use simple models to elucidate the actual relationship between local stability and a number of common IS metrics (total flux and per capita fluxes) as well as a more recently suggested metric. We find that the classical IS metrics map to stability in a more complex way than suggested by existing food web theory and that the new IS metric has a much clearer, and biologically interpretable, relationship with local stability. The total energy flux metric falls off existing theoretical predictions when the total resource productivity available to the consumer is reduced despite increased consumer attack rates. The density of a consumer can hence decrease when its attack rate increases. This effect, called the paradox of attack rate, is similar to the well-known hydra effect and can even cascade up a food chain to exclude a predator when consumer attack rate is increased.


Hydra effect Paradox of attack rate Paradox of searching efficiency Rosenzweig-MacArthur Lotka-Volterra Logistic growth 



The study was financed by a post doc grant from the Swedish Research Council to Karin Nilsson. We thank Lauri Oksanen and Gabriel Gellner for inspiration and discussion, Amanda Caskenette for language editing, and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

Supplementary material

12080_2015_282_MOESM1_ESM.docx (33 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 33.2 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Integrative Biology, Science ComplexUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Environmental ScienceUmeå UniversityUmeåSweden

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