Food Webs pp 1-22 | Cite as

Food Webs: What Can They Tell Us About the World?



This book unites diverse approaches from theoretical ecology and empirical research in systems ranging from soil fauna to oceans. Major philosophical and methodological differences are expected from such a heterogeneous group of ecologists; indeed, one might be amazed by the establishment of a substantial common basis for discussion. Food webs provide this basis. Much recent ecological literature is cast within a food-web framework, including studies of: (1) Habitat heterogeneity and the regulation of community structure (e.g., Lubchenco (1983), Kareiva (1986), Moore and Hunt (1988), and Moore et al. (1989b)); (2) environmental change through time and community structure and function (Menge and Sutherland, 1976; Winemiller, 1990; Schoenly and Cohen, 1991); (3) productivity gradients and community structure (Oksanen et al., 1981; Persson et al., 1988, 1991); (4) direct and indirect cascading effects of predation on community structure (Paine, 1980; Power et al., 1985; Carpenter et al., 1987; Kerfoot, 1987; Yodzis, 1988; Schoener, 1989; Spiller and Schoener, 1990; Turner and Mittelbach, 1990); (5) intraguild predation (Polis et al., 1989; Oksanen, 1990; Polis and Holt, 1992); (6) indirect mutualism (Vandermeer et al., 1985); (7) apparent competition (Holt, 1984; Holt and Kotler, 1987); and (8) ecosystem stability and nutrient dynamics (DeAngelis, 1992). Some population interactions (e.g., competition, predation) cannot be fully evaluated outside of a food-web context because their outcomes can be modified by other members of the web. Aquatic ecologists have achieved notable success by studying the interactions between top-down (consumption) and bottom-up (production) factors in the regulation of community structure (Carpenter, 1988; McQueen et al., 1989; Power, 1990a, 1990b; Vanni and Findlay, 1990; Vanni et al., 1990; Persson et al., this volume). Most food-web studies have viewed consumption exclusively within pathways derived from primary production, and only recently has the major role of detritus in ecosystem structure and function received much serious attention (Cousins, 1980; Rich, 1984; Coleman et al., 1988; Moore et al., 1989a; Polis and Hurd, this volume; Porter, this volume). There currently is little agreement on how to best characterize the role of detritus (itself a heterogeneous unit) in food webs (Rich, 1984; Cousins, 1985; Winemiller, 1990; Polis, 1991). In addition, food webs are the arenas for several major theoretical debates, such as paradigms associating complexity with stability (MacArthur, 1972; May, 1975, 1983; Pimm, 1982; Abrams and Taber, 1982) and hypotheses relating the effects of size-dependent predation to community structure (Brooks and Dodson, 1965; Warren and Lawton, 1987; Cohen and Newman, 1988).


Trophic Interaction American Naturalist Trophic Cascade Food Chain Length Trophic Network 
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