A community is stable, and resilient, if the levels of all community variables can return to the original steady state following a perturbation. The stability properties of a community depend on its structure, which is the network of direct effects (interactions) among the variables within the community. These direct effects form feedback cycles (loops) that determine community stability. Although feedback cycles have an intuitive interpretation, identifying how they form the feedback properties of a particular community can be intractable. Furthermore, determining the role that any specific direct effect plays in the stability of a system is even more daunting. Such information, however, would identify important direct effects for targeted experimental and management manipulation even in complex communities for which quantitative information is lacking. We therefore provide a method that determines the sensitivity of community stability to model structure, and identifies the relative role of particular direct effects, indirect effects, and feedback cycles in determining stability. Structural sensitivities summarize the degree to which each direct effect contributes to stabilizing feedback or destabilizing feedback or both. Structural sensitivities prove useful in identifying ecologically important feedback cycles within the community structure and for detecting direct effects that have strong, or weak, influences on community stability. The approach may guide the development of management intervention and research design. We demonstrate its value with two theoretical models and two empirical examples of different levels of complexity. ?? 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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Sensitivity of system stability to model structure