Predicting community responses to perturbations in the face of imperfect knowledge and network complexity

Ecology
By: , and 

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Abstract

How best to predict the effects of perturbations to ecological communities has been a long-standing goal for both applied and basic ecology. This quest has recently been revived by new empirical data, new analysis methods, and increased computing speed, with the promise that ecologically important insights may be obtainable from a limited knowledge of community interactions. We use empirically based and simulated networks of varying size and connectance to assess two limitations to predicting perturbation responses in multispecies communities: (1) the inaccuracy by which species interaction strengths are empirically quantified and (2) the indeterminacy of species responses due to indirect effects associated with network size and structure. We find that even modest levels of species richness and connectance (∼25 pairwise interactions) impose high requirements for interaction strength estimates because system indeterminacy rapidly overwhelms predictive insights. Nevertheless, even poorly estimated interaction strengths provide greater average predictive certainty than an approach that uses only the sign of each interaction. Our simulations provide guidance in dealing with the trade-offs involved in maximizing the utility of network approaches for predicting dynamics in multispecies communities.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Predicting community responses to perturbations in the face of imperfect knowledge and network complexity
Series title Ecology
DOI 10.1890/10-1354.1
Volume 92
Issue 4
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher Brooklyn Botanical Garden
Publisher location Brooklyn, NY
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 11 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Ecology
First page 836
Last page 846