Trophic interaction modifications: an empirical and theoretical framework

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Abstract

Consumer–resource interactions are often influenced by other species in the community. At present these ‘trophic interaction modifications’ are rarely included in ecological models despite demonstrations that they can drive system dynamics. Here, we advocate and extend an approach that has the potential to unite and represent this key group of non-trophic interactions by emphasising the change to trophic interactions induced by modifying species. We highlight the opportunities this approach brings in comparison to frameworks that coerce trophic interaction modifications into pairwise relationships. To establish common frames of reference and explore the value of the approach, we set out a range of metrics for the ‘strength’ of an interaction modification which incorporate increasing levels of contextual information about the system. Through demonstrations in three-species model systems, we establish that these metrics capture complimentary aspects of interaction modifications. We show how the approach can be used in a range of empirical contexts; we identify as specific gaps in current understanding experiments with multiple levels of modifier species and the distributions of modifications in networks. The trophic interaction modification approach we propose can motivate and unite empirical and theoretical studies of system dynamics, providing a route to confront ecological complexity.

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Terry, J. C. D., Morris, R. J., & Bonsall, M. B. (2017). Trophic interaction modifications: an empirical and theoretical framework. Ecology Letters, 20(10), 1219–1230. https://doi.org/10.1111/ele.12824

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