Much of the interest in food webs has been driven by a search for universal patterns that could indicate common organizing principles. In an approach that treats food webs as transportation networks (represented by minimum spanning trees) it was recently shown that food webs exhibit universal scaling relations, analogous to those found in river networks and vascular systems. It was concluded that this pattern is due to an optimization process acting in ecological communities. Here we construct minimum spanning trees using Monte Carlo simulations of a simple model that has two parameters that control the proportion of basal species and limit food-chain length, respectively. We show that when the food-chain length is of a similar size to that reported for real food webs, the universal scaling relations readily emerge in the model. This result is robust in a wide range of values for the proportion of basal species. We therefore conclude that the processes that limit food-chain length in ecological communities are sufficient to explain the observed universal scaling relations in food webs, and that complicated adaptive explanations are not required.
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