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Journal Articles Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Year : 2018

Trophic Redundancy Reduces Vulnerability to Extinction Cascades


Significance Initial species loss can lead to follow-on extinctions because of the interconnectedness of species in ecosystems. The loss of biodiversity through human impact can change the structure of ecological communities, which, models predict, can affect the likelihood of secondary extinctions. Uniquely, we provide an empirical demonstration of this with a plant-insect food web experiment by focusing on a particular secondary extinction mechanism. This mechanistic approach leads to specific, empirically testable hypotheses that can inform the development of predictive models on the consequences of changes in ecological community structure. , Current species extinction rates are at unprecedentedly high levels. While human activities can be the direct cause of some extinctions, it is becoming increasingly clear that species extinctions themselves can be the cause of further extinctions, since species affect each other through the network of ecological interactions among them. There is concern that the simplification of ecosystems, due to the loss of species and ecological interactions, increases their vulnerability to such secondary extinctions. It is predicted that more complex food webs will be less vulnerable to secondary extinctions due to greater trophic redundancy that can buffer against the effects of species loss. Here, we demonstrate in a field experiment with replicated plant-insect communities, that the probability of secondary extinctions is indeed smaller in food webs that include trophic redundancy. Harvesting one species of parasitoid wasp led to secondary extinctions of other, indirectly linked, species at the same trophic level. This effect was markedly stronger in simple communities than for the same species within a more complex food web. We show that this is due to functional redundancy in the more complex food webs and confirm this mechanism with a food web simulation model by highlighting the importance of the presence and strength of trophic links providing redundancy to those links that were lost. Our results demonstrate that biodiversity loss, leading to a reduction in redundant interactions, can increase the vulnerability of ecosystems to secondary extinctions, which, when they occur, can then lead to further simplification and run-away extinction cascades.

Dates and versions

hal-03985267 , version 1 (13-02-2023)



Dirk Sanders, Elisa Thébault, Rachel Kehoe, F. J. Frank Van Veen. Trophic Redundancy Reduces Vulnerability to Extinction Cascades. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 2018, 115 (10), pp.2419--2424. ⟨10.1073/pnas.1716825115⟩. ⟨hal-03985267⟩
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