Journal Papers Social and landscape effects on food webs: a multi-level network simulation model


One source of complexity in ecological systems is the hierarchical organisation of parallel biological processes. Our “horizontal” knowledge describing different levels is quite massive, but the understanding of their vertical interactions is very poor. We present a toy model linking social networks, food webs and a landscape graph. Horizontal processes refer to population, community and metacommunity dynamics, while vertical processes connect the three organisational levels. The model is stochastic and individual-based. We parameterised it by using reasonable empirical values found in the literature. Sensitivity analysis shows how the parameters describing the dynamics of a particular species (e.g., probability of social tie formation with conspecific individuals, or migration rate) can affect metapopulation size and spatial heterogeneity of all food web species. Changing the values of various parameters at any of the three levels have commensurable effects on the population size of all species. In contrast to the general intuition, community dynamics do not dominate population biology; social and landscape processes can trigger greater effects than food web interactions. More rapidly changing social relationships lead to a decrease in social network cohesion, thus impairing the feeding efficiency of consumers. In food webs, trophic specialisation provides an advantage when it contributes to avoid competition, being detrimental otherwise. Highest migration rates result in a more heterogeneous metapopulation distribution of the generalist consumer, indirectly supporting its specialist competitor. We discuss conceptual and methodological aspects of the model, demonstrating the importance of an integrative view. We also emphasise the relevance of vertical connections, suggesting how such a modeling framework could support conservation biology. Further studies should focus on methods to approximate external pressures with changes in model parameters, thus allowing to characterise possible impacts on ecological systems.

Paper Details


M. Scotti,  F. Ciocchetta,  F. Jordan


Journal of Complex Networks, 1, , 160-182