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Natural ecosystems are as vulnerable as they are diverse. Environmental changes such as climate change, pollution or the spread of alien species can easily throw an ecosystem off balance. Researchers are therefore investigating how susceptible ecosystems are to disruption. But in their search for answers they face the problem that the complex network of relationships includes innumerable interactions, which are virtually impossible to record comprehensively and convert into measurable data.
In an effort to overcome this obstacle, a team lead by ecologist Prof. Ulrich Brose of Friedrich Schiller University in Jena (Germany) and of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) has developed a new approach. The special feature of the method is that only limited information is needed about the characteristics of 'predators' that hunt prey animals. These data enable researchers to determine the structure and stability of a habitat, without the need for a comprehensive examination of the relationships to other organisms. The scientists were able to confirm the value of their method using a large dataset of 220,000 interactions from 290 food webs. They had collected the data from research partners throughout the world over a period of more than 10 years.
Characteristic - Predator - Relationship - Body - Mass
"The decisive characteristic of a predator is the relationship between its body mass and that of its prey," explains Brose, who was recently awarded the Thuringian Research Prize. "If there is a big difference, this has a positive effect on the equilibrium of the energy flows of the food web and, by extension, on the stability of the ecosystem." Large hunters with small prey, such as mouse-hunting...
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