The context dependency of species keystone status during food web disassembly

Tomas Jonsson*, Sofia Berg, Mark Emmerson, Alexander Pimenov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Global change continues to push individual species towards extinction and inmany cases these species cannot be expected to disappear silently, without a trace, fromthe communities inwhich they reside. Importantly, the loss of certain species can trigger a cascade of secondary extinctions, resulting in further degradation of a systemwith potential effects on ecosystem functioning. It is thus crucial to better our understanding of the types of species which, if lost, will affect community structure the most, because in this context they are analogous to keystone species. Here, using a dynamical approach and simulating species loss inmodel communities, we studywhether the importance of species changes as the structure of the food web changes by analyzing the potential importance of 11 species traits during food web collapse following simulated extinctions. We ?nd that the keystone status of species traits is context dependent, with the identity of the most important trait changing during food web collapse. The relative importance of two trait categories tend to be inversely related, with body size based traits being important in intact tomoderately degradedwebs and interaction strength based species traits being important in highly collapsed food webs. The results of our study furthermore suggest that the response of communities to small and large perturbations may be related in the sense that the same kinds of species are important in both situations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalFood Webs
Early online date02 Sep 2015
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2015


  • Community robustness
  • Extinction cascades
  • Secondary extinctions
  • Species importance
  • Species loss
  • Species traits

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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