Ontogenetic niche shift, food-web coupling, and alternative stable states

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Several recent studies have shown that food web coupling by ontogenetic niche shifts can generate alternative stable states (ASS). However, these studies mainly considered cases where juvenile and adult stages are the top level consumers. The conditions under which ASS occur in more structurally diverse food web configurations have not been explored. In this study, I examine the influence of food-chain length and the trophic positions of juveniles and adults on the existence of ASS. Comprehensive model analysis showed that if both juveniles and adults are top predators, ASS are possible irrespective of their trophic level, because of overcompensation in reproduction and maturation due to strong density dependence, as previously predicted. However, the following potential food-web effects were found: ASS potential (1) disappears if either or both the juveniles and adults have a predator and (2) is once again observed if another predator is added on the stage-specific predator. These mechanisms involve (1) top-down control that relaxes intrastage food competition and (2) top-down cascade that intensifies the intrastage competition, respectively. Furthermore, it was illustrated that the environmental conditions under which ASS occurred varied in complex ways with the coupled food-web configurations. My results provide a novel concept that anthropogenic changes in local community structure (e. g., species extinction and invasion) propagate through space and may cause or prevent regime shifts in broad-scale community structure by altering the resilience to environmental perturbations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-494
Number of pages16
JournalTheoretical Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2011 Nov

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology
  • Ecological Modelling


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