Stochastic variability of key abiotic factors including temperature, precipitation and the availability of light and nutrients greatly influences species’ ecological function and evolutionary fate. Despite such influence, ecologists have typically ignored the effect of abiotic stochasticity on the structure and dynamics of ecological networks. Here we help to fill that gap by advancing the theory of how abiotic stochasticity, in the form of environmental noise, affects the population dynamics of species within food webs. We do this by analysing an allometric trophic network model of Lake Constance subjected to positive (red), negative (blue), and non-autocorrelated (white) abiotic temporal variability (noise) introduced into the carrying capacity of basal species. We found that, irrespective of the colour of the introduced noise, the temporal variability of the species biomass within the network both reddens (i.e. its positive autocorrelation increases) and dampens (i.e. the magnitude of variation decreases) as the environmental noise is propagated through the food web by its feeding interactions from the bottom to the top. The reddening reflects a buffering of the noise-induced population variability by complex food web dynamics such that non-autocorrelated oscillations of noise-free deterministic dynamics become positively autocorrelated. Our research helps explain frequently observed red variability of natural populations by suggesting that ecological processing of environmental noise through food webs with a range of species’ body sizes reddens population variability in nature.
|Date made available||2018|