Network structure and robustness of marine food webs

Jennifer A. Dunne, Richard J. Williams, Neo D. Martinez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

282 Scopus citations


Previous studies suggest that food-web theory has yet to account for major differences in food-web properties of marine versus other types of ecosystems. We examined this issue by analyzing the network structure of food webs for the Northeast US Shelf, a Caribbean reef, and Benguela, off South Africa. The values of connectance (links per species2), link density (links per species), mean chain length, and fractions of intermediate, omnivorous, and cannibalistic taxa of these marine webs are somewhat high but still within the ranges observed in other webs. We further compared the marine webs by using the empirically corroborated 'niche model' that accounts for observed variation in diversity (taxon number) and complexity (connectance). Our results substantiate previously reported results for estuarine, fresh-water, and terrestrial datasets, which suggests that food webs from different types of ecosystems with variable diversity and complexity share fundamental structural and ordering characteristics. Analyses of potential secondary extinctions resulting from species loss show that the structural robustness of marine food webs is also consistent with trends from other food webs. As expected, given their relatively high connectance, marine food webs appear fairly robust to loss of most-connected taxa as well as random taxa. Still, the short average path length between marine taxa (1.6 links) suggests that effects from perturbations, such as overfishing, can be transmitted more widely throughout marine ecosystems than previously appreciated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-302
Number of pages12
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
StatePublished - Jun 8 2004


  • Biodiversity loss
  • Connectance
  • Food webs
  • Marine ecosystems
  • Network structure
  • Niche model
  • Robustness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Network structure and robustness of marine food webs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this