Exploring the temporal variability of a food web using long‐term biomonitoring data

Pierre Olivier, Romain Frelat, Erik Bonsdorff, Susanne Kortsch, Ingrid Kröncke, Christian Möllmann, Hermann Neumann, Anne F. Sell, Marie Nordström

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)
38 Downloads (Pure)


Ecological communities are constantly being reshaped in the face of environmental change and anthropogenic pressures. Yet, how food webs change over time remains poorly understood. Food web science is characterized by a trade‐off between complexity (in terms of the number of species and feeding links) and dynamics. Topological analysis can use complex, highly resolved empirical food web models to explore the architecture of feeding interactions but is limited to a static view, whereas ecosystem models can be dynamic but use highly aggregated food webs. Here, we explore the temporal dynamics of a highly resolved empirical food web over a time period of 18 years, using the German Bight fish and benthic epifauna community as our case study. We relied on long‐term monitoring ecosystem surveys (from 1998 to 2015) to build a metaweb, i.e. the meta food web containing all species recorded over the time span of our study. We then combined time series of species abundances with topological network analysis to construct annual food web snapshots. We developed a new approach, ‘node‐weighted’ food web metrics by including species abundances to represent the temporal dynamics of food web structure, focusing on generality and vulnerability. Our results suggest that structural food web properties change through time; however, binary food web structural properties may not be as temporally variable as the underlying changes in species composition. Further, the node‐weighted metrics enabled us to detect that food web structure was influenced by changes in species composition during the first half of the time series and more strongly by changes in species dominance during the second half. Our results demonstrate how ecosystem surveys can be used to monitor temporal changes in food web structure, which are important ecosystem indicators for building marine management and conservation plans.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)2107–2121
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • temporal fluctuation
  • Topology
  • time-series analysis
  • Temporal dynamics
  • food webs
  • time series analysis
  • Temporal variation
  • food web
  • Ecological network
  • Marine biology
  • North Sea

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