Building trophic modules into a persistent food web

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88 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding what maintains species and perpetuates their co-existence in a network of feeding relationships (the food web) is of great importance for biodiversity conservation. A food web can be viewed as consisting of a number of simple subunits called trophic modules. Intraguild predation (IGP), in which a prey and its predator compete for the same resource, is one of the best-studied trophic modules. According to theory, there are two ways to yield a large persistent system from such modules: (i) to use persistent subunits as building blocks or (ii) to arrange the subunits in a way that externally supports the nonpersistent subunits. Here, I show that the complex food web of the Caribbean marine ecosystem is constructed in both ways. I show that IGP modules, which convey internal persistence because of the fact that prey are superior competitors for the resources, are overrepresented in the Caribbean ecosystem. The other modules, consisting of competitively inferior prey, are not persistent in isolation. However, competitively inferior prey in these modules tend to receive more advantage from extra-module interactions, which allows persistence of the IGP module. In addition, those exterior interactions tend to be provided by intrinsically persistent IGP modules to prevent cascading extinction of interacting IGP modules. The food web can be viewed as a set of interacting modules, nonrandomly arranged to enhance the maintenance of biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16631-16635
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number43
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Oct 28


  • Community persistence
  • Complex network
  • Interaction strength
  • Intraguild predation
  • Network motif


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