Untangling the roles of parasites in food webs with generative network models Journal Article uri icon



  • Food webs represent the set of consumer-resource interactions among a set of species that co-occur in a habitat, but most food web studies have omitted parasites and their interactions. Recent studies have provided conflicting evidence on whether including parasites changes food web structure, with some suggesting that parasitic interactions are structurally distinct from those among free-living species while others claim the opposite. Here, we describe a principled method for understanding food web structure that combines an efficient optimization algorithm from statistical physics called parallel tempering with a probabilistic generalization of the empirically well-supported food web niche model. This generative model approach allows us to rigorously estimate the degree to which interactions that involve parasites are statistically distinguishable from interactions among free-living species, whether parasite niches behave similarly to free-living niches, and the degree to which existing hypotheses about food web structure are naturally recovered. We apply this method to the well-studied Flensburg Fjord food web and show that while predation on parasites, concomitant predation of parasites, and parasitic intraguild trophic interactions are largely indistinguishable from free-living predation interactions, parasite-host interactions are different. These results provide a powerful new tool for evaluating the impact of classes of species and interactions on food web structure to shed new light on the roles of parasites in food webs.

publication date

  • May 19, 2015

has restriction

  • green

Date in CU Experts

  • November 14, 2020 10:28 AM

Full Author List

  • Jacobs AZ; Dunne JA; Moore C; Clauset A

author count

  • 4

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