Stability of complex food webs: Resilience, resistance and the average interaction strength
In the face of stochastic climatic perturbations, the overall stability of an ecosystem will be determined by the balance between its resilience and its resistance, but their relative importance is still unknown. Using aquatic food web models we study ecosystem stability as a function of food web complexity. We measured three dynamical stability properties: resilience, resistance, and variability. Specifically, we evaluate how a decrease in the strength of predator–prey interactions with food web complexity, reflecting a decrease in predation efficiency with the number of prey per predator, affects the overall stability of the ecosystem. We find that in mass conservative ecosystems, a lower interaction strength slows down the mass cycling rate in the system and this increases its resistance to perturbations of the growth rate of primary producers. Furthermore, we show that the overall stability of the food webs is mostly given by their resistance, and not by their resilience. Resilience and resistance display opposite trends, although they are shown not to be simply opposite concepts but rather independent properties. The ecological implication is that weaker predator–prey interactions in closed ecosystems can stabilize food web dynamics by increasing its resistance to climatic perturbations.