Article

Rescuing ecosystems from extinction cascades through compensatory perturbations

  • Nature Communications 2, Article number: 170 (2011)
  • doi:10.1038/ncomms1163
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Abstract

Food-web perturbations stemming from climate change, overexploitation, invasive species and habitat degradation often cause an initial loss of species that results in a cascade of secondary extinctions, posing considerable challenges to ecosystem conservation efforts. Here, we devise a systematic network-based approach to reduce the number of secondary extinctions using a predictive modelling framework. We show that the extinction of one species can often be compensated by the concurrent removal or population suppression of other specific species, a counterintuitive effect not previously tested in complex food webs. These compensatory perturbations frequently involve long-range interactions that are not evident from local predator–prey relationships. In numerous cases, even the early removal of a species that would eventually go extinct is found to significantly reduce the number of cascading extinctions. These compensatory perturbations only exploit resources available in the system, and illustrate the potential of human intervention combined with predictive modelling for ecosystem management.

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Acknowledgements

We thank L. Zanella for insightful discussions. This study was supported by NSF Grant No. DMS-0709212, NOAA Grant No. NA09NMF4630406 and an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship to A.E.M.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Physics and Astronomy, Northwestern University, 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA.

    • Sagar Sahasrabudhe
    •  & Adilson E. Motter
  2. Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems, Northwestern University, 600 Foster Street, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA.

    • Adilson E. Motter

Authors

  1. Search for Sagar Sahasrabudhe in:

  2. Search for Adilson E. Motter in:

Contributions

A.E.M. designed and supervised the research. S.S. performed the numerical experiments. Both authors contributed to the analysis of the results and the preparation of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Adilson E. Motter.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures S1-S8, Supplementary Table S1, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary References

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