The marine fish food web is globally connected

Abstract

The productivity of marine ecosystems and the services they provide to humans are largely dependent on complex interactions between prey and predators. These are embedded in a diverse network of trophic interactions, resulting in a cascade of events following perturbations such as species extinction. The sheer scale of oceans, however, precludes the characterization of marine feeding networks through de novo sampling. This effort ought instead to rely on a combination of extensive data and inference. Here we investigate how the distribution of trophic interactions at the global scale shapes the marine fish food web structure. We hypothesize that the heterogeneous distribution of species ranges in biogeographic regions should concentrate interactions in the warmest areas and within species groups. We find that the inferred global metaweb of marine fish—that is, all possible potential feeding links between co-occurring species—is highly connected geographically with a low degree of spatial modularity. Metrics of network structure correlate with sea surface temperature and tend to peak towards the tropics. In contrast to open-water communities, coastal food webs have greater interaction redundancy, which may confer robustness to species extinction. Our results suggest that marine ecosystems are connected yet display some resistance to perturbations because of high robustness at most locations.

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Fig. 1: Construction of the metaweb.
Fig. 2: Circular representation of inferred trophic interactions among species.
Fig. 3: The global connectivity of the metaweb and local webs provides robustness against species extinctions.
Fig. 4: Spatial distribution of food web properties globally.

Data availability

All data used to calibrate the trophic model are available at http://esapubs.org/archive/ecol/E089/051/. The source data on fish presence are available at https://obis.org/ and the presence/absence data extrapolated from these data are available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.7034789.

Code availability

The code to create the metaweb has been published and is available at https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.650228.

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Acknowledgements

C.A. was supported by a MELS-FQRNT Postdoctoral Fellowship and a Ressources Aquatique Québec (RAQ) fellowship during the conception and writing of this manuscript. T.P., D.G. and D.B.S. acknowledge financial support by the CIEE through their working group programme. M.B.A. is funded through FCT project No. PTDC/AAG-MAA/3764/2014. A.R.C. is funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) PGS-D scholarship. D.G., T.P., M.-J.F., P.A. and S.J.L. are supported by NSERC Discovery Grants. T.P. also acknowledges a FRQNT New Investigator award and a Université de Montréal starting grant. D.B.S. acknowledges support from the Royal Society of New Zealand (via Marsden Fast-Start No. UOC-1101 and a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship). P.A. acknowledges support from a FRQNT special travel fund to build collaboration with OBIS (W.A.) in the context of this manuscript and future projects. We thank all providers of data to OBIS. We also thank F. Leprieur for his support and valuable advice during the writing of the manuscript.

Author information

The design of the study is the result of a working group on the global variation of ecological networks. W.A. provided the data for species occurrences. C.A. computed the data with the help of S.A.W. and conducted the analyses. D.G. contributed the analytical tools to build the metaweb. C.A., T.P., L.P. and D.G. wrote the manuscript with input from all authors.

Correspondence to Camille Albouy.

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Albouy, C., Archambault, P., Appeltans, W. et al. The marine fish food web is globally connected. Nat Ecol Evol 3, 1153–1161 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-019-0950-y

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