Drought rewires the cores of food webs

Xueke Lu, Clare Gray, Lee E. Brown, Mark E. Ledger, Alexander M. Milner, Raúl J. Mondragón, Guy Woodward, Athen Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Citations (Scopus)
188 Downloads (Pure)


Droughts are intensifying across the globe1,2, with potentially devastating implications for freshwater ecosystems3,4. We used new network science approaches to investigate drought impacts on stream food webs and explored potential consequences for web robustness to future perturbations. The substructure of the webs was characterized by a core of richly connected species5 surrounded by poorly connected peripheral species. Although drought caused the partial collapse of the food webs6, the loss of the most extinction-prone peripheral species triggered a substantial rewiring of interactions within the networks cores. These shifts in species interactions in the core conserved the underlying core/periphery substructure and stability of the drought-impacted webs. When we subsequently perturbed the webs by simulating species loss in silico, the rewired drought webs were as robust as the larger, undisturbed webs. Our research unearths previously unknown compensatory dynamics arising from within the core that could underpin food web stability in the face of environmental perturbations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)875-878
Number of pages5
JournalNature Climate Change
Issue number9
Early online date9 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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