Evol Ecol Res 1: 591-609 (1999)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Reliable flows and preferred patterns in food webs

Ferenc Jordán* and István Molnár

Department of Genetics, Eötvös University, Múzeum krt. 4/A, H-1088 Budapest, Hungary

Author to whom all correspondence should be addressed.
e-mail: jordanf@falco.geobio.elte.hu


We analyse the structure of food webs from a reliability theoretical point of view. The reliability of the network flow is the probability that sources are connected to sinks. With a fixed number of species and connectance, reliability depends on the pattern of links. We construct all of the possible sink web graphs with given numbers of species and links and calculate the reliability of the network flow for each hypothetical sink web. Patterns favourable for reliable flows are characterized. Having compared our results with real web data, we conclude that the structure of natural webs contains mostly such patterns. Thus, the reliability of the network flow seems to be an important factor governing food web structure. Our results show that short chains, a high level of omnivory, a high prey–predator ratio and a low number of specialists are favourable for reliable network flows. These conclusions support the reticulate nature of food webs and the rethinking of the traditional, linearized view.

Keywords: flow network, food web pattern, reliability theory, sink web.

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