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Food Web Stability: The Influence of Trophic Flows across Habitats

Institute of Theoretical Dynamics and Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis, California 95616

In nature, fluxes across habitats often bring both nutrient and energetic resources into areas of low productivity from areas of higher productivity. These inputs can alter consumption rates of consumer and predator species in the recipient food webs, thereby influencing food web stability. Starting from a well‐studied tritrophic food chain model, we investigated the impact of allochthonous inputs on the stability of a simple food web model. We considered the effects of allochthonous inputs on stability of the model using four sets of biologically plausible parameters that represent different dynamical outcomes. We found that low levels of allochthonous inputs stabilize food web dynamics when species preferentially feed on the autochthonous sources, while either increasing the input level or changing the feeding preference to favor allochthonous inputs, or both, led to a decoupling of the food chain that could result in the loss of one or all species. We argue that allochthonous inputs are important sources of productivity in many food webs and their influence needs to be studied further. This is especially important in the various systems, such as caves, headwater streams, and some small marine islands, in which more energy enters the food web from allochthonous inputs than from autochthonous inputs.