Food Web Topology

Many ecologists acknowledge the potential importance of parasites in food webs and advocate their inclusion. Parasites add links and species to food webs (Figure 1). Like any consumer, this has the potential to change the chain length, linkage density, or connectance of a food web (which may alter stability). But as mentioned above, parasites differ from predators in several ways, the most

Freeliving species

Figure 1 A food web of Carpintería Salt Marsh showing predator-prey links in blue and parasite-host links in red.

Freeliving species

Figure 1 A food web of Carpintería Salt Marsh showing predator-prey links in blue and parasite-host links in red.

notable being their intimate association with their prey and their relatively low individual biomass. Although the individual body size of a parasite is very small, parasite abundance can be high, leading to comparable total biomass of parasites and top predators. Relatively little is known about parasites in food webs, but the studies published to date indicate that parasites are likely to be worth including. They may comprise most links in a food web and, at least for generalist species, be more densely linked in webs than predators. It would seem that no food web is complete without parasites.

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