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Measurement of Interaction Strength in Nature

J. Timothy Wootton and Mark Emmerson
Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics
Vol. 36 (2005), pp. 419-444
Published by: Annual Reviews
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/30033811
Page Count: 26
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Measurement of Interaction Strength in Nature
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Abstract

Understanding and predicting the dynamics of multispecies systems generally require estimates of interaction strength among species. Measuring interaction strength is difficult because of the large number of interactions in any natural system, long-term feedback, multiple pathways of effects between species pairs, and possible nonlinearities in interaction-strength functions. Presently, the few studies that extensively estimate interaction strength suggest that distributions of interaction strength tend to be skewed toward few strong and many weak interactions. Modeling studies indicate that such skewed patterns tend to promote system stability and arise during assembly of persistent communities. Methods for estimating interaction strength efficiently from traits of organisms, such as allometric relationships, show some promise. Methods for estimating community response to environmental perturbations without an estimate of interaction strength may also be of use. Spatial and temporal scale may affect patterns of interaction strength, but these effects require further investigation and new multispecies modeling frameworks. Future progress will be aided by development of long-term multispecies time series of natural communities, by experimental tests of different methods for estimating interaction strength, and by increased understanding of nonlinear functional forms.

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