THE WEB OF LIFE
Even this “simplified” foodweb looks like a complicated plate of spaghetti! But it is this complex network of interactions that lead to an ecosystem’s stability and resilience – its ability to recover from a disturbance. Ecosystems are dynamic: interactions change in strength as resources fluctuate and there is often fluctuating asymmetry as species switch among their preferences. No component is redundant in an ecosystem, each fills a unique niche. If we eliminate components, we impoverish an ecosystem. At some point the ecosystem will collapse (termed an ‘ecological meltdown’ by John Terborgh and colleagues) and will not be able to recover from the disturbance.
An analogy might be your car. Individually, the parts don’t do much, but when assembled and interacting, they create something very useful and extremely valuable to you. If you don’t take care of your car, and bits and pieces fall off, you might be able to keep coaxing it to splutter down the road, but at some point something will seize and you won’t move forward. In a healthy ecosystem, all of the individual species are “nature’s mechanics,” each doing their bit to maintain a high performance, efficient machine.
Simplified Food Web of a Caribbean Island Ecosystem
Leaf-litter Invertebrates Arboreal
Invertebrates Leaves Wood
Algae Fruit Snakes Bats Birds Lizards Frogs Snails Termites Fungi
Leaves Wood Algae Fruit