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Does including parasites upset food web theory? Yes and no, says new paper
Date:6/14/2013

ways parasites are similar to other species in terms of their effects on food web organization," says Dunne.

However, the team did find two cases where parasites seem to play special roles that alter aspects of food web structure. One case is when a parasite is eaten along with its host. "The physical intimacy between a parasite and its host is not found as frequently between free-living predators and prey," Dunne says. "The fact that predators incidentally feed on the parasites of their prey can alter certain patterns of interactions among species."

The other case appears to result from the complex life cycles of many of the parasites in these food webs. Parasites can shift hosts in a dramatic fashion, for example by starting out with a cricket as a host, but later requiring a fish host. This results in a more structurally complex feeding niche than is seen for most free-living predators.

"Our research extends the generality of food web theory and provides a more rigorous framework for assessing the impact of any species on trophic organization," says Dunne. "However, it also reveals limitations of current food web models when they are applied to the more diverse and highly resolved data that researchers are increasingly compiling."


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Contact: Dr. Jennifer Dunne
jdunne@santafe.edu
Santa Fe Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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