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Parasites in kelp-forest food webs increase food-chain length, complexity, and specialization, but reduce connectance

Citation

Morton, Dana; Lafferty, Kevin (2021), Parasites in kelp-forest food webs increase food-chain length, complexity, and specialization, but reduce connectance, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.25349/D9Z89D

Abstract

We explored whether parasites are important in kelp forests by examining their effects on a high-quality, high-resolution kelp-forest food web. After controlling for generic effects of network size, parasites affected kelp-forest food web structure in some ways consistent with other systems. Parasites increased the trophic span of web, increasing top predator vulnerability and the longest chain length. Unique links associated with parasites, such as concomitant predation (consumption of parasites along with their hosts by predators) increased the frequency of network motifs involving mutual consumption and decreased niche contiguity of free-living species. However, parasites also affected kelp-forest food web structure in ways not seen in other systems. Kelp-forest parasites are richer and more specialized than other systems. As a result, parasites reduced diet generality and decreased connectance in the kelp forest. Although mutual consumption motifs increased in frequency, this motif type was still a small fraction of all possible motifs, so their increase in frequency was not enough to compensate for the decrease in connectance caused by adding many specialist parasite species.

Methods

Please refer to the associated manuscript.