Small world patterns in food webs

J Theor Biol. 2002 Feb 7;214(3):405-12. doi: 10.1006/jtbi.2001.2460.


The analysis of some species-rich, well-defined food webs shows that they display the so-called small world behavior shared by a number of disparate complex systems. The three systems analysed (Ythan estuary web, Silwood web and the Little Rock lake web) have different levels of taxonomic resolution, but all of them involve high clustering and short path lengths (near two degrees of separation) between species. Additionally, the distribution of connections P(k) which is skewed in all the webs analysed shows long tails indicative of power-law scaling. These features suggest that communities might be self-organized in a non-random fashion that might have important consequences in their resistance to perturbations (such as species removal). The consequences for ecological theory are outlined.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Ecosystem*
  • Food Chain*
  • Models, Biological