How to predict community responses in the face of imperfect knowledge and network complexity

Helge E Aufderheide, Lars Rudolf, Thilo Gross, Kevin Lafferty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)
163 Downloads (Pure)


It is a challenge to predict the response of a large, complex system to a perturbation. Recent attempts to predict the behavior of food webs have revealed that the more complex the system, the more precisely the elements of the system must be measured. As a result, the amount of effort needed to understand a system grows quickly with its complexity. Here, we show that not all elements must be measured equally well, suggesting a more efficient allocation of effort to understanding complex systems is possible. We then develop an iterative technique to efficiently arrive at this solution. Finally, in our assessment of model food webs, we find that it is most important to precisely measure the mortality and predation rates of large, generalist, top predators. Prioritizing the study of such species will make it easier to understand the response of complex food webs to perturbations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20132355
Number of pages13
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1773
Early online date6 Nov 2013
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2013


  • food web
  • perturbation
  • generalized model
  • impact
  • key species
  • complex network

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