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MEPS
Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 587:17-30 (2018)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12401

Short food chains, high connectance and a high rate of cannibalism in food web networks of small intermittent estuaries

Vanessa Mendonça, Catarina Vinagre*

MARE - Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre, Faculdade de Ciências, Universidade de Lisboa, Campo Grande, 1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Small intermittent estuaries are a common feature in some parts of the world. They are recognized as important refuge and nursery areas for several marine species. However, their biological dynamics are still poorly known. In fact, the network structure of their food webs remains undescribed. Highly resolved food webs were compiled for 23 small intermittent estuaries in the Northeast Atlantic, Mediterranean, Southwest Indian Ocean, and South Pacific. The structural network properties of these food webs were compared with those of larger open estuaries, lakes, and rivers, as well as marine and terrestrial ecosystems. The most important conclusion is that the network properties of these systems are different from those of larger open estuaries and more like other non-estuarine ecosystems. They also stand out from all other ecosystems, including larger open estuaries, in terms of omnivory, which was found to be remarkably high (83-92%), probably due to the prevalence of opportunistic feeding. Nevertheless, all other properties were well within the ranges reported for other ecosystems; thus, the general organization rules of food web networks also apply to small intermittent estuaries. It was concluded that general rules applied to the management of estuaries should be looked at carefully when managing these smaller intermittent systems, since they have shorter chain lengths, higher connectance, and more cannibalism. Shorter chain length implies that disturbance is more likely to rapidly affect many food web components through predator-prey links, which may be counterbalanced by the effect of high connectance. These systems should, thus, not be looked at simply as smaller versions of larger open systems.


KEY WORDS: Estuarine ecosystems · Coastal lagoons · Niche model · Network theory


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Cite this article as: Mendonça V, Vinagre C (2018) Short food chains, high connectance and a high rate of cannibalism in food web networks of small intermittent estuaries. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 587:17-30. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12401

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