Retrospective qualitative analysis of ecological networks under environmental perturbation: a copper-polluted intertidal community as a case study
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The coast of Chañaral Bay in northern Chile has been affected by copper mine wastes for decades. This sustained perturbation has disrupted the intertidal community in several ways, but the mechanisms behind the observed shifts in local biodiversity remain poorly understood. Our main goal was to identify the species (lumped into trophic groups) belonging to the Chan˜aral intertidal community that, being directly affected by copper pollution, contributed primarily to the generation of the observed changes in community structure. These groups of species were called initiators. We applied a qualitative modelling approach based only on the sign and direction of effects among species, and present a formula for predicting changes in equilibrium abundances considering stress on multiple variables simultaneously. We then applied this technique retrospectively to identify the most likely set of initiators. Our analyses allowed identification of a unique set of four initiators in the studied intertidal system (a group of algae, sessile invertebrates, a group of herbivores and starfish), which were hypothesized to be the primary drivers of the observed changes in community structure. In addition, a hypothesis was derived about how the perturbation affected these initiators. The hypothesis is that pollution affected negatively the population growth rate of both algae and sessile invertebrates and suppressed the interaction between herbivores and starfish. Our analytic approach, focused on identifying initiators, constitutes an advance towards understanding the mechanisms underlying human-driven ecosystem disruption and permits identifying species that may serve as a focal point for community management and restoration.
Artículo de publicación ISI
DOI: DOI 10.1007/s10646-011-0782-2
Cita del ítemEcotoxicology (2012) 21:234–243
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