Diagrams of example food web networks from each of the five spatial scales studied (quadrat, transect, site, locale, and archipelago, from left to right). Spheres represent taxa and lines between them represent directional feeding links.

Could a food web from an area smaller than a fishing net accurately represent the complexity of a food web for an archipelago? 

In a new paper in the journal Ecology and Evolution, SFI VP for Science Jennifer Dunne and colleagues ask whether our understanding of how food webs are organized changes with the spatial dimension at which we observe them.

The researchers analyzed network properties of intertidal food webs at five spatial scales, from .25 square meters to the entire Sanak Archipelago in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Their analysis reveals that many network properties are as expected at different scales, given increasing numbers of species and links sampled in larger areas.

Read their paper in Ecology and Evolution (August 18, 2015)