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Potter Cove’s Heavyweights: Estimation of species’ interaction strength of an Antarctic food web
  • Iara Rodriguez,
  • Leonardo Saravia
Iara Rodriguez
Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento
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Leonardo Saravia
Centro Austral de Investigaciones Científicas

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Understanding the complex interplay between structure and stability of marine food webs is crucial for assessing ecosystem resilience, particularly in the context of ongoing environmental changes. In the West Antarctic Peninsula, global warming has led to severe alterations in community composition, species distribution, and abundance over the last decades. In this study, we estimate the interaction strength within the Potter Cove (South Shetland Islands, Antarctica) food web to elucidate the roles of species in its structure and functioning. We use these estimates to calculate food web stability in response to perturbations, conducting sequential extinctions to quantify the importance of individual species based on changes in stability and food web fragmentation. We explore connections between interaction strength and key topological properties of the food web. Our findings reveal an asymmetric distribution of interaction strengths, with a prevalence of weak interactions and a few strong ones. Species exerting greater influence within the food web displayed higher degree and trophic similarity but occupied lower trophic levels and displayed lower omnivory levels (e.g., macroalgae and detritus). Extinction simulations revealed the key role of certain species, particularly amphipods and the black rockcod Notothenia coriiceps, as their removal led to significant changes in food web stability and network fragmentation. This study highlights the importance of considering species interaction strengths in assessing the stability of polar marine ecosystems. These insights have crucial implications for guiding monitoring and conservation strategies aimed at preserving the integrity of Antarctic marine ecosystems.