Food-web perturbations stemming from climate change, overexploitation, invasive species and habitat degradation often cause an initial loss of species that results in a cascade of secondary extinctions, posing considerable challenges to ecosystem conservation efforts. Here, we devise a systematic network-based approach to reduce the number of secondary extinctions using a predictive modelling framework. We show that the extinction of one species can often be compensated by the concurrent removal or population suppression of other specific species, a counterintuitive effect not previously tested in complex food webs. These compensatory perturbations frequently involve long-range interactions that are not evident from local predator-prey relationships. In numerous cases, even the early removal of a species that would eventually go extinct is found to significantly reduce the number of cascading extinctions. These compensatory perturbations only exploit resources available in the system, and illustrate the potential of human intervention combined with predictive modelling for ecosystem management.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Physics and Astronomy(all)