Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Research article2007Peer reviewed

The modified niche model: Including detritus in simple structural food web models

Halnes G, Fath BD, Liljenstrom H


Food webs are constructed as structural directed graphs that describe '' who eats whom,'' but it is common to interpret them as energy flow diagrams where predation represents an energy transfer from the prey to the predator. It is the aim of this work to demonstrate that food webs are incomplete as energy flow diagrams if they ignore passive flows to detritus (dead organic material). While many ecologists do include detritus in conceptual and mathematical models, the detrital omission is still commonly found. Often cletritus is either ignored or treated as an unlimited energy source, yet all organisms contribute to the detritus pool, which can be an energy source for other species in the system. This feedback loop is of high importance, since it increases the number of pathways available for energy flows, revealing the significance of indirect effects, and making the functional role of the top predators less clear. in this work we propose the modified niche model by adding a detritus compartment to the niche model. We demonstrate the effect of structural loops that result from feeding on detritus, by comparing empirical data sets to five different assembly models: (1) cascade, (2) constant connectance, (3) niche, (4) modified niche (original in this work), and (5) cyber-ecosystem. Of these models, only the last two explicitly include detritus. We show that when passive flows to detritus are included in the food web structure, the structure becomes more robust to the removal of individual nodes or connections. in addition, we show that food web models that include the detritus feedback loop perform better with respect to several structural network metrics. (C) 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved


Niche model; Detritus; Food webs; Energy cycles

Published in

Ecological Modelling
2007, Volume: 208, number: 1, pages: 9-16

      SLU Authors

    • UKÄ Subject classification

      Landscape Architecture
      Forest Science
      Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

      Publication identifier


      Permanent link to this page (URI)