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Research article2017Peer reviewed

Invasive rodents have multiple indirect effects on seabird island invertebrate food web structure

Thoresen, Joshua J.; Towns, David; Leuzinger, Sebastian; Durrett, Mel; Mulder, Christa P. H.; Wardle, David A.


Burrowing seabirds that nest on islands transfer nutrients from the sea, disturb the soil through burrowing, damage tree foliage when landing, and thereby modify the surface litter. However, seabirds are in decline worldwide, as are their community-and ecosystem-level impacts, primarily due to invasive predatory mammals. The direct and indirect effects of seabird decline on communities and ecosystems are inherently complex. Here we employed network analysis, as a means of simplifying ecological complexity, to better understand the effects seabird loss may have on island invertebrate communities. Using data on leaf litter communities, we constructed invertebrate food webs for each of 18 offshore oceanic islands in northeastern New Zealand, nine of which have high seabird densities and nine of were invaded by rats. Ten network topological metrics (including entropy, generality, and vulnerability) were compared between rat-invaded and uninvaded (seabird-dominant) islands. We found that, on rat-invaded islands, the invertebrate food webs were smaller and less complex than on their seabird-dominated counterparts, which may be due to the suppression of seabird-derived nutrients and consequent effects on trophic cascades. This decreased complexity of food webs due to the presence of rats is indicative of lower ecosystem resistance via lower trophic redundancy. Our results show that rat effects on island ecosystems are manifested throughout entire food webs, and demonstrate how network analysis may be useful to assess ecosystem recovery status as these invaded islands are restored.


ecosystem restoration; food webs; invasive mammals; invertebrates; network analysis; rats; seabirds

Published in

Ecological Applications
2017, Volume: 27, number: 4, pages: 1190-1198
Publisher: WILEY

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG15 Life on land

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