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Trophic groups and modules: two levels of group detection in food webs.

Abstract : Within food webs, species can be partitioned into groups according to various criteria. Two notions have received particular attention: trophic groups (TGs), which have been used for decades in the ecological literature, and more recently, modules. The relationship between these two group concepts remains unknown in empirical food webs. While recent developments in network theory have led to efficient methods for detecting modules in food webs, the determination of TGs (groups of species that are functionally similar) is largely based on subjective expert knowledge. We develop a novel algorithm for TG detection. We apply this method to empirical food webs and show that aggregation into TGs allows for the simplification of food webs while preserving their information content. Furthermore, we reveal a two-level hierarchical structure where modules partition food webs into large bottom-top trophic pathways, whereas TGs further partition these pathways into groups of species with similar trophic connections. This provides new perspectives for the study of dynamical and functional consequences of food-web structure, bridging topological and dynamical analysis. TGs have a clear ecological meaning and are found to provide a trade-off between network complexity and information loss.
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Benoit Gauzens, Elisa Thébault, Gérard Lacroix, Stéphane Legendre. Trophic groups and modules: two levels of group detection in food webs.. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the Royal Society, 2015, 12 (106), ⟨10.1098/rsif.2014.1176⟩. ⟨hal-01146136⟩

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