Caught in the food web: complexity made simple?


  • Lawrence R. Pomeroy Institute of Ecology, University of Georgia



food web, microbial food web, energy flux, community structure


Several historically separate lines of food-web research are merging into a unified approach. Connections between microbial and metazoan food webs are significant. Interactions of control by predators, defenses against predation, and availability of organic and inorganic nutrition, not any one of these, shape food webs. The same principles of population ecology apply to metazoans and microorganisms, but microorganisms dominate the flux of energy in both marine and terrestrial systems. Microbial biomass often is a major fraction of total biomass, and very small organisms have a very large ratio of production and respiration to biomass. Assimilation efficiency of bacteria in natural systems is often not as high as in experimental systems, so more primary production is lost to microbial respiration than had been thought. Simulation has been a highly useful adjunct to experiments in both population theory and in studies of biogeochemical mass balance, but it does not fully encompass the complexity of real systems. A major challenge for the future is to find better ways to deal with the real complexity of food webs, both in modeling and in empirical observations, and to do a better job of bringing together conceptually the dynamics of population processes and biogeochemistry.


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How to Cite

Pomeroy LR. Caught in the food web: complexity made simple?. scimar [Internet]. 2001Dec.30 [cited 2023May31];65(S2):31-40. Available from: