Structural sensitivity, namely the sensitivity of a model dynamics to slight changes in its mathematical formulation, has already been studied in some models with a small number of state variables. The aim of this study is to investigate the impact of structural sensitivity in a food web model. Especially, the importance of structural sensitivity is compared to that of trophic complexity (number of species, connectance), which is known to strongly influence food web dynamics. Food web structures are built using the niche model. Then food web dynamics are modeled using several type II functional responses parameterized to fit the same predation fluxes. Food web persistence was found to be mostly determined by trophic complexity. At the opposite, even if food web connectance promotes equilibrium dynamics, their occurrence is mainly driven by the choice of the functional response. These conclusions are robust to changes in some parameter values, the fitting method and some model assumptions. In a one-prey/one-predator system, it was shown that the possibility that multiple stable states coexist can be highly structural sensitive. Quantifying this type of uncertainty at the scale of ecosystem models will be both a natural extension to this work and a challenging issue.
Food webs ; Dynamical systems ; Structural sensitivity ; Complexity–stability relationships ; Functional response