Interaction between top-down and bottom-up control in marine food webs
Climate change and resource exploitation have been shown to modify the importance of bottom-up and top-down forces in ecosystems. However, the resulting pattern of trophic control in complex food webs is an emergent property of the system and thus unintuitive. We develop a statistical nondeterministic model, capable of modeling complex patterns of trophic control for the heavily impacted North Sea ecosystem. The model is driven solely by fishing mortality and climatic variables and based on time-series data covering >40 y for six plankton and eight fish groups along with one bird group (>20 y). Simulations show the outstanding importance of top-down exploitation pressure for the dynamics of fish populations. Whereas fishing effects on predators indirectly altered plankton abundance, bottom-up climatic processes dominate plankton dynamics. Importantly, we show planktivorous fish to have a central role in the North Sea food web initiating complex cascading effects across and between trophic levels. Our linked model integrates bottom-up and top-down effects and is able to simulate complex long-term changes in ecosystem components under a combination of stressor scenarios. Our results suggest that in marine ecosystems, pathways for bottom-up and top-down forces are not necessarily mutually exclusive and together can lead to the emergence of complex patterns of control.