Energetic Food Webs: An Analysis of Real and Model Ecosystems is a new title in the Oxford Series in Ecology and Evolution, which is edited by Paul H. Harvey, Robert M. May, H. Charles J. Godfray, and Jennifer A. Dunne. In today's world of academic sound bites, in which journal articles have become shorter and shorter, often containing the smallest publishable unit of science, I am happy to see in this and in similar series that a significant number of ecologists still find the time to write monographs that thoroughly outline and develop an important topic.
Coauthors John C. Moore and Peter C. de Ruiter have a long history of joint publications, their first (to my knowledge) dating back to 1990 and also focused on food webs (Moore et al. 1990). Moore is a professor and head of the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability and director of the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University. He has received many honors, including the Eugene P. Odum Award for Excellence in Ecological Education in 2011 from the Ecological Society of America. De Ruiter is professor of theoretical ecology at Wageningen University, in the Netherlands. Together with Volkmar Wolters, de Ruiter and Moore previously edited another book on food webs (de Ruiter et al. 2005).
Energetic Food Webs targets both graduate-level students and professional researchers and strives to “advocate an integrative approach” to the study of food webs, which uses aspects of both “an individualistic community-based approach and a holistic ecosystem-based approach” (pp. 3–5). The authors have organized the book into three sections: The first section is a treatment of simple and multispecies community modeling, the second section addresses the stability of simple and complex communities, and the third section develops the dynamic architecture of food webs.
The first section begins with simple connectedness food webs (representing a community-based perspective), in which the feeding relationships between organisms are depicted and an example is made of a soil food web of the North American shortgrass prairie. Moore and de Ruiter then extend the connectedness food web to an energy flux web (representing an ecosystem-based perspective), in which the transfer of energy or matter from resources to consumers is depicted. Finally, their integrative approach is extended to functional webs, in which the strength of interactions among species is depicted, thus merging the community- and ecosystem-based perspectives. The authors use several empirical food webs to illustrate their models, and this combination of theory and example is very useful.
After describing the different kinds of food webs, Moore and de Ruiter explore the stability of food webs in the second section of the book and, in particular, how stability is affected by energy flux (e.g., responses to enrichment and disturbances). They investigate whether the architecture of food webs is compartmentalized, thereby identifying “energy channels as energy-based compartments within food webs that describe the flow of matter and energy through food webs” (p. 125) and how such compartments affect the stability of food webs.
Whereas Moore and de Ruiter assume a static architecture of food webs in the first two sections, they introduce food webs changing over time in the third. The authors also link this dynamic perspective of food webs to classic concepts and theories in ecology, specifically to the keystone species concept, which “was introduced as a metaphor to signify the importance of species that are low in number or biomass yet exert a high degree of control over the structure and stability of a food web” (p. 236; also see Paine 1966), and to the theory of island biogeography championed by MacArthur and Wilson (1967). I also enjoyed the interesting discussion about the different definitions of stability from the dynamic perspective in this section.
In reading Energetic Food Webs, I found the number of typos a bit annoying. I also found some mistakes in the treatment of consumer functional responses and was surprised that some key references were missing. A concluding chapter boasting a broad perspective, similar to that of the book's opening chapter, would have helped tie the loose ends together. In addition, for some readers, getting lost in technical details is a danger throughout the bulk of the book. Putting some of this detail into an appendix would have improved the book's readability. A final drawback to this volume is that even the paperback version is expensive, despite having no color illustration. However, postgraduate students and researchers interested in food webs should be happy to see the publication of this book, as I am, because there are not many such thorough treatments of this topic available.