A novel approach to quantifying trophic interaction strengths and impact of invasive species in food webs.
Measuring ecological and economic impacts of invasive species is necessary for managing invaded food webs. Based on abundance, biomass and diet data of autochthonous and allochthonous fish species, we proposed a novel approach to quantifying trophic interaction strengths in terms of number of individuals and biomass that each species subtract to the others in the food web. This allowed to estimate the economic loss associated to the impact of an invasive species on commercial fish stocks, as well as the resilience of invaded food webs to further perturbations. As case study, we measured the impact of the invasive bass Micropterus salmoides in two lake communities differing in food web complexity and species richness, as well as the biotic resistance of autochthonous and allochthonous fish species against the invader. Resistance to the invader was higher, while its ecological and economic impact was lower, in the more complex and species-rich food web. The percid Perca fluviatilis and the whitefish Coregonus lavaretus were the two species that most limited the invader, representing meaningful targets for conservation biological control strategies. In both food webs, the limiting effect of allochthonous species against M. salmoides was higher than the effect of autochthonous ones. Simulations predicted that the eradication of the invader would increase food web resilience, while that an increase in fish diversity would preserve resilience also at high abundances of M. salmoides. Our results support the conservation of biodiverse food webs as a way to mitigate the impact of bass invasion in lake ecosystems. Notably, the proposed approach could be applied to any habitat and animal species whenever biomass and diet data can be obtained.