Land‐use intensity influences European tetrapod food webs

Christophe Botella*, Pierre Gaüzère, Louise O'Connor, Marc Ohlmann, Julien Renaud, Yue Dou, Catherine H. Graham, Peter H. Verburg, Luigi Maiorano, Wilfried Thuiller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Land use intensification favours particular trophic groups which can induce architectural changes in food webs. These changes can impact ecosystem functions, services, stability and resilience. However, the imprint of land management intensity on food-web architecture has rarely been characterized across large spatial extent and various land uses. We investigated the influence of land management intensity on six facets of food-web architecture, namely apex and basal species proportions, connectance, omnivory, trophic chain lengths and compartmentalization, for 67,051 European terrestrial vertebrate communities. We also assessed the dependency of this influence of intensification on land use and climate. In addition to more commonly considered climatic factors, the architecture of food webs was notably influenced by land use and management intensity. Intensification tended to strongly lower the proportion of apex predators consistently across contexts. In general, intensification also tended to lower proportions of basal species, favoured mesopredators, decreased food webs compartmentalization whereas it increased their connectance. However, the response of food webs to intensification was different for some contexts. Intensification sharply decreased connectance in Mediterranean and Alpine settlements, and it increased basal tetrapod proportions and compartmentalization in Mediterranean forest and Atlantic croplands. Besides, intensive urbanization especially favoured longer trophic chains and lower omnivory. By favouring mesopredators in most contexts, intensification could undermine basal tetrapods, the cascading effects of which need to be assessed. Our results support the importance of protecting top predators where possible and raise questions about the long-term stability of food webs in the face of human-induced pressures.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere17167
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number2
Early online date13 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


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