Wood, S. A.,Russell, R.,Hanson, D.,Williams, R. J.,Dunne, J. A.
This study asks whether the spatial scale of sampling alters structural properties of food webs and whether any differences are attributable to changes in species richness and connectance with scale. Understanding how different aspects of sampling effort affect ecological network structure is important for both fundamental ecological knowledge and the application of network analysis in conservation and management. Using a highly resolved food web for the marine intertidal ecosystem of the Sanak Archipelago in the Eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska, we assess how commonly studied properties of network structure differ for 281 versions of the food web sampled at five levels of spatial scale representing six orders of magnitude in area spread across the archipelago. Species (S) and link (L) richness both increased by approximately one order of magnitude across the five spatial scales. Links per species (L/S) more than doubled, while connectance (C) decreased by approximately two-thirds. Fourteen commonly studied properties of network structure varied systematically with spatial scale of sampling, some increasing and others decreasing. While ecological network properties varied systematically with sampling extent, analyses using the niche model and a power-law scaling relationship indicate that for many properties, this apparent sensitivity is attributable to the increasing S and decreasing C of webs with increasing spatial scale. As long as effects of S and C are accounted for, areal sampling bias does not have a special impact on our understanding of many aspects of network structure. However, attention does need be paid to some properties such as the fraction of species in loops, which increases more than expected with greater spatial scales of sampling.