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See Inside Scientific American Volume 306, Issue 3

The Dwindling Web

How human exploitation has reshaped a marine ecosystem

Humans have harvested the sea for tens of thousands of years, but only in the past few centuries have we begun to take a big toll on ecosystems. The two food webs below show predatory relationships among life-forms in the northern Adriatic Sea. Each web comprises humans, their prey and the prey of humans’ prey, distilled into groups of species.

The webs, produced by Jennifer A. Dunne of the Santa Fe Institute from evidence compiled by Heike K. Lotze and Marta Coll of Dalhousie University in Hal­i­fax, show that as recently as 1800 none of the Adri­at­ic species groups had yet grown “rare,” or dropped below 10 percent of their former abun­dance. By the late 20th century, when the global economy had replaced local trade, 10 groups had gone extinct or rare, eliminating them from the webs.

 

Graphic by Jennifer A. Dunne. Interactive by Ryan Reid.

» Watch a video about food webs in this month's Graphic Science Web Exclusive "Food Webs Trace the Structure of an Ecosystem."

This article was published in print as "The Dwindling Web."

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