All the simulations described so far are of bottom-up perturbations to the basal level producer guilds. Network theory predicts that given networks such as food webs, with power law-like link distributions, the networks should be robust against random removal (extinction) of nodes, while being highly vulnerable to the removal (perhaps targeted) of highly linked (hub) nodes. This of course is a topological prediction, since it in no way incorporates dynamics of link strengths, compensatory modification of link strengths, or extinction thresholds (e.g. those Allee effects). Then, why do the CEG predictions and simulations of topological effects have a gradually, mildly exponential, rate of increase of secondary extinctions as the number of nodes removed is increased? The answer is two-part:
- The probability of link loss increases with the in-degree of the consumer. Therefore most of the links being lost at any given level of perturbation are lost by highly linked species. But those species are also the most resistant to extinction.
- The probability of secondary extinction increases almost linearly for consumers of very low degree, but almost not at all for the most highly linked species, until levels of perturbation are very high. Therefore most of the extinctions that occur at low to mid- levels of perturbation are of poorly connected species.
The nonlinear increase seen in the CEG simulations is therefore likely a response to a threshold being reached where highly linked consumers, though still robust to topological extinction, initiate significantly devastating top-down cascades because of compensatory increases of link or interaction strengths.
It is also therefore reasonable to hypothesize that very high levels of secondary extinction at low perturbation levels is the result of having a few highly connected, upper-level consumers. This could explain the great difference, at those perturbation levels, between the topological expectations and the simulations. Should low diversity communities, or communities with low diversities of high trophic level consumers, then be limited to those consumers being very specialized?