If many mouths eat a lot of a not so preferable foot item – i.e. large numbers of city rats happen to live underground where they only have access to garbage-like food items – this does not tell us that another foot item not accessible to the crowd is genuinely much more preferable – which rat would refuse to snack on gourmet cheese if there wouldn’t be obstacles that allow only brave foragers to have a bite on it?
In ecological network studies, species preferences are often summarized as to how often species interact with each other for multiple species. This can be foragers feeding on different resources, for example.
While indices and summary statistics for explaining resulting network structure have experienced much sophistication in recent years, the fact that interaction frequencies are the product of preferences / attraction towards interacting partners and availability / abundance of interacting species has received little attention.
The early view paper “Population fluctuations affect inference in ecological networks of multi-species interactions” by Konstans Wells and co-workers, shows that population fluctuations have considerable impact on calculated network statistics. So an increasingly large range of values can be inferred from the same ecological system the more populations fluctuate. Considering abundance fluctuations and sampling effort in ecological networks may not only improve inference, but also open promising perspectives to novel questions in ecological research – certainly if the crowd makes it to the most preferable piece of meal, this will affect all aspects from individual behaviour to what is left on the plate for the next round of interactions, be it for single species or communities.