Northeastern University ecologist David Kimbro claims to have watched a lot of TV growing up, particularly The Brady Bunch. “You could kind of get a flavor for how an episode was going to turn out based on how Jan or Peter were faring — you know, the middle kids,” said Kimbro, an assistant professor in the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences.
He and his colleagues — associate professor Jon Grabowski and assistant professor Randall Hughes, ecology experts with labs at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center — think a similar pattern shows up in oyster reefs, where the behavior of the “middle child” in the predator-prey food chain plays a strong role in determining how the reef as a whole will fare. New research from the team, published online on Tuesday in the journal Ecology Letters, gives that hunch even more support.
The work complicates the evolution of a paradigm that has pervaded ecology since the 1960s, namely that the species at the top of the food web dictate the welfare of the entire system simply by eating.