Cyclic energy pathways in ecological food webs
Standard ecology textbooks typically maintain that nutrients cycle, but energy flows in unidirectional chains. However, here we use a new metric that allows for the identification and quantification of cyclic energy pathways. Some of these important pathways occur due to the contribution of dead organic matter to detrital pools and those organisms that feed on them, reintroducing some of that energy back into the food web. Recognition of these cyclic energy pathways profoundly impacts many aspects of ecology such as trophic levels, control, and the importance of indirect effects. Network analysis, specifically the maximum eigenvalue of the connectance matrix, is used to identify both the presence and strength of these structural cycles.