This paper focuses on how food web structure and interactions among species affects the vulnerability, due to environmental variability, to extinction of species at different positions in model food webs. Vulnerability is here not measured by a traditional extinction threshold but is instead inspired by the IUCN criteria for endangered species: an observed rapid decline in population abundance. Using model webs influenced by stochasticity with zero autocorrelation, we investigate the ecological determinants of species vulnerability, i.e. the trophic interactions between species and food web structure and how these interact with the risk of sudden drops in abundance of species. We find that (i) producers fulfil the criterion of vulnerable species more frequently than other species, (ii) food web structure is related to vulnerability, and (iii) the vulnerability of species is greater when involved in a strong trophic interaction than when not. We note that our result on the relationship between extinction risk and trophic position of species contradict previous suggestions and argue that the main reason for the discrepancy probably is due to the fact that we study the vulnerability to environmental stochasticity and not extinction risk due to overexploitation, habitat destruction or interactions with introduced species. Thus, we suggest that the vulnerability of species to environmental stochasticity may be differently related to trophic position than the vulnerability of species to other factors. Earlier research on species extinctions has looked for intrinsic traits of species that correlate with increased vulnerability to extinction. However, to fully understand the extinction process we must also consider that species interactions may affect vulnerability and that not all extinctions are the result of long, gradual reductions in species abundances. Under environmental stochasticity (which importance frequently is assumed to increase as a result of climate change) and direct and indirect interactions with other species some extinctions may occur rapidly and apparently unexpectedly. To identify the first declines of population abundances that may escalate and lead to extinctions as early as possible, we need to recognize which species are at greatest risk of entering such dangerous routes and under what circumstances. This new perspective may contribute to our understanding of the processes leading to extinction of populations and eventually species. This is especially urgent in the light of the current biodiversity crisis where a large fraction of the world's biodiversity is threatened.

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