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Coexistence and food web theory are two cornerstones of the long‐standing effort to understand how species coexist. Although competition and predation are known to act simultaneously in communities, theory and empirical study of these processes continue to be developed largely independently. Here, we integrate modern coexistence theory and food web theory to simultaneously quantify the relative importance of predation and environmental fluctuations for species coexistence. We first examine coexistence in a theoretical, multitrophic model, adding complexity to the food web using machine learning approaches. We then apply our framework to a stochastic model of the rocky intertidal food web, partitioning empirical coexistence dynamics. We find the main effects of both environmental fluctuations and variation in predator abundances contribute substantially to species coexistence. Unexpectedly, their interaction tends to destabilise coexistence, leading to new insights about the role of bottom‐up vs. top‐down forces in both theory and the rocky intertidal ecosystem.

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This is an author-produced, peer-reviewed version of this article. The final, definitive version of this document can be found online at Ecology Letters, published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd/CNRS. Copyright restrictions may apply. doi: 10.1111/ele.13482