• complexity;
  • dynamics;
  • optimal foraging;
  • plant–animal interaction;
  • pollination;
  • rewiring;
  • stability


1. Earlier studies used static models to evaluate the responses of mutualistic networks to external perturbations. Two classes of dynamics can be distinguished in ecological networks; population dynamics, represented mainly by changes in species abundances, and topological dynamics, represented by changes in the architecture of the web.

2. In this study, we model the temporal evolution of three empirical plant–pollination networks incorporating both population and topological dynamics. We test the hypothesis that topological plasticity, realized through the ability of animals to rewire their connections after depletion of host abundances, enhances tolerance of mutualistic networks to species loss. We also compared the performance of various rewiring rules in affecting robustness.

3. The results show that topological plasticity markedly increased the robustness of mutualistic networks. Our analyses also revealed that network robustness reached maximum levels when animals with less host plant availability were more likely to rewire. Also, preferential attachment to richer host plants, that is, to plants exhibiting higher abundance and few exploiters, enhances robustness more than other rewiring alternatives.

4. Our results highlight the potential role of topological plasticity in the robustness of mutualistic networks to species extinctions and suggest some plausible mechanisms by which the decisions of foragers may shape the collective dynamics of plant–pollinator systems.