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Interaction frequency as a surrogate for the total effect of animal mutualists on plants



We evaluate whether species interaction frequency can be used as a surrogate for the total effect of a species on another. Because interaction frequency is easier to estimate than per-interaction effect, using interaction frequency as a surrogate of total effect could facilitate the large-scale analysis of quantitative patterns of species-rich interaction networks. We show mathematically that the correlation between interaction frequency (I) and total effect (T) becomes more strongly positive the greater the variation of I relative to the variation of per-interaction effect (P) and the greater the correlation between I and P. A meta-analysis using data on I, P and T for animal pollinators and seed dispersers visiting plants shows a generally strong, positive relationship between T and I, in spite of no general relationship between P and I. Thus, frequent animal mutualists usually contribute the most to plant reproduction, regardless of their effectiveness on a per-interaction basis.