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Keywords:

  • Asymmetry;
  • community structure;
  • complexity;
  • connectivity;
  • degree;
  • food web;
  • interaction strength;
  • mutualistic network;
  • nestedness;
  • species diversity;
  • stability

Abstract

Key advances are being made on the structures of predator–prey food webs and competitive communities that enhance their stability, but little attention has been given to such complexity–stability relationships for mutualistic communities. We show, by way of theoretical analyses with empirically informed parameters, that structural properties can alter the stability of mutualistic communities characterized by nonlinear functional responses among the interacting species. Specifically, community resilience is enhanced by increasing community size (species diversity) and the number of species interactions (connectivity), and through strong, symmetric interaction strengths of highly nested networks. As a result, mutualistic communities show largely positive complexity–stability relationships, in opposition to the standard paradox. Thus, contrary to the commonly-held belief that mutualism’s positive feedback destabilizes food webs, our results suggest that interplay between the structure and function of ecological networks in general, and consideration of mutualistic interactions in particular, may be key to understanding complexity–stability relationships of biological communities as a whole.