• Abundance;
  • adaptive behaviour;
  • antagonistic network;
  • dynamic network;
  • functional response;
  • morphological trait;
  • nestedness;
  • network size;
  • pollination;
  • seed disperser

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 797–803


Nested architecture is distinctive in plant–animal mutualistic networks. However, to date an integrative and quantitative explanation has been lacking. It is evident that species often switch their interactive partners in real-world mutualistic networks such as pollination and seed-dispersal networks. By incorporating an interaction switch into a novel multi-population model, we show that the nested architecture rapidly emerges from an initially random network. The model allowing interaction switches between partner species produced predictions which fit remarkably well with observations from 81 empirical networks. Thus, the nested architecture in mutualistic networks could be an intrinsic physical structure of dynamic networks and the interaction switch is likely a key ecological process that results in nestedness of real-world networks. Identifying the biological processes responsible for network structures is thus crucial for understanding the architecture of ecological networks.