An interaction switch predicts the nested architecture of mutualistic networks

Authors

  • Feng Zhang,

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Invasion Biology, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa
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  • Cang Hui,

    1. Centre for Invasion Biology, Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa
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  • John S. Terblanche

    1. Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology, Stellenbosch University, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa
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E-mail:fzhang@sun.ac.za

Abstract

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 797–803

Abstract

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.

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