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Dominant network interactions are not correlated with resource availability: a case study using mistletoe host interactions

Authors

  • R. A. J. Blick,

    1. Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Univ. of New South Wales, NSW 2052, Sydney, Australia.
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  • K. C. Burns,

    1. Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Univ. of New South Wales, NSW 2052, Sydney, Australia.
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  • A. T. Moles

    1. Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Univ. of New South Wales, NSW 2052, Sydney, Australia.
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R. A. J. Blick, Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Univ. of New South Wales, NSW 2052, Sydney, Australia. E-mail: rblick.ecol@gmail.com

Abstract

Network theory in ecology has been central to understanding species co-occurrence patterns, specialization and community stability. However, network theory has traditionally focused on the ‘higher’ trophic level where exploitation of network ‘partners’ (i.e. individual interactions in response to resource availability) have remained underappreciated. In this study we tested how clumping and host availability influenced mistletoe–host interactions in a semi-arid woodland, central Australia. We used a hierarchical approach that evaluated individual interactions by modifying the traditional randomization technique to simulate clumping and host exploitation. Using published literature we then compared our results with mistletoes from other genera. We found that mistletoes clump on fewer trees than predicted, even though interaction strength was no different from random expectations, and we found no evidence that common trees were heavily infected as predicted by the host availability hypothesis. The rate of host exploitation (measured as the proportion of trees infected) in semi-arid Australia is similar to that for mistletoe genera in other parts of the world. We hypothesize that specific host trees act as a focal point for infection that facilitates the spread and overall population size of mistletoes. Overall our results indicate that resources, such as the number of trees in a mistletoe network, are less important than clumping of individual plants. We suggest that exploitation of available resources may play a similar role in other networks that extend beyond antagonistic relationships such as parasite or herbivore interactions.

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