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Predicting the effect of competition on secondary plant extinctions in plant–pollinator networks

Authors


S. Bewick, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA. Present address for SB: Dept of Biology, Univ. of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA. E-mail: sharon_bewick@hotmail.com

Abstract

What are the limitations of models that predict the behavior of an ecological community based on a single type of species interaction? Using plant–pollinator network models as an example, we contrast the predicted vulnerability of a community to secondary extinctions under the assumption of purely mutualistic interactions versus mutualistic and competitive interactions. We find that competition among plant species increases the risk of secondary extinctions and extinction cascades. Simulations over a number of different network structures indicate that this effect is stronger in larger networks, more strongly connected networks and networks with higher plant:pollinator ratios. We conclude that efforts to model plant–pollinator communities will systematically over-estimate community robustness to species loss if plant competition is ignored. However, because the effect of plant competition depends on network architecture, and because characterization of plant competition is work intensive, we suggest that efforts to account for plant competition in plant–pollinator network models should be focused on large, strongly connected networks with high plant:pollinator ratios.

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