Species importance in a heterospecific foraging association network


H. Sridhar, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Inst. of Science, Bangalore-560012, India. E-mail: hari@ces.iisc.ernet.in


There is a growing recognition of the need to integrate non-trophic interactions into ecological networks for a better understanding of whole-community organization. To achieve this, the first step is to build networks of individual non-trophic interactions. In this study, we analyzed a network of interdependencies among bird species that participated in heterospecific foraging associations (flocks) in an evergreen forest site in the Western Ghats, India. We found the flock network to contain a small core of highly important species that other species are strongly dependent on, a pattern seen in many other biological networks. Further, we found that structural importance of species in the network was strongly correlated to functional importance of species at the individual flock level. Finally, comparisons with flock networks from other Asian forests showed that the same taxonomic groups were important in general, suggesting that species importance was an intrinsic trait and not dependent on local ecological conditions. Hence, given a list of species in an area, it may be possible to predict which ones are likely to be important. Our study provides a framework for the investigation of other heterospecific foraging associations and associations among species in other non-trophic contexts.