Disentangling the effect of hybrid interactions and of the constant effort hypothesis on ecological community stability

Authors


S. Suweis, Dipto di Fisica e Astronomia, Univ. di Padova, CNISM and INFN, via Marzolo 8, IT-35131 Padova, Italy. E-mail: suweis@pd.infn.it

Abstract

In the last years, a remarkable theoretical effort has been made in order to understand the relation between stability and complexity in ecological communities. Yet, what maintains species diversity in real ecological communities is still an open question. The non-random structures of ecological interaction networks have been recognized as one key ingredient impacting the maximum number of coexisting species within the ecological community. However most of the earlier theoretical studies have considered communities with only one interaction type (either antagonistic, competitive or mutualistic). Recently, it has been proposed that multiple interaction types might stabilize ecosystems and that, in this hybrid case, increasing complexity increases stability. Here we show that these results depend on ad hoc hypothesis that the authors used in their model and we highlight the need to disentangle the role of multiple interaction types and constant interaction effort allocation on community stability. Indeed, we find that mixing of mutualistic and predator–prey interaction types does not stabilize the community dynamics and we demonstrate that a positive correlation between complexity and stability is observed only if a constant effort allocation is imposed in the ecological interactions.

Synthesis

In recent years a sparkling research has been devoted to the search of new theoretical mechanisms to explain way ecosystems may persist despite their complexity. Here we show that, contrary to what recently suggested (Mougi et al. 2012), the mismatch between theoretical results and empirical evidences on the stability of ecological community is still there also for communities with both mutualistic and antagonistic interactions, and the ‘complexity-stability’ paradox is still alive. Indeed, we demonstrate that their results arise as an artifact of the peculiar rescaling of the interaction strengths they imposed. Our study suggests that further theoretical studies and experimental evidences are still needed to better understand the role of interaction strengths in real ecological communities.

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