Why are some plant-pollinator networks more nested than others?

Abstract

Empirical studies have found that the mutualistic interactions forming the structure of plant–pollinator networks are typically more nested than expected by chance alone. Additionally, theoretical studies have shown a positive association between the nested structure of mutualistic networks and community persistence. Yet, it has been shown that some plant–pollinator networks may be more nested than others, raising the interesting question of which factors are responsible for such enhanced nested structure. It has been argued that ordered network structures may increase the persistence of ecological communities under less predictable environments. This suggests that nested structures of plant–pollinator networks could be more advantageous under highly seasonal environments. While several studies have investigated the link between nestedness and various environmental variables, unfortunately, there has been no unified answer to validate these predictions. Here, we move from the problem of describing network structures to the problem of comparing network structures. We develop comparative statistics, and apply them to investigate the association between the nested structure of 59 plant–pollinator networks and the temperature seasonality present in their locations. We demonstrate that higher levels of nestedness are associated with a higher temperature seasonality. We show that the previous lack of agreement came from an extended practice of using standardized measures of nestedness that cannot be compared across different networks. Importantly, our observations complement theory showing that more nested network structures can increase the range of environmental conditions compatible with species coexistence in mutualistic systems, also known as structural stability. This increase in nestedness should be more advantageous and occur more often in locations subject to random environmental perturbations, which could be driven by highly changing or seasonal environments. This synthesis of theory and observations could prove relevant for a better understanding of the ecological processes driving the assembly and persistence of ecological communities.

Publication
Journal of Animal Ecology
Chuliang Song
Chuliang Song
PostDoc

I am a theoretical ecologist driven by the curiosity of how biodiversity is generated and maintained.

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