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How Structured Is the Entangled Bank? The Surprisingly Simple Organization of Multiplex Ecological Networks Leads to Increased Persistence and Resilience

How Structured Is the Entangled Bank? The Surprisingly Simple Organization of Multiplex Ecological Networks Leads to Increased Persistence and Resilience | Papers | Scoop.it

Within an ecosystem, species interact with each other in many different ways, including predation, competition, and facilitation, and this can be modelled as a network of multiple interaction types. The variety of interaction types that link species to each other has long been recognized but has rarely been synthesized for entire multi-species ecosystems. Here, we leverage a unique marine ecological network that integrates thousands of trophic and non-trophic interactions. We show that, despite its multidimensional complexity, this ecological network collapses into a small set of “functional groups,” i.e., groups of species that resemble each other in the way they interact with others in their combined trophic and non-trophic interactions. These groups are taxonomically coherent and predictable by species attributes. Moreover, dynamic simulations suggest that the way the different interaction types relate to each other allows for higher species persistence and higher total biomass than is expected by chance alone, and that this tends to promote a higher robustness to extinctions. Our results will help to guide future empirical studies and to develop a more general theory of the dynamics of complex ecological systems.

 

Kéfi S, Miele V, Wieters EA, Navarrete SA, Berlow EL (2016) How Structured Is the Entangled Bank? The Surprisingly Simple Organization of Multiplex Ecological Networks Leads to Increased Persistence and Resilience. PLoS Biol 14(8): e1002527. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002527


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Eric L Berlow's curator insight, August 7, 1:35 AM
Species are linked to each other by a myriad of positive and negative interactions. This complex spectrum of interactions constitutes a network of links that mediates ecological communities’ response to perturbations, such as exploitation and climate change. In the last decades, there have been great advances in the study of intricate ecological networks. We have, nonetheless, lacked both the data and the tools to more rigorously understand the patterning of multiple interaction types between species (i.e., “multiplex networks”), as well as their consequences for community dynamics. Using network statistical modeling applied to a comprehensive ecological network, which includes trophic and diverse non-trophic links, we provide a first glimpse at what the full “entangled bank” of species looks like. The community exhibits clear multidimensional structure, which is taxonomically coherent and broadly predictable from species traits. Moreover, dynamic simulations suggest that this non-random patterning of how diverse non-trophic interactions map onto the food web could allow for higher species persistence and higher total biomass than expected by chance and tends to promote a higher robustness to extinctions.
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Evolutionary Conservation of Species’ Roles in Food Webs

Studies of ecological networks (the web of interactions between species in a community) demonstrate an intricate link between a community’s structure and its long-term viability. It remains unclear, however, how much a community’s persistence depends on the identities of the species present, or how much the role played by each species varies as a function of the community in which it is found. We measured species’ roles by studying how species are embedded within the overall network and the subsequent dynamic implications. Using data from 32 empirical food webs, we find that species’ roles and dynamic importance are inherent species attributes and can be extrapolated across communities on the basis of taxonomic classification alone. Our results illustrate the variability of roles across species and communities and the relative importance of distinct species groups when attempting to conserve ecological communities.

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Keystones in a Tangled Bank

In the past decade, ecologists have increasingly applied complex network theory (1, 2) to ecological interactions, both in entire food webs (3) and in networks representing ecological interactions, especially those between plants and their animal pollinators or seed dispersers (4). How important are individual species to the maintenance of such ecological networks? On page 1489 of this issue, Stouffer et al. (5) analyze terrestrial, freshwater, and marine food webs to infer the contributions of individual species to network stability. In a related field study on page 1486 of this issue, Aizen et al. (6) explore plant and pollinator webs on a landscape scale. Using a different field study design, Pocock et al. (7) recently focused on a local community in which several webs of different kinds of interactions and organisms form a composite network.

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