Stability of Ecological Communities and the Architecture of Mutualistic and Trophic Networks

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Science  13 Aug 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5993, pp. 853-856
DOI: 10.1126/science.1188321

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Building a Network

The relation between the architecture of ecological networks and community stability is important to understand the assembly of complex communities. By combining a model approach and a meta-analysis of a large collection of ecological networks, Thébault and Fontaine (p. 853; see the Perspective by Bascompte) found that network architecture and stability fundamentally differed between trophic networks that involved herbivory and mutualistic networks that involved pollination. These findings have implications for the understanding of community structure, evolution, and response to perturbation.


Research on the relationship between the architecture of ecological networks and community stability has mainly focused on one type of interaction at a time, making difficult any comparison between different network types. We used a theoretical approach to show that the network architecture favoring stability fundamentally differs between trophic and mutualistic networks. A highly connected and nested architecture promotes community stability in mutualistic networks, whereas the stability of trophic networks is enhanced in compartmented and weakly connected architectures. These theoretical predictions are supported by a meta-analysis on the architecture of a large series of real pollination (mutualistic) and herbivory (trophic) networks. We conclude that strong variations in the stability of architectural patterns constrain ecological networks toward different architectures, depending on the type of interaction.

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