Network dynamics contribute to structure: Nestedness in mutualistic networks

C. Finn McQuaid, Nicholas F. Britton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (SciVal)


Both ecological and evolutionary timescales are of importance when considering an ecological system; population dynamics affect the evolution of species traits, and vice versa. Recently, these two timescales have been used to explain structural patterns in host-parasite networks, where the evolution of the manner in which species balance the use of their resources in interactions with each other was examined. One of these patterns was nestedness, in which the set of parasite species within a particular host forms a subset of those within a more species-rich host. Patterns of both nestedness and anti-nestedness have been observed significantly more often than expected due to chance in host-parasite networks. In contrast, mutualistic networks tend to display a significant degree of nestedness, but are rarely anti-nested. Within networks with different interaction types, therefore, there appears to be a feature promoting non-random structural patterns, such as nestedness and anti-nestedness, depending on the interaction types involved. Here, we invoke the co-evolution of species trait-values when allocating resources to interactions to explain the structural pattern of nestedness in a mutualistic community. We look at a bipartite, multi-species system, in which the strength of an interaction between two species is determined by the resources that each species invests in that relationship. We then analyze the evolution of these interactions using adaptive dynamics. We found that the evolution of these interactions, reflecting the trade-off of resources, could be used to accurately predict that nestedness occurs significantly more often than expect due to chance alone in a mutualistic network. This complements previous results applying the same concept to an antagonistic network. We conclude that population dynamics and resource trade-offs could be important promoters of structural patterns in ecological networks of different types.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2372-2388
Number of pages17
JournalBulletin of Mathematical Biology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2013


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