Interaction intimacy affects structure and coevolutionary dynamics in mutualistic networks

Curr Biol. 2007 Oct 23;17(20):1797-803. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.09.059.


The structure of mutualistic networks provides clues to processes shaping biodiversity [1-10]. Among them, interaction intimacy, the degree of biological association between partners, leads to differences in specialization patterns [4, 11] and might affect network organization [12]. Here, we investigated potential consequences of interaction intimacy for the structure and coevolution of mutualistic networks. From observed processes of selection on mutualistic interactions, it is expected that symbiotic interactions (high-interaction intimacy) will form species-poor networks characterized by compartmentalization [12, 13], whereas nonsymbiotic interactions (low intimacy) will lead to species-rich, nested networks in which there is a core of generalists and specialists often interact with generalists [3, 5, 7, 12, 14]. We demonstrated an association between interaction intimacy and structure in 19 ant-plant mutualistic networks. Through numerical simulations, we found that network structure of different forms of mutualism affects evolutionary change in distinct ways. Change in one species affects primarily one mutualistic partner in symbiotic interactions but might affect multiple partners in nonsymbiotic interactions. We hypothesize that coevolution in symbiotic interactions is characterized by frequent reciprocal changes between few partners, but coevolution in nonsymbiotic networks might show rare bursts of changes in which many species respond to evolutionary changes in a single species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ants / pathogenicity
  • Ants / physiology
  • Biodiversity
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Models, Biological
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena
  • Symbiosis