The sudden collapse of pollinator communities

Ecol Lett. 2014 Mar;17(3):350-9. doi: 10.1111/ele.12236. Epub 2014 Jan 6.


Declines in pollinator populations may harm biodiversity and agricultural productivity. Little attention has, however, been paid to the systemic response of mutualistic communities to global environmental change. Using a modelling approach and merging network theory with theory on critical transitions, we show that the scale and nature of critical transitions is likely to be influenced by the architecture of mutualistic networks. Specifically, we show that pollinator populations may collapse suddenly once drivers of pollinator decline reach a critical point. A high connectance and/or nestedness of the mutualistic network increases the capacity of pollinator populations to persist under harsh conditions. However, once a tipping point is reached, pollinator populations collapse simultaneously. Recovering from this single community-wide collapse requires a relatively large improvement of conditions. These findings may have large implications for our view on the sustainability of pollinator communities and the services they provide.

Keywords: Critical transitions; hysteresis; mutualistic networks; nestedness; pollinator decline.

Publication types

  • Letter
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Animals
  • Climate Change*
  • Colony Collapse
  • Computer Simulation
  • Ecosystem*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Pollination / physiology*
  • Population Dynamics / statistics & numerical data
  • Population Dynamics / trends
  • Species Specificity
  • Symbiosis*