Mutualism supports biodiversity when the direct competition is weak

Nat Commun. 2017 Feb 24;8:14326. doi: 10.1038/ncomms14326.

Abstract

A key question of theoretical ecology is which properties of ecosystems favour their stability and help maintaining biodiversity. This question recently reconsidered mutualistic systems, generating intense controversy about the role of mutualistic interactions and their network architecture. Here we show analytically and verify with simulations that reducing the effective interspecific competition and the propagation of perturbations positively influences structural stability against environmental perturbations, enhancing persistence. Noteworthy, mutualism reduces the effective interspecific competition only when the direct interspecific competition is weaker than a critical value. This critical competition is in almost all cases larger in pollinator networks than in random networks with the same connectance. Highly connected mutualistic networks reduce the propagation of environmental perturbations, a mechanism reminiscent of MacArthur's proposal that ecosystem complexity enhances stability. Our analytic framework rationalizes previous contradictory results, and it gives valuable insight on the complex relationship between mutualism and biodiversity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Plant Physiological Phenomena
  • Pollination / physiology
  • Symbiosis / physiology*