Invariant properties in coevolutionary networks of plant-animal interactions

January 06, 2003

The interactions among animal and plant species depict the essence of natural communities: a web of relationships that build up links of mutual dependence. Until now the complexity of this type of ecosystem network escaped scientists' attempt to study them: just imagine all the interactions that can take place in a highly diverse tropical rainforest.

Many insects, bats, and hummingbirds pollinate flowers and frugivorous vertebrates- like toucans or monkeys- disperse plant seeds; the plants in turn provide key resources for the animals in a complex web of mutually beneficial interactions. The bulk of species have few interactions but some species interact with large numbers of other species.

Scientists from Spain have recently shown in an article published in Ecology Letters that for a large number of species sampled, community organisation is always the same despite ecological differences between members of different communities. The food webs considered by these researchers are constructed in a similar way to human-made complex networks such as social networks, the internet, airport connections, etc.

This reveals for the first time a generalized topology characteristic of self-organized complex systems and has important implications for the conservation of biodiversity.

Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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