Estimating the risk of species interaction loss in mutualistic communities

by Benno I. Simmons, Hannah S. Wauchope, Tatsuya Amano, Lynn V. Dicks, William J. Sutherland, Vasilis Dakos

Interactions between species generate the functions on which ecosystems and humans depend. However, we lack an understanding of the risk that interaction loss poses to ecological communities. Here, we quantify the risk of interaction loss for 4,330 species interactions from 41 empirical pollination and seed dispersal networks across 6 continents. We estimate risk as a function of interaction vulnerability to extinction (likelihood of loss) and contribution to network feasibility, a measure of how much an interaction helps a community tolerate environmental perturbations. Remarkably, we find that more vulnerable interactions have higher contributions to network feasibility. Furthermore, interactions tend to have more similar vulnerability and contribution to feasibility across networks than expected by chance, suggesting that vulnerability and feasibility contribution may be intrinsic properties of interactions, rather than only a function of ecological context. These results may provide a starting point for prioritising interactions for conservation in species interaction networks in the future.

Paper source
Plos Journal

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