The role of asymmetric interactions on the effect of habitat destruction in mutualistic networks

Guillermo Abramson, Claudia A.Trejo Soto, Leonardo Oña

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15 Scopus citations


Plant-pollinator mutualistic networks are asymmetric in their interactions: specialist plants are pollinated by generalist animals, while generalist plants are pollinated by a broad range involving specialists and generalists. It has been suggested that this asymmetric -or disassortative- assemblage could play an important role in determining the observed equal susceptibility of specialist and generalist plants under habitat destruction. At the core of the analysis of the phenomenon lies the observation that specialist plants, otherwise candidates to extinction, could cope with the disruption thanks to their interaction with a few generalist pollinators. We present a theoretical framework that supports this thesis. We analyze a dynamical model of a system of mutualistic plants and pollinators, subject to the destruction of their habitat. We analyze and compare two families of interaction topologies, ranging from highly assortative to highly disassortative ones, as well as real pollination networks. We found that several features observed in natural systems are predicted by the mathematical model. First, there is a tendency to increase the asymmetry of the network as a result of the extinctions. Second, an entropy measure of the differential susceptibility to extinction of specialist and generalist species show that they tend to balance when the network is disassortative. Finally, the disappearance of links in the network, as a result of extinctions, shows that specialist plants preserve more connections than the corresponding plants in an assortative system, enabling them to resist the disruption.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere21028
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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