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Generalists are more specialized in low-resource habitats, increasing stability of ecological network structure [Ecology]
PNAS ( IF 9.580 ) Pub Date : 2020-01-13 , DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1820143117
Moria L. Robinson, Sharon Y. Strauss

Linking mechanistic processes to the stability of ecological networks is a key frontier in ecology. In trophic networks, “modules”—groups of species that interact more with each other than with other members of the community—confer stability, mitigating effects of species loss or perturbation. Modularity, in turn, is shaped by the interplay between species’ diet breadth traits and environmental influences, which together dictate interaction structure. Despite the importance of network modularity, variation in this emergent property is poorly understood in complex natural systems. Using two years of field data, we quantified interactions between a rich community of lepidopteran herbivores and their host plants across a mosaic of low-resource serpentine and high-resource nonserpentine soils. We used literature and our own observations to categorize herbivore species as generalists (feeding on more than one plant family) or specialists (feeding on one plant family). In both years, the plant-herbivore network was more modular on serpentine than on nonserpentine soils—despite large differences in herbivore assemblage size across years. This structural outcome was primarily driven by reduction in the breadth of host plant use by generalist species, rather than by changes in the composition of species with different fundamental diet breadths. Greater modularity—and thus greater stability—reflects environmental conditions and plastic responses by generalist herbivores to low host plant quality. By considering the dual roles of species traits and ecological processes, we provide a deeper mechanistic understanding of network modularity, and suggest a role for resource availability in shaping network persistence.
更新日期:2020-01-14

 

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