Trait-mediated interaction leads to structural emergence in mutualistic networks
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As asymmetric structures of mutualistic networks can potentially contribute to system resilience, elucidating drivers behind the emergence of particular network architectures remains a major endeavour in ecology. Here, using an eco-evolutionary model for bipartite mutualistic networks with trait-mediated interactions, we explore how particular levels of connectance, nestedness and modularity are affected by three network assembly forces: resource accessibility, tolerance to trait difference between mutualistic pairs and competition intensity. We found that a moderate accessibility to intra-trophic resources and cross-trophic mutualistic support can result in a highly nested web, while low tolerance to trait difference between interacting pairs leads to a high level of modularity. Network-level trait complementarity leads to low connectance and high modularity, while network-level specialization can result in nested structures. Consequently, we argue that the interplay of ecological and evolutionary processes through trait-mediated interactions can explain these widely observed architectures in mutualistic networks.
- RESEARCH: Hui C