The Architecture of Antagonistic Networks
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Designing a mechanistic model that can give rise to realistic architecture of ecological networks is central to the understanding of how species assemble and function in ecosystems. As species are constantly adjusting their diets in an antagonistic network, we here incorporate this adaptive behaviour of diet choice into a bipartite network model, with the effect of antagonistic interactions between species depicted by Holling’s type II functional response. Predictions of this model fit extremely well with the observed levels of nestedness, modularity and node-degree distributions for 61 real host-parasitoid and plant-herbivore networks. We further examined two specific scenarios of our model (species with identical [neutral] demographic parameters and interactions with identical [neutral] benefit in the network) and found that the demography-neutral scenario overestimated observed modularity, whilst the benefit neutral scenario overestimate observed nestedness. Relationships between nestedness, modularity and connectance were found strong. Moreover, in contrast to the common belief of the high modularity in antagonistic networks, most real networks (> 80%) are significantly nested, whilst nearly 40% of the real networks are surprisingly less compartmentalized than random networks generated from null models. Regardless of the controversy on whether antagonistic networks are nested or compartmentalized, the proposed model captured the essence of the dynamic nature of structural emergence in antagonistic networks. Due to its predictive power, this model was further used to investigate robustness in antagonistic networks. Predictions showed that the robustness of a network is determined by many factors, such as connectance, resource degree distribution, resource-consumer ratio, diversity, nestedness and compartmentalisation. Surprisingly, the manner of network response to species loss was independent of the sequence followed while removing species from a network. Variations were only noticed in the intensity of the effect resulting from the removals. In addition, we also showed that species extinction procedures which ignore the interaction switch underestimate the effect of any loss of species in these networks. We must therefore value our knowledge of possible adaptive processes in the ecosystem as they may be important for resolving the diversity-stability debate.