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Estimating the risk of species interaction loss in mutualistic communities

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Wauchope, Hannah S.  ORCID logo
Dicks, Lynn V. 
Sutherland, William J.  ORCID logo


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.


Funder: Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 (GB)

Funder: Cambridge Trust

Funder: Cambridge Depatment of Zoology

Funder: Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment; funder-id:

Funder: Kenneth Miller Trust

Funder: Arcadia


Research Article, Biology and life sciences, Computer and information sciences, Ecology and environmental sciences

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PLOS Biology

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Public Library of Science
Natural Environment Research Council (GB) (NE/L002507/1)
Australian Research Council (FT180100354)
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/K015419/1)
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/N014472/1)