The global decline of mutualists such as pollinators and seed dispersers may cause negative direct and indirect impacts on biodiversity. Mutualistic network models used to understand the stability of mutualistic systems indicate that species with low partner diversity are most vulnerable to coextinction following mutualism disruption. However, existing models have not considered how species vary in their dependence on mutualistic interactions for reproduction or survival, overlooking the potential influence of this variation on species’ coextinction vulnerability and on network stability. Using global databases and field experiments focused on the seed dispersal mutualism, we found that plants and animals that depend heavily on mutualistic interactions have higher partner diversity. Under simulated network disruption, this empirical relationship strongly reduced coextinction because the species most likely to lose mutualists depend least on their mutualists. The pattern also reduced the importance of network structure for stability; nested network structure had little effect on coextinction after simulations incorporated the empirically derived relationship between partner diversity and mutualistic dependence. Our results highlight a previously unknown source of stability in mutualistic networks and suggest that differences among species in their mutualistic strategy, rather than network structure, primarily accounts for stability in mutualistic communities.
|Number of pages||8|
|Journal||Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences|
|Publication status||Published - 17 May 2017|