Abundance and generalization in mutualistic networks: a chicken-and-egg dilemma

fort_et_al_2015A paper evaluating the causal relationship between abundance and generalization in plant-animal mutualistic networks was published online today in Ecology Letters. This research was done in collaboration with Hugo Fort, a physicist in Uruguay, and Boon Leong Lan, a physicist in Malaysia. I’ve never met them personally (only electronically through a long series of e-mails and Skype discussions), but I hope we can get together one day to drink beers to celebrate the acceptance of our paper.

The story of this project is that Hugo was intrigued by the positive correlation between abundance and generalization in mutualistic networks (rare species tend to appear specialized, abundant species tend to appear generalized), and the unclear causal relationship between them. He had a clever idea to evaluate this relationship using basic principles of logical inference. He invited Leong and I to collaborate with him in addressing this question using his logical approach to analyze a database on plant-pollinator and and plant-frugivore networks. The analysis indicated that, if there is a causal relationship between abundance and generalization, it is that abundance causes generalization, not the other way around.

You can see here the final version of the manuscript, and here the pdf in the journal’s web site. (If you want this pdf and don’t have access to the journal, please send me an e-mail, dvazquez [at] mendoza-conicet.gob.ar.)

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