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The Nested Assembly of Plant Facilitation Networks Prevents Species Extinctions

Miguel Verdú and Alfonso Valiente‐Banuet
The American Naturalist
Vol. 172, No. 6 (December 2008), pp. 751-760
DOI: 10.1086/593003
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/593003
Page Count: 10
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The Nested Assembly of Plant Facilitation Networks Prevents Species Extinctions
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Abstract

Abstract: Facilitation is a positive interaction assembling ecological communities and preserving global biodiversity. Although communities acquire emerging properties when many species interact, most of our knowledge about facilitation is based on studies between pairs of species. To understand how plant facilitation preserves biodiversity in complex ecological communities, we propose to move from the study of pairwise interactions to the network approach. We show that facilitation networks behave as mutualistic networks do, characterized by a nonrandom, nested structure of plant‐plant interactions in which a few generalist nurses facilitate a large number of species while the rest of the nurses facilitate only a subset of them. Consequently, generalist nurses shape a dense and highly connected network. Interestingly, such generalist nurses are the most abundant species in the community, making facilitation‐shaped communities strongly resistant to extinction, as revealed by coextinction simulations. The nested structure of facilitative networks explains why facilitation, by preventing extinction, preserves biodiversity.

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