Nature 442, 259-264 (20 July 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04927

Ecological networks and their fragility

José M. Montoya1,2, Stuart L. Pimm3 and Ricard V. Solé2,4

Darwin used the metaphor of a 'tangled bank' to describe the complex interactions between species. Those interactions are varied: they can be antagonistic ones involving predation, herbivory and parasitism, or mutualistic ones, such as those involving the pollination of flowers by insects. Moreover, the metaphor hints that the interactions may be complex to the point of being impossible to understand. All interactions can be visualized as ecological networks, in which species are linked together, either directly or indirectly through intermediate species. Ecological networks, although complex, have well defined patterns that both illuminate the ecological mechanisms underlying them and promise a better understanding of the relationship between complexity and ecological stability.

  1. School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London, London E1 4NS, UK
  2. ICREA-Complex Systems Laboratory, IMIM-UPF, Dr Aiguader 80, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
  3. Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina 27708, USA
  4. Santa Fe Institute, 1399 Hyde Park Road, New Mexico 87501, USA

Correspondence to: Stuart L. Pimm3 Correspondence should be addressed to S.L.P. (Email:


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