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Non-random coextinctions in phylogenetically structured mutualistic networks


The interactions between plants and their animal pollinators and seed dispersers have moulded much of Earth’s biodiversity1,2,3. Recently, it has been shown that these mutually beneficial interactions form complex networks with a well-defined architecture that may contribute to biodiversity persistence4,5,6,7,8. Little is known, however, about which ecological and evolutionary processes generate these network patterns3,9. Here we use phylogenetic methods10,11 to show that the phylogenetic relationships of species predict the number of interactions they exhibit in more than one-third of the networks, and the identity of the species with which they interact in about half of the networks. As a consequence of the phylogenetic effects on interaction patterns, simulated extinction events tend to trigger coextinction cascades of related species. This results in a non-random pruning of the evolutionary tree12,13 and a more pronounced loss of taxonomic diversity than expected in the absence of a phylogenetic signal. Our results emphasize how the simultaneous consideration of phylogenetic information and network architecture can contribute to our understanding of the structure and fate of species-rich communities.

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Figure 1: A phylogenetic approach to mutualistic networks.
Figure 2: Magnitude of phylogenetic signal on the number and strength of mutualistic interactions.
Figure 3: Correlation between ecological similarity and phylogenetic relatedness.
Figure 4: Phylogenetic resemblance induces a higher loss of taxonomic diversity after species extinctions.


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We thank S. Armbruster, P. Buston, M. A. Fortuna, P. Guimarães, M. Helmus, A. Ives, J. Olesen, D. Posada, A. G. Sáez, J. N. Thompson and N. Waser for comments on a previous draft. This work was funded by the European Heads of Research Councils, the European Science Foundation, and the EC Sixth Framework Programme through a EURYI (European Young Investigator) Award (J.B.), by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science (P.J. and J.B.), by the Junta de Andalucía (P.J. and J.B.), and by the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (P.R.G).

Author Contributions E.L.R. performed all the analysis and compiled the phylogenies jointly with J.E.L. P.R.G. performed the extinction simulations. P.J. and J.B. designed the study and compiled the interaction matrices. E.L.R. and J.B. wrote a first version of the manuscript, and all authors contributed to the final draft.

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Correspondence to Jordi Bascompte.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary Figures 1-3, additional references and all the phylogenies compiled for this study. (PDF 6238 kb)

Supplementary Data and Methods

This file contains Supplementary Data with the entire database listing (i) interaction matrices used in this study; (ii) species list and their information and (iii) results from statistical analysis summarized in main text and Supplementary Methods. (XLS 6259 kb)

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Rezende, E., Lavabre, J., Guimarães, P. et al. Non-random coextinctions in phylogenetically structured mutualistic networks. Nature 448, 925–928 (2007).

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