Complex Networks approach to Mutualistic Ecosystems

Laura Hernandez

Jeudi 24 mai 2012 à 11h, salle 25-26/101

Mutualistic ecosystems are usually groups of animals and plants, helping each other to fulfil essential biological functions such as feeding or reproduction as in seed dispersal or pollination networks. Such systems may be described in terms of a complex network, where the nodes represent the animal or plant species and the links represent the existence of a contact between a plant and an animal species. As only contacts between nodes belonging to different guilds are allowed, the corresponding network is bipartite. Coding this information in a bipartite adjacency matrix, it is observed that real ecosystems are not a random collection of interacting species, but they display instead, a high degree of internal organization. Different hypothesis are discussed in the ecological literature to explain this particular order. It is fairly obvious that a detailed explanation of the interaction behaviour of individual species can be of little help to understand the generalized pattern that is found across ecological systems of very different sizes and types, that involve plants of different nature and animals that range from insects to birds. The tools commonly used by ecologists to study these systems are based on the statistical analysis of observed data. In this talk I will present an alternative way to study this problem, by introducing an algorithm that allows us to try different supposed hypothesis in the form of a Contact Preference Rule (CPR) that governs the dynamics of the system. Starting from a random configuration the system is evolved under the studied CPR and the comparison of the order state reached by this artificial system with the order observed in real systems allows us to decide whether a CPR may be considered or not as responsible for the observed order. In particular, I will introduce a new way to measure the order of mutualistic ecosystems and I will discuss about the relationship between the phylogenetic proximity of the members of each guild and the observed order.