Disentangling the Web of Life

Bascompte J. Disentangling the web of life. Science. 2009 Jul 24;325(5939):416-9.

In the past, biodiversity research primarily focused on species richness and less on their interactions. A typical study might have addressed the interactions between a pair of species or between a small group of species rather than, for example, attempting to consider the global interdependence between an entire food web. The article highlights the advantage of considering biodiversity using a network approach which allows us to better model species interdependence. Past research investigated the effects of pairwise interactions such as predation, herbivory, and mutualism. Using a network approach does not mean that such interactions are unimportant. Rather, these studies should provide the building blocks for constructing models of the full network architecture. The inclusion or exclusion of motifs influences the stability of the network. Thus, harnessing results from past research which delve deep into pairwise interactions will help provide realism for network models. There are some assumptions about co-evolution which we will need to abandon, which arose from non-network analyses. The first is that coevolution leads toward highly specific one-on-one interactions and the second is that coevolution within species-rich communities generates diffuse assemblages that are intractable to generalization. By considering biodiversity beyond species richness and one-on-one interactions and using a network approach will allow us to answer pressing environmental questions of the day.