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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Jun 27;364(1524):1781-7. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0226.

The assembly and disassembly of ecological networks.

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Integrative Ecology Group, Estación Biológica de Doñana, CSIC, c/ Americo Vespucio s/n, 41080 Sevilla, Spain.


Global change has created a severe biodiversity crisis. Species are driven extinct at an increasing rate, and this has the potential to cause further coextinction cascades. The rate and shape of these coextinction cascades depend very much on the structure of the networks of interactions across species. Understanding network structure and how it relates to network disassembly, therefore, is a priority for system-level conservation biology. This process of network collapse may indeed be related to the process of network build-up, although very little is known about both processes and even less about their relationship. Here we review recent work that provides some preliminary answers to these questions. First, we focus on network assembly by emphasizing temporal processes at the species level, as well as the structural building blocks of complex ecological networks. Second, we focus on network disassembly as a consequence of species extinctions or habitat loss. We conclude by emphasizing some general rules of thumb that can help in building a comprehensive framework to understand the responses of ecological networks to global change.

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