Neutral networks

Canard, E., Mouquet, N., Marescot, L., Gaston, K.J., Gravel, D. & Mouillot, D. 2012. Emergence of structural patterns in neutral trophic networks. PLoS One 7, e38295.

Networks of interactions between species are central elements of ecological systems and have very complex structures. Historically, much effort has focused on niche-mediated processes to explain these structures, while an emerging consensus posits that both niche and neutral mechanisms simultaneously shape many features of ecological communities. However, the study of interaction networks still lacks a comprehensive neutral theory. Here we present a neutral model of predator-prey interactions and analyze the structural characteristics of the simulated networks. We find that connectance values (complexity) and complexity-diversity relationships of neutral networks are close to those observed in empirical bipartite networks. High nestedness and low modularity values observed in neutral networks fall in the range of those from empirical antagonist bipartite networks. Our results suggest that, as an alternative to niche-mediated processes that induce incompatibility between species (‘‘niche forbidden links’’), neutral processes create ‘‘neutral forbidden links’’ due to uneven species abundance distributions and the low probability of interaction between rare species. Neutral trophic networks must be seen as the missing endpoint of a continuum from niche to purely stochastic approaches of community organization.