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Uniting pattern and process in plant-animal mutualistic networks: a review

Vázquez, Diego P., Blüthgen, Nico, Cagnolo, Luciano, Chacoff, Natacha P.
Annals of botany 2009 v.103 no.9 pp. 1445-1457
biologists, ecologists, mutualism, researchers
BACKGROUND: Ecologists and evolutionary biologists are becoming increasingly interested in networks as a framework to study plant-animal mutualisms within their ecological context. Although such focus on networks has brought about important insights into the structure of these interactions, relatively little is still known about the mechanisms behind these patterns. SCOPE: The aim in this paper is to offer an overview of the mechanisms influencing the structure of plant-animal mutualistic networks. A brief summary is presented of the salient network patterns, the potential mechanisms are discussed and the studies that have evaluated them are reviewed. This review shows that researchers of plant-animal mutualisms have made substantial progress in the understanding of the processes behind the patterns observed in mutualistic networks. At the same time, we are still far from a thorough, integrative mechanistic understanding. We close with specific suggestions for directions of future research, which include developing methods to evaluate the relative importance of mechanisms influencing network patterns and focusing research efforts on selected representative study systems throughout the world.