Hybrid structural arrangements mediate stability and feasibility in mutualistic networks






A. Solé-Ribalta, J. Borge-Holthoefer, M.J. Palazzi, A. Lampo



Perhaps the largest debate in network Ecology, the emergence of structural patterns stands out as a multifaceted problem. To the methodological challenges — pattern identification, statistical significance — one has to add the relationship between candidate architectures and dynamical performance. In the case of mutualistic communities, the debate revolves mostly around two structural arrangements (nestedness and modularity) and two requirements for persistence, namely feasibility and stability. So far, it is clear that the former is strongly related to nestedness, while the latter is enhanced in modular systems. Adding to this, it has recently become clear that nestedness and modularity are antagonistic patterns — or, at the very least, their coexistence in a single system is problematic. In this context, this work addresses the role of the interaction architecture in the emergence and maintenance of both properties, introducing the idea of hybrid architectural configurations. Specifically, we examine in-block nestedness, compound by disjoint subsets of species (modules) with internal nested organization, and prove that it grants a balanced trade-off between stability and feasibility. Remarkably, we analyze a large amount of empirical communities and find that a relevant fraction of them exhibits a marked in-block nested structure. We elaborate on the implications of these results, arguing that they provide new insights about the key properties ruling community assembly.