Breaking the spell of nestedness

Mutualistic interactions, which are beneficial for both interacting species, are recurrently present in ecosystems. Observations of natural systems showed that, if we draw mutualistic relationships as binary links between species, the resulting bipartite network of interactions displays a widespread particular ordering called nestedness. On the other hand, theoretical works have shown that a nested structure has a positive impact on a number of relevant features ranging from species coexistence to a higher structural stability of communities and biodiversity. However, how nestedness emerges and what are its determinants, are still open challenges that have led to multiple debates to date. Here, we show, by applying a theoretical approach to the analysis of 167 real mutualistic networks, that nestedness is not an irreducible feature, but a consequence of the degree sequences of both guilds of the mutualistic network. Remarkably, we find that an outstanding majority of the analyzed networks does not show statistical significant nestedness. These findings point to the need of revising previous claims about the role of nestedness and might contribute to expanding our understanding of how evolution shapes mutualistic interactions and communities by placing the focus on the local properties rather than on global quantities.


Breaking the spell of nestedness
Claudia Payrato Borras, Laura Hernandez, Yamir Moreno