Complexity and fragility in ecological networks

Ricard V. Solé, M. Montoya

Abstract

A detailed analysis of three species–rich ecosystem food webs has shown that they display skewed distributions of connections. Such graphs of interaction are, in fact, shared by a number of biological and technological networks, which have been shown to display a very high homeostasis against random removals of nodes. Here, we analyse the responses of these ecological graphs to both random and selective perturbations (directed against the most–connected species). Our results suggest that ecological networks are very robust against random removals but can be extremely fragile when selective attacks are used. These observations have important consequences for biodiversity dynamics and conservation issues, current estimations of extinction rates and the relevance and definition of keystone species.