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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Layer-specific imprints of traits within a plant-herbivore-predator network - complementary insights from complementary methods

Wootton, Kate L.; Blanchet, F. Guillaume; Liston, Andrew; Nyman, Tommi; Riggi, Laura G. A.; Kopelke, Jens-Peter; Roslin, Tomas; Gravel, Dominique


Who interacts with whom is a key question in community and network ecology. The concept that these interactions may be driven by a match between the traits of consumer and resource species is known as trait-matching. If trait-matching would allow for general predictions of interaction structure based on sufficiently few and easily-measurable traits, then this approach could replace the laborious description of each individual pairwise interaction. To resolve imprints of trait-matching in a species-rich tri-trophic Salix-galler-parasitoid network, and to identify the most relevant traits, we applied five different methods, each approaching the same phenomenon from a different perspective. As traits, we used, body sizes, gall type (position on plant, structure of gall) and phenology, among others, as well as phylogenetic proxies. When jointly applied, the methods demonstrate distinctly different imprints of traits within the two bipartite network elements (Salix-galler versus galler-parasitoid interactions). Of the galler-parasitoid sub-network's interactions, approximately half were explainable by the species traits used; of the Salix-galler sub-network's interactions, traits explained at most two-fifths. Gall type appeared to be the most important structuring trait in both networks. Phylogeny explained as much, or more than did our tested traits, suggesting that traits may be conserved and phylogeny therefore an effective proxy. Overall, the more specialized structure of the Salix-galler network versus the more nested structure of the galler-parasitoid network meant that different methods were more effective at capturing interactions and interaction structure in the different sub-networks. Thus, our analysis reveals how structuring impacts may vary even between levels within the same multitrophic network, and calls for comparative analyses of trait matching across a wide set of systems and methods.


fourth-corner; K-nearest neighbour; matching-centrality; parasitoid; Random forest; Salix; willow-galling sawflies

Published in

2024, Volume: 2024, number: 4, article number: e07028
Publisher: WILEY

      SLU Authors

    • Wootton, Kate