Does a species' extinction-proneness predict its contribution to nestedness? A test using a sunbird-tree visitation network
Animal pollinators and the plants they pollinate depend on networks of mutualistic partnerships and more broadly on the stability of such networks. Based mainly on insect-plant visitation networks, theory predicts that species that are most prone to extinction contribute the most to nestedness, however empirical tests are rare. We used a sunbird-tree visitation network within which were both extinction prone vs non extinction prone sunbird species to test the idea. We predicted that the extinction prone species would contribute the most to nestedness. Using local abundance as a proxy for extinction risk we considered that locally rare sunbird species, by virtue of their small population size and associated demographic stochasticity to be more at risk of extinction than the common species. Our network was not strongly nested and all sunbird species made similar contributions to nestedness, so that in our empirical test, extinction proneness did not predict contribution to nestedness. The consequences of this finding remain unclear. It may be that network theory based on plant-insect mutualisms is not widely applicable and does not work for tree- sunbird mutualistic networks. Alternatively it may be that our network was too small to provide results with any statistical power. Without doubt our study highlights the problems faced when testing network theory in the field; a plethora of ecological considerations can variously impact on results.