Evolutionary stability of plant–pollinator networks: efficient communities and a pollination dilemma

Soeren Metelmann, Shoko Sakai, Michio Kondoh, Arndt Telschow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Mutualistic interactions between species are ubiquitous in nature and essential for ecosystem functioning. Often dozens or even hundreds of species with different degrees of specialisation form complex networks. How this complexity evolves is a fundamental question in ecology. Here, we present a new game theoretical approach to model complex coevolutionary processes and apply it to pollination networks. A theoretical analysis reveals multiple evolutionary stable network structures that depend on the availability of pollination service. In particular, we find efficient communities, in which a high percentage of pollen are transported conspecifically, to evolve only when plant and pollinator abundances are well balanced. Both pollinator shortage and oversupply select for more inefficient network structures. The results suggest that availability of pollination services is a key factor structuring pollination networks and may offer a new explanation for geographical differences in pollination communities that have long been recognised by ecologists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1747-1755
Number of pages9
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Dec


  • Alternative stable states
  • Mutualistic networks
  • asymmetric game
  • coevolution
  • evolution of cooperation
  • game theory
  • network stability
  • pollination
  • prisoner's dilemma
  • time scale

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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