Unveiling the complexity and ecological function of aquatic macrophyte-animal networks in coastal ecosystems

Federica Manca, Clelia Mulà, Camilla Gustafsson, Achille Mauri, Tomas Roslin, David Neville Thomas, Lisandro Benedetti-Cecchi, Alf Norkko, Giovanni Strona

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Network theory offers innovative tools to explore the complex ecological mechanisms regulating species associations and interactions. Although interest in ecological networks has grown steadily during the last two decades, the application of network approaches has been unequally distributed across different study systems: while some kinds of interactions (e.g. plant–pollinator and host–parasite) have been extensively investigated, others remain relatively unexplored. Among the latter, aquatic macrophyte–animal associations in coastal environments have been largely neglected, despite their major role in littoral ecosystems. The ubiquity of macrophyte systems, their accessibility and multi-faceted ecological, economical and societal importance make macrophyte–animal systems an ideal subject for ecological network science.
In fact, macrophyte–animal networks offer an aquatic counterpart to terrestrial plant–animal networks. In this review, we show how the application of network analysis to aquatic macrophyte–animal associations has the potential to broaden our understanding of how coastal ecosystems function. Network analysis can also provide a key to understanding how such ecosystems will respond to on-going and future threats from anthropogenic disturbance and environmental change. For this, we: (i) identify key issues that have limited the application of network theory and modelling to aquatic animal– macrophyte associations; (ii) illustrate through examples based on empirical data how network analysis can offer new insights on the complexity and functioning of coastal ecosystems; and (iii) provide suggestions for how to design future studies and establish this new research line into network ecology.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)1306-1324
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
  • Associations
  • Bipartite networks
  • Coastal ecosystems
  • Ecological networks
  • Macroalgae
  • Macrofauna
  • Macrophytes
  • Seagrasses

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