Habitat loss and species invasion in ecological networks
Habitat loss and degradation is still the major cause of biodiversity loss worldwide. Degraded habitats also disrupt ecological interactions. The disruption of some network properties (e.g. the distribution of interaction strenghts within species) is an early signal of biodiversity collapse. On top of that, species introduction and invasion are more likely to happen in already degraded habitats, with further consequences for species interaction dynamics. The structure and dynamics of these emerging ecosystems that may result from these degradation/invasion processes is a fascinating study area.
We are developing spatially-explicit theoretical models that simulate the effects of habitat loss on multispecies systems. Research so far has focused on single species or simple food web modules. Our approach aims at considering the whole species interaction network (see Solé & Montoya 2006). We use both antagonistic and mutualistic interactions, to explore whether ecosystems with a different balance between herbivory/mutualism are more or less sensitive to habitat loss.
Within their framework, in collaboration with Daniel Montoya and Jane Memmott, from the University of Bristol, and Lucas Joppa, from Microsoft Research, we are studying how invasions and colonization of newly available niches affect population and community dynamics.