New study upends established models of forecasting coextinction in complex ecosystems

May 16, 2017

A study from Iowa State University researchers casts new light on how biologists understand the likelihood of coextinction among plants and animals that depend on one another for survival.

The study, published recently in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, focuses on mutualist networks, or webs of mutually beneficial interactions between plants and animals. Examples include fruit-eating birds that eat the fruit from trees while simultaneously helping to disperse the trees’ seeds.

Current models that examine these relationships have emphasized the possibility of co-extinction, or the extinction of one species leading to the demise of other mutualist species. But Haldre Rogers, an assistant professor in the ISU Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, said previous thinking rarely accounted for how dependent individual species are on their mutualist relationships.

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