A keystone mutualism promotes resistance to invasion

Agustin Vitali, Diego P. Vázquez, María F. Miguel, Yamila Sasal, Mariano A. Rodríguez-Cabal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


It is not uncommon for one or a few species, and their interactions, to have disproportionate effects on other species in ecological communities. Such keystone interactions might affect how communities respond to the invasion of non-native species by preventing or inhibiting the establishment, spread or impact of non-native species. We explore whether a keystone mutualism among a hummingbird–mistletoe–marsupial promotes ecological resistance to an invasive pollinator, the bumblebee Bombus terrestris, by comparing data collected at sites prior to bumblebee invasion to data collected 11 years after the invasion in sites with and without the keystone mutualism. We built pollination networks and focused on network motifs, regarded as building blocks of networks, to identify the central pollinators and estimate the change in their interactions after invasion of B. terrestris. We also estimated the interaction rewiring across the season in post-invasion networks and tested it as a possible mechanism explaining how the keystone mutualism increased ecological resistance to invasion. We found two times more species in post-invasion sites with the keystone mutualism than in post-invasion sites without the keystone mutualism. Moreover, we found that invasive bumblebee reduced the strength and interaction niche of the five central pollinator species while increasing its own strength and interaction niche, suggesting a replacement of interactions. Also, we found that the keystone mutualism promoted resistance to B. terrestris invasion by reducing its negative impacts on central species. In the presence of the keystone mutualism, central species had three times more direct interactions than in sites without this keystone mutualism. The higher interaction rewiring, after invasion of B. terrestris, in sites with the keystone mutualism indicates greater chances of central pollinators to form new interactions and reduces their competence for resources with the non-native bumblebee. Our results demonstrate that a keystone mutualism can enhance community resistance against the impacts of a non-native invasive pollinator by increasing species diversity and promoting interaction rewiring in the community. This study suggests that the conservation of mutualisms, especially those considered keystone, could be essential for long-term preservation of natural communities under current and future impacts of global change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-85
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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