Unifying facilitation and recruitment networks

Julio M. Alcántara, José L. Garrido, Alicia Montesinos‐Navarro, Pedro J. Rey, Alfonso Valiente‐Banuet and Miguel Verdú

The legume tree Prosopis laevigata facilitating a group of cacti: Myrtillocactus geometrizans, Opuntia pilifera, and several species of Mammillaria in the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley, Mexico. Photo credit: Alfonso Valiente-Banuet.

Although studies on ecological networks have provided important advances in knowledge about the stability and dynamics of ecosystems, we were concerned that this is not the case in plant community ecology. Even though the first studies on plant facilitation networks (FNs) were published more than a decade ago, the ecological networks approach is being integrated very slowly into the study of plant communities. In this work we try to shed some light on this by discussing different reasons that may have prevented a more widespread use of ecological networks in plant community ecology.

A recruitment network (RN) is an interaction network between established plants and plants recruiting beneath them, and describes which plants recruit under others. They are similar to classic FNs, but do not imply any particular effect (positive, negative or neutral) of the established plants on recruiting ones. The information they contain can be used to build models describing how certain species are more likely to be replaced by others, than other species. These models are useful to evaluate how the structure of networks and the different mechanisms involved in network assembly may affect plant community stability and species coexistence.

In this work we try to unify the concepts of FNs and RNs to facilitate the efficient development of their future research. We also propose basic methodological guidelines to standardise sampling methods that could make future studies of these networks directly comparable. In addition, interested researchers are invited to collaborate on a global database of recruitment networks that we are building up until the end of 2020, by using the sampling protocols and recommendations provided. More information is available at The Facilitation/Recruitment eLab: http://elabs.ebd.csic.es/web/213936.

This is a plain language summary for the paper of Alcántara et al. published in the Journal of Vegetation Science.