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it can address the inherentheterogeneity in who meets whom. This application can be extended to social networks as a way to estimate the spread of disease (30) and the evolution of cooperation (31) in heterogeneous societies. Conclusions Networks are useful descriptors of ecological systems that can show the composition of and interactions between multiple elements. The application of networks to ecosystems provides a conceptualframework to assess the consequences of perturbations at the community level. This may serve as a first step toward a more predictive ecology in the face of global environmental change. Networks are also able to introduce heterogeneity into our previously homogeneous theories of populations, diseases, and societies. Finally, networks have allowed us to find generalities among seemingly different systemsthat, despite their disparate nature, may have similar processes of formation and/or similar forces acting on their architecture in order to be functional. Although we have only begun to understand how changes in the environment affect species interactions and ecosystem dynamics through analyses of simple pairwise interactions, network thinking can provide a means by which to assess key questionssuch as how overfishing can cause trophic cascades, or how the disruption of mutualisms may reduce the entire pollination service within a community (25). As the flow of ideas among seemingly unrelated fields increases (a characteristic attribute of research on complex systems), we envision the creation of more powerful models that are able to more accurately predict the responses toperturbations of food webs, a major challenge for today’s ecologist.
References and Notes
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