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Assessing the impact of taxon resolution on network structure, with implication for comparative ecology

By David R. Hemprich-Bennett, Hernani F. M. Oliveira, Steven C. Le Comber, Stephen J. Rossiter, Elizabeth L Clare

Posted 28 Jun 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/357376

Constructing networks has become an indispensable approach in understanding how different taxa interact. However, methodologies vary widely among studies, potentially limiting our ability to meaningfully compare results. In particular, how network architecture is influenced by the extent to which nodes are resolved to either taxa or taxonomic units is poorly understood. To address this, here we collate nine datasets of ecological interactions, from both observations and DNA metabarcoding, and construct networks under a range of commonly-used node resolutions. We demonstrate that small changes in node resolution can cause wide variation in almost all key metric values, including robustness and nestedness. Moreover, relative values of metrics such as robustness were seen to fluctuate continuously with node resolution, thereby potentially confounding comparisons of networks, as well as interpretations concerning their constituent ecological interactions. These findings highlight the need for care when comparing networks, especially where these differ with respect to node resolution.

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