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Evidence of structural balance in spatial ecological networks

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Despite recent advances in applying networks to study ecological systems, most of the network datasets are built attending only to a single type of interaction between nodes, which can be an oversimplification. In the present work, we built ecological networks that had positive and negative links for multiple plant communities based on the local spatial association between species. Then, we evaluated whether those networks were in balance, a hypothesis commonly formulated for real signed graphs but never tested in systems other than social networks. Specifically, we quantified the global and the local structural balance in the networks. We found that plant community networks were more balanced than expected by chance, and that this pattern was due to a large number of balanced triads to the detriment of unbalanced ones. Furthermore, this pattern was consistent among all of the types of the plant communities examined, which suggests that configurations that promote structural balance might be common in ecological signed networks. We also found that almost all networks had some unbalanced components, which might be responsible for the adaptation of the system. Mechanisms behind these structure and possible applications for community ecology are discussed. Our results encourage testing structural balance in other ecological networks to confirm if it is a widespread architecture of natural systems.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2017

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