Network analysis in conservation biogeography: Challenges and opportunities

Graeme S. Cumming, Örjan Bodin, Henrik Ernstson, Thomas Elmqvist

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Aims: To highlight the potential value of network analysis for conservation biogeography and to focus attention on some of the challenges that lie ahead in applying it to conservation problems. Location: Global. Methods: We briefly review existing literature and then focus on five important challenges for the further development of network-based approaches in the field. Results: Our five challenges include (i) understanding cross-scale and cross-level linkages in ecological systems (top-down and bottom-up effects, such as trophic cascades, have been demonstrated in food webs but are poorly understood in nested hierarchies such as reserve networks and stream catchments), (ii) capturing dynamic aspects of ecological systems and networks (with a few exceptions we have little grasp of how important whole-network attributes change as the composition of nodes and links changes), (iii) integrating ecological aspects of network theory with metacommunity frameworks and multiple node functions and roles (can we link the spatial patterns of habitat patches in fragmented landscapes, the parallel networks of interacting species using those patches and community-level interactions as defined by metacommunity theory in a single framework?), (iv) integrating the analysis of social and ecological networks (particularly, can they be analysed as a single interacting system?) and (v) laying an empirical foundation for network analysis in conservation biogeography (this will require a larger data bank of well-studied networks from diverse habitats and systems). Main conclusions: Recent research has identified a variety of approaches that we expect to contribute to progress in each of our five challenge areas. We anticipate that some of the most exciting outcomes of attempts to meet these challenges will be frameworks that unite areas of research, such as food web analysis and metacommunity theory, that have developed independently.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)414-425
Number of pages12
JournalDiversity and Distributions
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2010


  • Conservation
  • Cross-scale interactions
  • Ecology
  • Food web
  • Fragmentation
  • Network
  • Sociology


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