Biodiv Sci ›› 2020, Vol. 28 ›› Issue (11): 1345-1361.  DOI: 10.17520/biods.2020110

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Structural stability: Concepts, methods, and applications

Chuliang Song1,2,3,*()   

  1. 1 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
    2 Department of Biology, McGill University, Montreal, H3A 1B1, Canada
    3 Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3B2, Canada
  • Received:2020-03-23 Accepted:2020-05-27 Online:2020-11-20 Published:2020-06-18
  • Contact: Chuliang Song


Ecological networks—how species interactions are organized within ecological communities—are highly structured, which has motivated generations of ecologists to elucidate how these structures affect species coexistence. Unfortunately, we still do not have a clear and consistent answer about the link between network structure and species coexistence. A possible explanation is that most of the studies do not take into account that the environment affects both network structure and species coexistence due to the multidimensional and changing nature of environmental factors. In this context, the structural stability approach provides a theoretical framework grounded on biological realism to quantitatively link network structure, species coexistence, and environmental factors. I begin by an overview of the heated debates in the study of ecological networks. Then I introduce the theoretical framework and computational tools of the structural stability approach in a nutshell. Then I show the empirical applications in different ecological questions across a broad range of ecological systems. Overall, the structural stability approach provides a new perspective to understand the maintenance of biodiversity in ecological communities.

Key words: community structure, species coexistence, structural stability, environmental gradient, environmental stress