Topological Key Players In Communities: The Network Perspective
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For both a general understanding of ecosystem functioning and the setting of conservation priorities is very important to have quantitative methods for quantifying the relative importance of species. We present an approach from the network perspective on ecology. Topological keystone species are those in critically important positions within the interaction network of an ecological community. Graph theory makes the quantification of the positional importance of nodes within networks possible. There are many ways to measure this and, in particular, we use some network indices recently introduced in social network analysis. These are suitable for the characterisation of both direct and indirect interactions. The key players of a hypothetical ecological community will be identified and the results of different methods will be compared. We emphasise that the need to find a quantitative, comparative approach to species importance is urgent and very important when outlining effective conservation efforts. Keywords: keystone species, network perspective, graph theory, trophic field, indirect effects. 1 Introduction The two main traditional strategies of conservation practice are to protect habitats and to save endangered species. Both have theoretical and practical difficulties and a possible third way could be to protect ecosystem functioning. This is easy to say but more abstract to imagine in everyday practice, or harder even to define. The recent claim for more objective and more quantitative studies in identifying keystone species  is a perspective offering a more functional approach to conservation biology. The characterisation and understanding of
keystone species, network perspective, graph theory, trophic field, indirect effects.