Community Ecology

I am interested in the application of network theory to biology, with a focus on food webs. Food webs can simply summarize who eats whom in ecosystems (binary or unweighted food webs), or also indicate the intensity of trophic interactions (weighted food webs). They represent an effective tool for describing and analyzing ecological communities. Main applications are dedicated to a better understanding of the connections linking food web structure to dynamics (i.e., ecosystem functioning).

During my career I have investigated the links between food web structure and functioning, highlighting the relevance of weighting trophic interactions to predict possible risks of secondary extinction. This helps to identify which species play a key role for preserving biodiversity and the services associated to it (i.e., the primary extinction of these key species would trigger the secondary extinction of many other species).

My primary interest is on the characterization of possible mechanisms regulating food web dynamics, to understand which forces drive ecosystem functioning and persistence. To this aim I simulate the dynamical intensity (measured through individual-based simulations) of different food web modules (e.g., intraguild predation, keystone predation and trophic cascade), and study the spread and the relevance of top-down and bottom-up effects in ecological communities.

To better characterize ecological communities, I analyze different kinds of interactions: plant-pollinator; plant-seed disperser; plant-ant and host-parasite. For the study of multiple interaction types I adopt both network analysis and dynamical simulations (individual-based, stochastic modelling). An interesting feature of different interaction types is related to the fact they are poorly associated, and characterized by poor covariance. This means that planning actions to preserve the trophic community of an ecosystem could also have detrimental consequences on the structure (and the functioning) of the pollinators, in the same ecosystem.

For considering the concurrent effects of multiple interaction types, and describing the hierarchical structure of ecosystems, I am interested in simulation techniques. My focus is on stochastic, individual-based modelling, given its relevance for describing species characterized by low population size (i.e., a feature that increases risks of extinction). I develop models for simulating population-level (i.e., social interactions, mortality and death rates), community-level (i.e., trophic relationships with food webs) and metacommunity-level (i.e., landscape graph and dispersal rates) dynamics of species. I aim at better understanding the main determinants of species dynamics by considering this multi-layer context.