A New Tool in Conservation of Prairies and Other Plant Communities: Plant-Pollinator Network Science

The beautiful glacial outwash prairies of South Puget Sound are among the rarest ecosystems in the United States. Their charismatic spring bloom and the rarity of some of the species they support have made remaining prairie fragments the focus of many conservation and management efforts. Some efforts have been very successful: restoration is increasing native plant diversity on multiple preserves, and plants that were once rare can now be found in abundance in some places.

But as we continue to learn more about community ecology, there may be new ways to evaluate the success of restoration beyond enumerating plant species and their persistence. Specifically, there is increasing interest in understanding how ecological communities are structured and how the many interactions between community members (predatory and prey, pollinator and pollinated, pathogen and host) affect a community’s resilience and the context within which individual species interaction. In the South Sound, we are using an analytical tool called network science to explore such community structures and their application to restoration and conservation.