Interaction type and intimacy structure networks between forest-dwelling organisms and their host trees

Species interact in many ways. Potentially, the type of interaction, e.g. mutualistic, commensalistic or antagonistic, determines the structure of interaction networks, but this remains poorly tested. Here we investigate whether epiphytes and wood decomposers, having different types of interaction with their host trees, show different network properties. We also test whether the traits of host trees affect network architecture. We recorded presence/absence of organisms colonizing trees, and traits of host trees, in 102 forest plots. Epiphytic bryophytes (64 species) and lichens (119 species) were recorded on c. 2300 trees. Similarly, wood-inhabiting fungi (193 species) were recorded on c. 900 dead wood items. We studied the patterns of species aggregation on host trees by comparing network metrics of species specialization, nestedness and modularity. Next, we tested whether the prevalence of interactions was influenced by host tree traits. We found non-random interaction patterns between host trees and the three ecological groups (bryophytes, lichens and fungi), with nested and modular structures associated with high host specificity. A higher modularity and number of modules was found for fungi than for epiphytes, which is likely related to their trophic relationship with the host plant, whilst the stronger nestedness for epiphytes is likely reflecting the commensalistic nature of their interactions. For all three groups, the difference in prevalence of interaction across modules was determined by a gradient in interaction intimacy (i.e. host tree specialization), driven by host tree traits. We conclude that the type of interaction with host trees defines the properties of each network: while autotrophic epiphyte networks show similar properties to mutualistic networks, the heterotrophic wood decomposers show similarity with antagonistic networks.