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The Multilayer Nature of Ecological Networks

ABSTRACT

Networks provide a powerful approach to study a variety of ecological systems, but their formulation does not typically account for multiple interaction types, for interactions that vary in space and time, or for interconnected systems such as networks of species networks. The emergent field of 'multilayer networks' provides a natural framework for extending analyses of ecological systems to include such multiple layers of complexity, as it allows one to differentiate between and simultaneously model 'intralayer' and 'interlayer' connectivity. The framework provides a set of concepts and tools that can be adapted and applied to ecology, facilitating research on high-dimensional, heterogeneous systems in nature. Here, we formally define ecological multilayer networks based on a review of previous related approaches, illustrate their application and potential insights with analyses of existing data, and discuss limitations, challenges, and future applications. The integration of multilayer network theory into ecology offers an exciting perspective to tackle ecological complexity, with the potential to provide new theoretical and empirical insights into the architecture and dynamics of ecological systems.