The Ohio State University Columbus, Ohio, United States
Background/Question/Methods Network analysis provides a powerful tool for any research field, but especially for belowground communities, to understand interactions among species and the flow of nutrients through ecosystems. In this talk I ask: What is the history of the application of network theory to belowground systems, what are the assumptions that underlie different types of network structures, and how will history and network structure influence the future use of networks in belowground ecology. To begin I will highlight the origin of network analyses, and discuss the underlying assumptions of unipartite and bipartite networks. Then I will highlight where network analyses have been applied, and examine where advances are currently being made in network analyses that are likely to available for future use in ecology and in belowground systems. Finally, I will link advances in other fields to potentially new applications for ecology.
Results/Conclusions Network analyses are increasingly applied to belowground communities and soil microbiomes. Some of the most popular and controversial analyses (e.g., core microbiomes and hub taxa) in the study of microbiomes are applications of network analyses. However, limited understanding of the type of network or the structure of the network can lead to erroneous conclusions. Through discussion of the history of network analyses and the structure of different types of networks I aim to promote improved understanding of networks and their use for belowground ecology.