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Species abundance, not diet breadth, drives the persistence of the most linked pollinators as plant-pollinator networks disassemble.

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Theoretical and simulation studies predict that the order of species loss from mutualist networks with respect to how linked species are to other species within the network will determine the rate at which networks collapse. However, the empirical order of species loss with respect to linkage has rarely been investigated. Furthermore, a species' linkage is a composite of its diet breadth and its abundance, yet the relative importance of these two factors in determining species loss order is poorly known. Here we explore the order of pollinator species loss in two contrasting study systems undergoing land-use intensification, using >20,000 pollinator specimens. We found that a pollinator species' linkage, as measured independently within plant-pollinator networks, positively predicted its persistence at human-disturbed sites in three of four analyses. The strongest predictor of persistence in all analyses was pollinator species abundance. In contrast, diet breadth poorly predicted persistence. Overall, our results suggest that community disassembly order buffers plant-pollinator networks against environmental change by retaining the highly linked species that make a disproportionate contribution to network robustness. Furthermore, these highly linked species likely persist because they are also the most common species, not because they are dietary generalists.

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