Project Description

Serguei Saavedra

Mitsui Career Development Professor in Contemporary Technology

Assistant Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering

Research Interests: Structural Ecology


Telephone: 617.715.2597
Research Website:


  • Ph.D. Engineering Science, 2010, Oxford University

Research Interests

Our Research Program: We study the tolerance and response of ecological communities to environmental variations through the lens of structural stability.

What is structural ecology?
Structural ecology was born from the integration of structural stability and community ecology.

Structural stability is the stability of the qualitative behavior of a dynamical system against fluctuations of its parameters. Structural stability is a “natural condition to place upon mathematical models for processes in nature because the conditions under which such processes take place can never be duplicated; therefore, what is observed must be invariant under small perturbations and hence stable” René Thom.

Thus, the question is how much structurally stable an ecological community is to environmental changes (e.g., how much parameter changes can a community tolerate before losing feasibility).

How can interacting species persist under environmental changes?

-Using standard population dynamics models we noticed that the answer to this question (and the contrasting answers to this question) is completely dependent on the parameter values [1].
-Given that it is almost virtually impossible to field parameterize these models, we integrated structural stability and community ecology to provide more systematic answers [2,3].

– We have used and developed structural ecology to better understand seasonal changes of species interactions [4], the assembly of ecological communities [5], the trade-offs between productivity and persistence [6], niche partitioning mechanisms [7], the effect of community on the coexistence of multiple competing species [8], the effect of changes of species interactions during successional stages [9], the link between environmental predictability and community structure [10], the fast adaptation of species to changing environments [11], study ecological networks under an environment-dependent context [12], and this list continues growing.

How we do it? Combining mathematical and computational tools with field data.

Why we do it? To estimate future changes in ecological communities and understand their past. To quantify the limits at which ecological communities may no longer mitigate the effects of environmental change

Selected Publications

  1. Estimating the effect of the reorganization of interactions on the adaptability of species to changing environments.
    Simone Cenci, Ana Montero-Castaño, Serguei Saavedra. J. of Theoretical Biology in press: doi:10.1016/j.jtbi.2017.10.016 (2017).
  2. Why are some plant-pollinator networks more nested than others?
    Chuliang Song, Rudolf P. Rohr, Serguei Saavedra. J. of Animal Ecology 86: 1417-1424 (2017).
  3. Reorganization of interaction networks modulates the persistence of species in late successional stages
    Serguei Saavedra, Simone Cenci, Ek del-Val, Karina Boege, Rudolf P. Rohr. J. of Animal Ecology 86: 1136-1146 (2017).
  4. A structural approach for understanding multispecies coexistence
    Serguei Saavedra, Rudolf P. Rohr, Jordi Bascompte, Oscar Godoy, Nathan J. B. Kraft, Jonathan M. Levine Ecological Monographs 87: 470-486 (2017).
  5. Persist or produce: a community trade-off tuned by species evenness
    Rudolf P. Rohr*, Serguei Saavedra*, Guadalupe Peralta, Carol M. Frost, Louis-Félix Bersier, Jordi Bascompte, Jason M. Tylianakis. The American Naturalist 188: 411-422 (2016).
  6. Nested species interactions promote feasibility over stability during the assembly of a pollinator community
    Serguei Saavedra, Rudolf P. Rohr, Jens M. Olesen, Jordi Bascompte. Ecology and Evolution 6:997-1007 (2016).
  7. Seasonal species interactions minimize the impact of species turnover on the likelihood of community persistence
    Serguei Saavedra, Rudolf P. Rohr, Miguel A. Fortuna, Nuria Selva, Jordi Bascompte. Ecology 97: 865-873 (2016).
  8. How structurally stable are global socioeconomic systems?
    Serguei Saavedra, Rudolf P. Rohr, Luis J. Gilarranz, Jordi Bascompte. J. R. Soc. Interface 11: 20140693 (2014).
  9. On the structural stability of mutualistic systems.
    Rudolf P. Rohr*, Serguei Saavedra*, Jordi Bascompte. Science 345: 1253497 (2014).
  10. Estimating the tolerance of species to the effects of global environmental change.
    Serguei Saavedra, Rudolf P. Rohr, Vasilis Dakos, Jordi Bascompte. Nature Comm. 4: 2350 (2013).