The recent upsurge in the edible insect market has seen industrialisation and intensification without adequate regulatory policy guidelines in place. The species being reared and sold are often non-native, in rearing centres not equipped to contain the species, and in areas without regional or national pre-entry regulations, post-entry monitoring guidelines and early response programs to address escapee species. Such unregulated transport, trade and rearing of species, compounded by the policy and implementation loopholes at the regional, national and international levels will most likely lead to new biological invasions, as has been witnessed with other unregulated trade practices. To avoid this, it is necessary to monitor and regulate the species to be reared, to improve the quarantine guidelines of the rearing centres, and to be more stringent about the policies and practices that allow movements of non-native species across international borders.
Interactions with microbial symbionts have yielded great macroevolutionary innovations across the tree of life, like the origins of chloroplasts and the mitochondrial powerhouses of eukaryotic cells. There is also increasing evidence that host-associated microbiomes influence patterns of microevolutionary adaptation in plants and animals. Here we describe how microbes can facilitate adaptation in plants and how to test for and differentiate between the two main mechanisms by which microbes can produce adaptive responses in higher organisms: microbe-mediated local adaptation and microbe-mediated adaptive plasticity. Microbe-mediated local adaptation is when local plant genotypes have higher fitness than foreign genotypes because of a genotype-specific affiliation with locally important microbes. Microbe-mediated adaptive plasticity occurs when local plant phenotypes have higher fitness than foreign phenotypes as a result of interactions with locally important microbes. These microbial effects on adaptation can be difficult to differentiate from traditional modes of adaptation but may be prevalent. Ignoring microbial effects may lead to erroneous conclusions about the traits and mechanisms underlying adaptation, hindering management decisions in conservation, restoration, and agriculture.
Despite widespread evidence that biological invasion influences both the biotic and abiotic soil environments, the extent to which these two pathways underpin the effects of invasion on plant traits and performance is unknown. Leveraging a long-term (14-yr) field experiment, we show that an allelochemical-producing invader affects plants through biotic mechanisms, altering the soil fungal community composition, with no apparent shifts in soil nutrient availability. Changes in belowground fungal communities result in high costs of nutrient uptake for native perennials and a shift in functional traits linked to their water and nutrient use efficiencies. Some species in the invaded community compensate for high nutrient costs by reducing nutrient uptake and maintaining photosynthesis by expending more water, which demonstrates a trade-off in trait investment. For the first time, we show that the disruption of belowground nutritional symbionts can drive native plants toward novel regions in order to maintain their water and nutrient economics.
Pollination is an important ecological process. However, the needs of plants and pollinators are not always met. Pollen limitation commonly reduces seed set and bees often experience nectar dearth. Using a theoretical cost-benefit optimization model we show that natural selection acting at the level of individual plants and pollinators will result in positive feedback that exacerbates pre-existing imbalances between nectar supply and demand. When pollinators are scarce plants will be selected to produce more nectar to outcompete other plants in attracting pollinators, and when pollinators are abundant plants will be selected to produce less nectar. We encourage the testing of this novel hypothesis and propose several ways of doing this via comparative study and experimental manipulation. We also suggest that evidence for seasonal variation in foraging conditions provides preliminary empirical support. If our hypothesis is correct it means that pollination faces a particular challenge in balancing nectar supply with demand.
Changing environments and habitat structure likely affect eco-evolutionary processes involved in the spatial spread of disease. Exploitative parasites are predicted to evolve in highly connected populations or in expanding epidemics. However, many parasites rely on host dispersal to reach new populations, potentially causing conflict between local transmission and global spread. We performed experimental range expansions in interconnected microcosms of the protozoan Paramecium caudatum, allowing natural dispersal of hosts infected with the bacterial parasite Holospora undulata. Parasites from range front treatments were less virulent and interfered less with host dispersal, but also invested less in horizontal transmission than parasites from range cores. An epidemiological model fitted on experimental time-series data confirmed this trade-off between dispersal adaptation and transmission, so far rarely considered in theoretical models. Our study illustrates the importance of the ecology and evolution of dispersal-related traits in spatial non-equilibrium scenarios, including emerging diseases, metapopulations or biological invasions.
Natural systems are always fluctuating: no two years are identical, with population and community sizes varying from one year to the next. Such variation has led to “equilibrium” becoming almost a dirty word in ecology. Some researchers see the world as being in permanent flux, and consider our field’s historical focus on equilibria as out-dated. But this view is flawed, is driven by current day observations of a world out of kilter, and risks downplaying the risks of ongoing anthropogenic change to civilisation and perhaps too to life on Earth. In this viewpoint, I mount a defence for equilibria.
The frequency distribution of individual body sizes in animal communities (i.e. the size spectrum) provides powerful insights for understanding the energy flux through food webs. However, studies of size spectra in rocky and coral reef communities typically focus only on fishes or invertebrates due to taxonomic and data constraints, and consequently ignore energy pathways involving the full range of macroscopic consumer taxa. We analyse size spectra with co-located fish and mobile macroinvertebrate data from 3,391 reef sites worldwide, specifically focusing on how the addition of invertebrate data alters patterns. The inclusion of invertebrates steepens the size spectrum, more so in temperate regions, resulting in a consistent size spectrum slope across latitudes, and bringing slopes close to theoretical expectations based on energy flow through the system. These results highlight the importance of understanding contributions of both invertebrates and fishes to reef food webs worldwide.
Soil ecological stoichiometry provides powerful theories to integrate the complex interplay of element cycling and microbial communities into biogeochemical models. One essential assumption is that microbes maintain stable C:N:P (carbon:nitrogen:phosphorus) ratios independent of resource supply, although such homeostatic regulations have rarely been assessed in individual microorganisms. Here, we report an unexpected high flexibility in C:N and C:P values of saprobic fungi along nutrient supply gradients, overall ranging between 7-126 and 20-1488, respectively, questioning microbial homeostasis. Fungal N:P varied comparatively less due to simultaneous reductions in mycelial N and P contents. As a mechanism, internal recycling processes during mycelial growth and an overall reduced N and P uptake appear more relevant than element storage. The relationships among fungal stoichiometry and growth disappeared in more complex media. These findings affect our interpretation of stoichiometric imbalances among microbes and soils and are highly relevant for developing microbial soil organic carbon and nitrogen models.
Ant Forest, a mobile app by the monolithic Alibaba Group, is greening individuals' daily activities and transforming human capacity to reverse global environmental degradation. Over 500 million e-trees being cultivated every day in China using Ant Forest. Over 122 million trees planted over more than 112,000 ha of degraded land areas. This is a showcase of how innovation via internet technology combined with digital finance is contributing to solving environmental issues, also the potential to match an individual's daily footprint to their digital footprint and converting this to an ecological footprint.
Non-consumptive predator effects (NCEs) are now widely recognized for their capacity to shape ecosystem structure and function. Yet, forecasting the propagation of these predator-induced trait changes through particular communities remains a challenge, in part because we lack a predictive framework that accounts for environmental and species context. Accordingly, focusing on plasticity in prey anti-predator behaviors, we conceptualize the multi-stage process by which predators trigger direct and indirect NCEs, review and then distill potential drivers of NCE contingencies into three key categories (properties of the prey, predator, and setting), and conduct a meta-analysis to quantify the extent to which prey behavioral plasticity in response to predation risk hinges on a well-studied driver – prey energetic state. Our synthesis underscores the myriad factors that can generate NCE contingencies while guiding how research might better anticipate and account for them. We highlight two key knowledge gaps that continue to hinder development of a comprehensive framework for exploring non-consumptive predator-prey interactions. These are insufficient exploration of 1) context-dependent indirect NCEs and 2) the ways in which direct and indirect NCEs are shaped interactively by multiple drivers of context dependence.
Ecological research is highlighting different kinds of issues concerning biodiversity conservation policies. Based on a historical study on protected areas, we suggest that these issues are not caused by a lack of knowledge or technical tools but rather by a misuse of ecological knowledge during the implementation of policy instruments. We strongly believe that determining the conditions under which ecological science can enlighten policy decisions is now necessary to address current biodiversity conservation issues. This can only be achieved through the promotion of interdisciplinary research.
The comment by Sánchez-Tójar et al. (2020, Ecol Lett) questioned the methodology, transparency, and conclusion of our study (Yin et al. 2019, Ecol Lett, 22, 1976). The comment has overlooked important evolutionary assumptions in their reanalysis, and the issues raised were in fact dealt with through the peer-review process. Far from being biased, the key conclusion of our meta-analysis still stands; transgenerational effects are largely adaptive.
Light asymmetry, with a higher light acquisition per unit biomass for larger plants, has been proposed as a major mechanism of species loss after nitrogen addition. However, solid evidence for this has been scarce. We measured the allometric size-height relationships of 25 plant species along a nitrogen addition gradient manipulated annually for eight years in a speciose alpine meadow and found that the rare species advantage of light acquisition (i.e., low height scaling exponent) in natural conditions disappeared after nitrogen addition. Those species failing to lower their height scaling exponents decreased in relative abundance after nitrogen addition, thereby decreasing the community weighted mean and dispersion of the height scaling exponent and ultimately the species richness. Our results provided some unique evidence for light asymmetry induced species loss after nitrogen addition and a new insight from the perspective of allometric growth to explain biodiversity maintenance in the face of global changes.
Rapid evolution of traits and of plasticity may enable adaptation to climate change, yet solid experimental evidence under natural conditions is scarce. Here, we imposed rainfall manipulations (+30%, control, -30%) for ten years on entire natural plant communities in two Eastern Mediterranean sites. Additional sites along a natural rainfall gradient and selection analyses in a greenhouse assessed whether potential responses were adaptive. In both sites, our annual target species Biscutella didyma consistently evolved earlier phenology and higher reproductive allocation under drought. Multiple arguments suggest that this response was adaptive: it aligned with theory, corresponding trait shifts along the natural rainfall gradient, and selection analyses under differential watering in the greenhouse. However, another seven candidate traits did not evolve, and there was little support for evolution of plasticity. Our results provide compelling evidence for rapid adaptive evolution under climate change. Yet, several non-evolving traits may indicate potential constraints to full adaptation.
Ectotherms in cold environments often spend long winters underground. In 1941 Raymond Cowles proposed a novel ecological trade-off involving depth at which ectotherms overwintered. On warm days, only shallow reptiles could detect warming soils and become active; but on cold days, they risked freezing. Cowles discovered that most reptiles at a desert site overwintered at shallow depths. To extend his study we compiled hourly soil temperatures (5 depths, 90 sites, continental USA) and physiological data, and then simulated consequences of overwintering at fixed depths. In warm localities shallow ectotherms have low energy costs and largest reserves in spring; but in cold localities, shallow ectotherms risk freezing. Ectotherms shifting to the coldest depth potentially reduce energy expenses, but paradoxically sometimes have higher expenses than those at fixed depths. Biophysical simulations for one desert site predict that shallow ectotherms should have elevated opportunities for mid-winter activity but may need to move deep to digest captured food. Our simulations generate testable eco-physiological predictions but rely on physiological responses to acute cold rather to natural cooling profiles. Furthermore, testing ecological predictions requires natural-history data that do not exist. Thus, our simulation approach uncovers “unknown unknowns” and suggests research agendas for studying ectotherms overwintering underground.
A growing body of literature has documented myriad effects of human activities on animal behavior, yet the ultimate ecological consequences of these behavioral shifts remain largely uninvestigated. While it is understood that, in the absence of humans, variation in animal behavior can have cascading effects on species interactions, community structure, and ecosystem function, we know little about whether the type or magnitude of human-induced behavioral shifts translate into meaningful ecological change. Here we synthesize empirical literature and theory to create a novel framework for examining the range of behaviorally mediated pathways through which human activities may affect different ecosystem functions. We highlight the few empirical studies that show the potential realization of some of these pathways, but also identify numerous factors that can dampen or prevent ultimate ecosystem consequences. Without a deeper understanding of these pathways, we risk wasting valuable resources on mitigating behavioral effects with little ecological relevance, or conversely mismanaging situations in which behavioral effects do drive ecosystem change. The framework presented here can be used to anticipate the nature and likelihood of ecological outcomes and prioritize management among widespread human-induced behavioral shifts, while also suggesting key priorities for future research linking humans, animal behavior, and ecology.
Extreme weather events have become a dominant feature of the narrative surrounding changes in global climate. with large impacts on ecosystem stability, functioning and resilience, however, understanding of their risk of co-occurrence at the regional scale is lacking. Based on the UK Met Office's long-term temperature and rainfall records, we present the first evidence demonstrating significant increases in the magnitude, direction of change and spatial co-localization of extreme weather events since 1961. Combining this new understanding with land use datasets allowed us to assess the likely consequences on future agricultural production and conservation priority areas. All land uses are impacted by the increasing risk of at least one extreme event and conservation areas were identified as hotspots of risk for the co-occurrence of multiple event types. Our findings provide a basis to regionally guide land use optimisation, land management practices and regulatory actions preserving ecosystem services against multiple climate threats.
Most studies of plant--animal mutualistic networks have been temporally static. This approach has revealed many general patterns in the structure of complex webs of mutualistic interactions, but limits our ability to understand the ecological and evolutionary processes that shape these networks, and to predict the consequences of natural and human-driven disturbance on species interactions. The growing availability of temporally explicit data is allowing ecologists to move beyond this static perspective. We review the growing literature dealing with temporal dynamics in plant--animal mutualistic networks including pollination, seed dispersal and ant defence mutualisms. We identify general patterns of temporal variation in these networks across temporal scales. We discuss potential mechanisms underlying variation in interactions, ranging from behavioural and physiological processes at the narrowest temporal scales to ecological and evolutionary processes operating over much broader temporal scales. We conclude by discussing priorities for future research, including an improved understanding of the abiotic and biotic factors driving temporal network change, and further development and refinement of analytical tools. Our review highlights the key role of the importance of considering the temporal dimension for our understanding of the ecology and evolution of complex webs of mutualistic interactions.