The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic introduced an abrupt change in human behavior globally. Here, we discuss unique insights into the eco-evolutionary role of pathogens in ecosystems and present data that indicates the pandemic can fundamentally change our learning choices. This pathogen has indirectly affected many organisms and processes by globally changing the behavior of humans to avoid being infected. The pandemic also changed our learning behavior by affecting the relative importance of information and forcing teaching and learning into a framework that accommodates human behavioral measures to avoid disease transmission. Not only are these indirect effects on the environment occurring through a unique mechanistic pathway in ecology, the pandemic along with its effects on us provides a profound example of the role risk can play in the transmission of information between the at-risk. Ultimately, these changes in our learning behavior led to this special issue “Taking learning online in Ecology and Evolution.” The special issue was a call to the community to take learning in new directions, including online and distributed experiences. The topics examined include a significant component of DIY ecology and evolution that is experiential and but done individually, opportunities to use online tools and apps to be more inclusive, student-focused strategies for teaching online, how to reinvent conferences, strategies to retain experiential learning safely, emerging forms of teaching such as citizen science, apps and podcasting, and ideas on how to accommodate ever changing constraints in the college classroom, to name a few. The collective consensus in our fields is that these times are challenging but we can continue to improve and innovate on existing developments, and more broadly and importantly, this situation may provide an opportunity to reset some of the existing practices that fail to promote an effective and inclusive learning environment.
Complex biological traits often originate by integrating previously separate parts, but the organismal functions of these precursors are challenging to infer. If we can understand the ancestral functions of these precursors, it could help explain how they persisted and how they facilitated the origins of complex traits. Animal eyes are some of the best studied complex traits, and they include many parts, such as opsin-based photoreceptor cells, pigment cells, and lens cells. Eye evolution is understood through conceptual models that argue these parts gradually came together to support increasingly sophisticated visual functions. Despite the well accepted logic of these conceptual models, explicit comparative studies to identify organismal functions of eye-precursors are lacking. Here, we investigate how precursors functioned before they became part of eyes in Cnidaria, a group formed by sea anemones, corals and jellyfish. Specifically, we test whether ancestral photoreceptor cells regulated the discharge of cnidocytes, the expensive single-use cells with various uses including prey capture, locomotion, and protection. Similar to a previous study of Hydra, we show an additional four distantly related cnidarian groups discharge significantly more cnidocytes when exposed to dim blue light compared to bright blue light. Our comparative analyses support the hypothesis that the cnidarian ancestor was capable of modulating cnidocyte discharge with light. Although eye-precursors might have had other functions like regulating timing of spawning, our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that photoreceptor cells which mediate cnidocyte discharge predated eyes, perhaps facilitating the prolific origination of eyes in Cnidaria.
Polyandry, when females mate with more than one male, is theorised to play an important role in successful colonisation of new habitats. In addition to possible benefits from sexual selection, even mild polyandry could facilitate colonisation by protecting against inbreeding and reducing the costs of mating with incompatible or infertile males. Here, we measure the importance of mild polyandry for population viability and reproductive fitness following experimental founder events into a higher temperature regime. Using colonisation experiments with the model beetle Tribolium castaneum, in which females can produce offspring for up to 140 days following a single mating, we founded more than 100 replicate populations using single females that had been given the opportunity to mate with either one or two males, and then tracked their subsequent population dynamics. Following population viability and fitness across ten generations, we found that extinction rates were significantly lower in populations founded by females given polyandrous opportunities to mate with two males (9%) compared to populations founded by monogamous females (34%). In addition, populations founded by females that had been provided with opportunities to store sperm from two different males showed double the median productivity following colonisation compared to monogamous-founded populations. Notably, we identified short-term and longer-term benefits to post-colonisation populations from double-mating, with results suggesting that polyandry acts to both protect against mating with incompatible males through the founder event, and reduce inbreeding depression as the colonisation proceeds for ten generations. Our results therefore show that even mild polyandry provides both reproductive and genetic benefits for colonising populations.
In a polymorphic species, stable differences in resource use are expected among ecotypes, and homogeneity in resource use is predicted within an ecotype. Yet, using a broad resource spectrum has been identified as a strategy for fishes living in unproductive northern environments, where food is patchily distributed and ephemeral. We investigated whether individual specialization of trophic resources occurred within the generalist piscivore ecotype of lake trout from Great Bear Lake, Canada, reflective of a form of diversity. Four distinct dietary patterns of resource use within the lake trout ecotype were detected from fatty acid composition, with some variation linked to spatial patterns within Great Bear Lake. Feeding habits of different groups within the ecotype were not associated with detectable morphological or genetic differentiation, suggesting that behavioral plasticity caused the trophic differences. A low level of genetic differentiation was detected between exceptionally large-sized individuals and other individuals. Investigating a geologically young system that displays high levels of intraspecific diversity and focusing on individual variation in diet suggested that individual trophic specialization can occur within an ecotype. The characterization of niche use among individuals, as done in this study, is necessary to understand the role that individual variation can play at the beginning of differentiation processes.
Plasticity in salt tolerance can be crucial for successful biological invasions of novel habitats by marine gastropods. The intertidal snail Batillaria attramentaria, which is native to East Asia but invaded the western shores of North America from Japan eighty years ago, provides an opportunity to examine how environmental salinity may shape behavioral and morphological traits. In this study, we compared the movement distance of four B. attramentaria populations from native (Korea and Japan) and introduced (USA) habitats under various salinity levels (13, 23, 33, and 43 PSU) during 30 days of exposure in the lab. We sequenced a partial mitochondrial CO1 gene to infer phylogenetic relationships among populations and confirmed two divergent mitochondrial lineages constituting our sample sets. Using a statistic model-selection approach, we investigated the effects of geographic distribution and genetic composition on locomotor performance in response to salt stress. Snails exposed to acute low salinity (13 PSU) reduced their locomotion and were unable to perform at their normal level (the moving pace of snails exposed to 33 PSU). We did not detect any meaningful differences in locomotor response to salt stress between the two genetic lineages or between the native snails (Japan versus Korea populations), but we found significant locomotor differences between the native and introduced groups (Japan or Korea versus the USA). We suggest that the greater magnitude of tidal salinity fluctuation at the USA location may have influenced locomotor responses to salt stress in introduced snails.
1.Large carnivore conservation is complex and remains a massive challenge across the world. Owing to their wide-ranging habits, large carnivores encounter various anthropogenic pressures which may potentially lead to conflict. Animal movement is linked with individual fitness as it is important for various biological processes. Therefore, studying how large carnivores adapt their movement to dynamic landscape conditions is vital for management and conservation policy. 2.We first quantified the movement parameters of four large carnivores in and outside protected-areas in India (tiger, leopard, dhole and wolf). We then tested the effects of human pressures like human density, road density and land use types on the movement of the species. Finally, we examined the configuration of core areas as a strategy to exploit human-dominated landscape. 3.Our findings suggest that the mean hourly displacement of 4 large carnivores differed across habitats. Mean displacement of large carnivores varied from 77.58m/h for leopards to 665.3m/h for wolves. Tigers outside PAs exhibited higher displacement as compared to tigers inside PAs. Displacement during day and night were significantly different for tigers inside and outside PAs (P=0.03), and wolf whereas no difference was found for leopard and dholes. The movement and ranging patterns of species outside PAs were influenced by anthropogenic factors such as human population, road network density, and landuse. All carnivores showed multiple areas of intensive use or cores in their home ranges. The range of the core area sizes was greater for species outside PAs (tiger and wolf) in human-altered landscapes. 4.Movement ecology of large carnivores has not been explored using such an exhaustive dataset in India. Our study attempts to extend theoretical concepts to applied management problems. This study can be a starting point for rigorous studies on interlinking animal movement and landscape management for large carnivore conservation and policy-making in the Anthropocene.
The reliability of evolutionary reconstructions based on the fossil record critically depends on our knowledge of the factors affecting the fossilization of soft-bodied organisms. Despite considerable research effort, these factors are still poorly understood. The extreme rarity of unicellular non-skeletal eukaryotic fossils compared to multicellular ones is an example of a pattern that apparently requires taphonomic explanation. In order to elucidate the main prerequisites for the preservation of soft-bodied organisms, we conducted long-term (1-5 years) taphonomic experiments with the model crustacean Artemia salina buried in five different sediments. The subsequent analysis of the carcasses and sediments revealed that, in our experimental settings, better preservation was associated with the fast deposition of aluminium and silicon on organic tissues. Other elements such as calcium, magnesium and iron, which can also accumulate quickly on the carcasses, appear to be much less efficient in preventing decay. Next, we asked if the carcasses of uni- and multicellular organisms differ in their ability to accumulate aluminium ions on their surface. The experiments with the flagellate Euglena gracilis and the sponge Spongilla lacustris showed that aluminium ions are more readily deposited onto a multicellular body. This was further confirmed by the experiments with uni- and multicellular stages of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. The results lead us to speculate that the evolution of cell adhesion molecules, which provide efficient cell-cell and cell-substrate binding, probably can explain the rich fossil record of multicellular soft-bodied organisms, the poor fossil record of non-skeletal unicellular eukaryotes, and the explosive emergence of the Cambrian diversity of soft bodied fossils.
Resource quality can have direct or indirect effects on female oviposition choice, offspring growth and survival, and ultimately on body size and sex ratio. We examined these patterns in Sirex noctilio Fabricus, the globally invasive European pine woodwasp, in South African Pinus patula plantations. We studied how tree position as well as natural variation in biotic and abiotic factors influenced sex-specific density, larval size, tunnel length, male proportion, and survival across development. Twenty infested trees divided into top, middle, and bottom sections were sampled at three time points during larval development. We measured moisture content, bluestain fungal colonization, and co-occurring insect density and counted, measured, and sexed all immature wasps. A subset of larval tunnels was measured to assess tunnel length and resource use efficiency (tunnel length as a function of immature wasp size). Wasp density increased from the bottoms to the tops of trees for both males and females. However, the largest individuals and the longest tunnels were found in bottom sections. Male bias was strong (~10:1) and likewise differed among sections, with the highest proportion in the middle and top sections. Sex ratios became more strongly male biased due to high female mortality, especially in top and middle sections. Biotic and abiotic factors such as colonization by Diplodia sapinea, weevil (Pissodes sp.) density, and wood moisture explained modest residual variation in our primary mixed effects models (0-22%). These findings contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of sex-specific resource quality for S. noctilio and of how variation in key biotic and abiotic factors can influence body size, sex ratio, and survival in this economically important woodwasp.
The COVID-19 crisis has forced researchers in Ecology to change the way we work almost overnight. Nonetheless, the pandemic has provided us with several novel components for a new way of conducting international Science. In this perspective piece, we summarize eight central insights that are helping us, as early career researchers, navigate the uncertainties, fears and challenges of advancing Science during the COVID-19 pandemic. We highlight how innovative, collaborative and often Open Science-driven developments that have arisen from this crisis can form a blueprint for a community reinvention in academia. Our insights include personal approaches to managing our new reality, maintaining capacity to focus and resilience in our projects, and a variety of tools that facilitate remote collaboration. We also highlight how, at a community level, we can take advantage of online communication platforms for gaining accessibility to conferences and meetings, and for maintaining research networks and community engagement while promoting a more diverse and inclusive community. Overall, we are confident that these practices can support a more inclusive and kinder scientific culture for the longer term.
Phytolith-occluded carbon (PhytOC) is an important long-term stable carbon fraction in grassland ecosystems, and plays a promising role in global carbon sequestration. Determination of the PhytOC traits of different plants in major grassland types is crucial for precisely assessing their PhytOC sequestration potential. Precipitation is the predominant factor in controlling net primary productivity (NPP) and species composition of the semiarid steppe grasslands. We selected three representative steppe communities of desert steppe, dry typical steppe and wet typical steppe in Northern Grasslands of China along a precipitation gradient, to investigate their species composition, biomass production and PhytOC content for quantifying its long-term carbon sequestration potential. Our results showed that (i) the phytolith and PhytOC contents in plants differed significantly among species, with dominant grass and sedge species having relatively high contents, and the contents are significantly higher in below- than the aboveground parts. (ii) The phytolith contents of plant communities were 16.68, 17.94 and 15.85 g kg-1 in the above- and 85.44, 58.73 and 76.94 g kg-1 in the belowground biomass of desert steppe, dry typical steppe and wet typical steppe, respectively; and the PhytOC contents were 0.68, 0.48 and 0.59 g kg-1 in the above- and 1.11, 0.72 and 1.02 g kg-1 in the belowground biomass of the three steppe types. (iii) Climatic factors affected phytolith and PhytOC production of steppe communities mainly through altering plant production, whereas their effects on phytolith and PhytOC contents were relatively small. Plant aboveground biomass and PhytOC content were strongly associated with the current-year climate and soil bio-available Si content; while plant belowground biomass and PhytOC content were relatively stable, and their variation across the sites is in accordance with the spatial variation in the long-term means of climatic and soil factors, reflecting the perenniality of plant belowground part.
Reduced representation genome sequencing has popularized the application of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to address evolutionary and conservation questions in non-model organisms. Patterns of genetic structure and diversity based on SNPs often diverge from those obtained with microsatellites to different degrees, but few studies have explicitly compared their performance under similar sampling regimes in a shared analytical framework. We compared range-wide patterns of genetic structure and diversity in two amphibians endemic to the Iberian Peninsula: Hyla molleri and Pelobates cultripes, based on microsatellite (18 and 14 loci) and SNP (15,412 and 33,140 loci) datasets of comparable sample size and spatial extent. Model-based clustering analyses with STRUCTURE revealed minor differences in genetic structure between marker types, but inconsistent values of the optimal number of populations (K) inferred. SNPs yielded more repeatable and less admixed ancestries with increasing K compared to microsatellites. Genetic diversity was weakly correlated between marker types, with SNPs providing a better representation of southern refugia and of gradients of genetic diversity congruent with the demographic history of both species. Our results suggest that the larger number of loci in a SNP dataset can provide more reliable inferences of patterns of genetic structure and diversity than a typical microsatellite dataset, at least at the spatial and temporal scales investigated.
Ecosystems wherein social and solitary predators share space, complex asymmetric intraguild interactions actively shape the group size of social carnivores. Intense intraguild predation has been known to result in reduced group size and low recruitment rates in subordinate social carnivores. In South and South-east Asia, Dhole, tiger and leopard form a widely distributed sympatric guild of large carnivores. In this paper we attempted to understand the pack size dynamics of a subordinate social predator, the dhole, by investigating factors underlying pack size variation at two neighbouring sites. We further evaluated our local-scale patterns of pack size variation at a larger scale by doing a distribution-wide assessment of pack size across dhole ranging countries. Across study sites, we found an inverse relationship between the local abundance of a top predator and group size of a subordinate predator while accounting for variability in resources and habitat heterogeneity. Tiger density was low (0.71/100 Km2) at the site having large dhole packs (16.8 ± 3.1) whereas, a relatively smaller average dhole pack size (6.4 ± 1.3) was observed in a higher tiger density (5.67/100 Km2) area. Our results on distribution-wide assessment are concurrent with local-scale results, showing a positive association between prey abundance and pack size and a negative association between tiger densities and dhole pack size. Our study takes us one step closer to trying to answer the age-old question of what drives the pack size of social predators in a multi-predator system. Linking behaviour to population dynamics and carnivore interactions is another highlight of the study. Often helpful while optimizing conservation triage and formulation of management implications like recovery and translocations.
The desert harvester ant Veromessor pergandei displays geographic variation in colony founding with queens initiating nests singly (haplometrosis) or in groups (pleometrosis). The transition from haplo- to pleometroic founding is associated with lower rainfall. Numerous hypotheses have been proposed to explain the evolution of cooperative founding in this species, but the ultimate explanation remains unanswered. In laboratory experiments, water level was positively associated with survival, condition, and brood production by single queens. Queen survival also was positively influenced by water level and queen number in a two-factor experiment. Water level also was a significant effect for three measures of queen condition, but queen number was not significant for any measure. Foundress queens excavated after two weeks of desiccating conditions were dehydrated compared to alate queens captured from their natal colony, indicating that desiccation can be a source of queen mortality. Long-term monitoring in central Arizona, USA, documented that recruitment only occurred in 4 of 20 years. A discriminant analysis using rainfall as a predictor of recruitment correctly predicted recruitment in 17 of 20 years for total rainfall from January–June (the period for mating flights and establishment) and in 19 of 20 years for early plus late rainfall (January–March and April–June, respectively), often with a posterior probability > 0.90. Moreover, recruitment occurred only in years in which both early and late rainfall exceeded the long-term mean. This result also was supported by the discriminant analysis predicting no recruitment when long-term mean early and late rainfall were included as ungrouped periods. These data suggest that pleometrosis in V. pergandei evolved to enhance colony survival in areas with harsh abiotic (desiccating) conditions, facilitating colonization of habitats in which solitary queens could not establish even in wet years. This favorable-year hypothesis supports enhanced worker production as the primary advantage of pleometrosis.
Seabirds, particularly Procellariiformes, are highly mobile organisms with a great capacity for long dispersal, though simultaneously showing high philopatry, two conflicting characteristics that may lead to contrasted patterns of genetic population structure. Landmasses were suggested to explain differentiation patterns observed in seabirds, but philopatry, isolation-by-distance, segregation between breeding and non-breeding zones, and oceanographic conditions (sea surface temperatures) may also contribute to differentiation patterns. No study has simultaneously contrasted the multiple factors contributing to the diversification of seabird species, especially in the grey zone of speciation. We conducted a multi-locus phylogeographic study on a widespread shearwater species complex (Puffinus lherminieri/bailloni), showing highly homogeneous morphology. We sequenced three mitochondrial and six nuclear markers on all extant populations (five nominal lineages, 13 populations). We found sharp differentiation among populations separated by the African continent with both mitochondrial and nuclear markers, while only mitochondrial markers allowed characterizing the five nominal lineages. No differentiation could be detected within these five lineages, questioning the strong level of philopatry showed by these shearwaters. Finally, we propose that Atlantic populations likely originated from the Indian Ocean. Within the Atlantic, a stepping-stone process accounts for the current distribution. Based on our divergence times estimates, we suggest that the observed pattern of differentiation mostly resulted from variation in sea surface temperatures.
Diet analysis of potential small mammals pest species is important for understanding feeding ecology and evaluating their impact on crops and stored foods. Chinese mole shrew (Anourosorex squamipes), distributed in Southwest China, has previously been reported as a farmland pest. Effective population management of this species requires a better understanding of its diet, which can be difficult to determine with high taxonomic resolution using conventional microhistological methods. In this study, we used two DNA metabarcoding assays to identify 38 animal species and 65 plant genera from shrew stomach contents, which suggest that A. squamipes is an omnivorous generalist. Earthworms are the most prevalent (>90%) and abundant (>80%) food items in the diverse diet of A. squamipes. Species of the Fabaceae (frequency of occurrence [FO]: 88%; such as peanuts) and Poaceae (FO: 71%; such as rice) families were the most common plant foods identified in the diet of A. squamipes. Additionally, we found a seasonal decrease in the diversity and abundance of invertebrate foods from spring and summer to winter. Chinese mole shrew has a diverse and flexible diet throughout the year to adapt to seasonal variations in food availability, contributing to its survival even when food resources are limited. This study provides a higher resolution identification of the diet of A. squamipes than has been previously described and is valuable for understanding shrew feeding ecology as well as evaluating possible species impacts on crops.
The rapid shift to online teaching in spring 2020 meant most of us were teaching in panic mode. As we move forward with course planning for fall and beyond, we can invest more time and energy into improving the online experience for our students. We advocate that instructors use inclusive teaching practices, specifically through active learning, in their online classes. Incorporating pedagogical practices that work to maximize active and inclusive teaching concepts will be beneficial for all students, and especially those from minoritized or underserved groups. Like many STEM fields, Ecology and Evolution shows achievement gaps and faces a leaky pipeline issue for students from groups traditionally underrepresented in science. Making online classes both active and inclusive will aid student learning and will also help students feel more connected to their learning, their peers, and their campus. This approach will likely help with performance, retention, and persistence of students. In this paper we offer strategies and techniques that weave together active and inclusive teaching practices and challenge faculty to commit to making small changes in the fall as a first step to more inclusive teaching in ecology and evolutionary biology courses.
Body mass is often viewed as a proxy of past access to resources and of future survival and reproductive success. Links between body mass and survival or reproduction are, however, likely to differ between age classes and sexes. Remarkably, this is rarely taken into account in selection analyses. Selection on body mass is likely to be the primary target accounting for juvenile survival until reproduction but may weaken after recruitment. Males and females also often differ in how they use resources for reproduction and survival. Using a long-term study on yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventer), we show that body mass was under stabilizing selection in the first years of life, before recruitment, which changed to positive directional selection as age increased and animals matured. We found no evidence that selection across age-classes on body mass differed between sexes. By investigating the link between running speed and body mass, we show that the capacity to escape predators was not consistent across age classes and followed a quadratic relationship at young ages only. Overall, our results indicate that mature age classes exhibit traditional patterns of positive selection on body mass, as expected in a hibernating mammal, but that mass in the first years of life is subject to stabilizing selection which may come from additional predation pressures that negate the benefits of the largest body masses. Our study highlights the importance to disentangle selection pressures on traits across critical age (or life) classes.
1. Ongoing intensification and fragmentation of European agricultural landscapes dramatically reduce biodiversity and associated functions. To sustain ecosystem services such as ant mediated pest control, the enhancement of perennial non-crop areas holds great potential. 2. To study the potential of newly established grasslands to enhance ant diversity and associated functions, we used hand collection data to investigate differences in ant community composition (a) between cereal crops, old grasslands, and new grassland transects of three years age; (b) depending on ant functional traits; and linked to (c) natural pest control services quantified through predation experiments. 3. Ant species richness did not significantly differ between new and old grasslands, but was significantly higher in grasslands compared to cereal crops. Contrary, ant community composition of new grasslands was more similar to cereal crops and distinct from the species-pool of old grasslands. The functional trait space covered by the ant communities overlapped between old and new grasslands but was extended in the old grasslands. Pest control did not differ significantly between habitat types, and therefore could not be linked to the prevalence of functional traits related to biocontrol services in new grasslands. 4. Our findings show trends of convergence between old and new grasslands, but also indicate that enhancing ant diversity through newly established grasslands takes longer than three years to provide comparable biodiversity and functions. 5. Synthesis and applications Newly established grasslands can increase ant species richness, abundance, and pest control in agroecosystems. However, three years after establishment, new grasslands were still dominated by common agrobiont ant species and lacked habitat specialists present in old grasslands, who require a constant supply of food resources and long colonization times. New grasslands represent a promising measure for enhancing agricultural landscapes but must be preserved in the longer term to sustain biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.