Earthworms modulate the carbon and nitrogen cycling in terrestrial ecosystems, their effect may be affected by deposited compounds due to human activity such as industrial emissions. However, studies investigating how deposited compounds affect the role of earthworms in carbon cycling such as litter decomposition are lacking, although they are important for understanding the influence of deposited compounds on ecosystems and the bioremediation by applying earthworms. For this, we performed a 365-day in situ litterbag decomposition experiment in a deciduous (Quercus variabilis) and coniferous (Pinus massoniana) forest in southeast China. We manipulated nitrogen (N), sodium (Na) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) deposited compounds during litter decomposition with and without earthworms (Eisenia fetida). After one year, N, Na and PAH compounds all slowed down litter mass loss, with the effects of Na being the strongest. By contrast, E. fetida generally increased litter mass loss and their positive effects were uniformly maintained irrespective of the type of deposited compounds. Further, the pathways earthworms increasing litter mass loss varied among the types of deposited compounds and forests. As indicated by structural equation modeling, earthworms maintained their positive effects and mitigated the negative effects of deposited compounds by directly increasing litter mass loss and indirectly increasing soil pH and microbial biomass. Overall, the results indicate that the acceleration of earthworms on litter mass loss is not affected by deposited compounds, with the pathways of earthworms increasing litter mass loss varying among the types of deposited compounds and forests. This suggests that the effects of atmospheric deposited compounds and earthworms on terrestrial ecosystem processes need to be taken into account because earthworms may cancel out the detrimental influence of deposited compounds on litter decomposition.
Interactions between invaders and resource availability may explain variation in their success or management efficacy. For widespread invaders, regional variation in plant response to nutrients can reflect phenotypic plasticity of the invader, genetic structure of invading populations, or a combination of the two. The wetland weed Alternanthera philoxeroides (alligatorweed) is established throughout the southeastern USA and California, and has high genetic diversity despite primarily spreading clonally. Despite its history in the USA, the role of genetic variation for invasion and management success is only now being uncovered. To better understand how nutrients and genotype may influence A. philoxeroides invasion, we measured the response of plants from 26 A. philoxeroides populations (three cp haplotypes) to combinations of nitrogen (4 or 200 mg/L N) and phosphorus (0.4 or 40 mg/L P). We measured productivity (biomass accumulation and allocation), plant architecture (stem diameter and thickness, branching intensity) and foliar traits (toughness, dry matter content, percent N, percent P). A short-term developmental assay was also conducted by feeding a subset of plants from the nutrient experiment to the biological control agent Agasicles hygrophila, to determine whether increased availability of N or P to its host influenced agent performance, as has been previously suggested. A. philoxeroides haplotype Ap1 was more plastic than other haplotypes in response to nutrient amendments, producing more than double the biomass from low to high N and 50-68% higher shoot:root ratio than other haplotypes in the high N treatment. A. philoxeroides haplotypes differed in 7 of 10 variables in response to increased N. We found no differences in short-term A. hygrophila development between haplotypes but mass was 23% greater in high than low N treatments. This study is the first to explore the interplay between nutrient availability, genetic variation, and phenotypic plasticity in invasive characteristics of the global invader, A. philoxeroides.
Eurasian otters are apex predators of freshwater ecosystems and a recovering species across much of their European range; investigating the dietary variation of this predator over time and space therefore provides opportunities to identify changes in freshwater trophic interactions and factors influencing the conservation of otter populations. Here we sampled faeces from 300 dead otters across England and Wales between 2007 and 2016, conducting both morphological analysis of prey remains and dietary DNA metabarcoding. Comparison of these methods showed that greater taxonomic resolution and breadth could be achieved using DNA metabarcoding but combining data from both methodologies gave the most comprehensive dietary description. All otter demographics exploited a broad range of taxa and variation primarily reflected changes in prey distributions and availability across the landscape. This study provides novel insights into the trophic generalism and adaptability of otters across Britain, which is likely to have aided their recent population recovery, and may increase their resilience to future environmental changes.
1) Individual variation in life-history traits can have important implications for the ability of populations to respond to environmental variability and change. 2) In migratory animals, flexibility in the timing of life-history events, such as juvenile emigration from natal areas, can influence the effects of population density and environmental conditions on habitat use and population dynamics. 3) We evaluated the functional relationships between population density and environmental covariates and the abundance of juveniles expressing different life-history pathways in a migratory fish, Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), in the Wenatchee River basin in Washington State, USA. 4) We found that the abundance of younger emigrants from natal streams was best described by an accelerating or near-linear function of spawners, whereas the abundance of older emigrants was best described by a decelerating function of spawners. This supports the hypothesis that emigration timing varies in response to density in natal areas, with younger-emigrating life-history pathways comprising a larger proportion of emigrants when densities of conspecifics are high. 5) We also observed positive relationships between winter stream discharge and abundance of younger emigrants, supporting the hypothesis that habitat conditions can also influence the prevalence of different life-history pathways. 6) Our results suggest that early emigration, and a resultant increase in the use of downstream rearing habitats, may increase at higher population densities and with greater winter precipitation. Winter precipitation is projected to increase in this system due to climate warming. 7) Characterizing relationships between life-history prevalence and environmental conditions may improve our understanding of species habitat requirements and is a necessary first step in understanding the dynamics of species with diverse life-history strategies. 8) As environmental conditions change – due to climate change, management, or other factors – resultant life-history changes are likely to have important demographic implications that will be challenging to predict if life-history diversity is not accounted for in population models.
The sea otter (Enhydra lutris) population of Southeast Alaska has been growing at a higher rate than other regions along the Pacific coast. While good for the recovery of this endangered species, rapid population growth of this apex predator can create a human-wildlife conflict, negatively impacting commercial and subsistence fishing. Previous foraging studies throughout the sea otter range have shown they will reduce invertebrate prey biomass when recolonizing an area. The goal of this study was to examine and quantify the energetic content of sea otter diets through direct foraging observations and prey collection. Our study area, Prince of Wales Island in southern Southeast Alaska, exhibits a gradient of sea otter recolonization, thus providing a natural experiment to test diet change in regions with different recolonization histories. Sea otter prey items were collected in three seasons (spring, summer, winter) to measure caloric value and lipid and protein content. We observed 3,523 sea otter dives during the spring and summer. A majority of the sea otter diet consisted of clams. Sea otters in newly recolonized areas had lower diet diversity, higher kcal/gram intake rates, and higher energetic intake rates. Females with pups had the highest diet diversity and the lowest energetic intake rates (calories per gram consumed). Sea otter energetic intake rates were higher in the fall and winter vs. spring and summer. Sea cucumber energy and lipid content appeared to correspond with times when sea otters consumed the highest proportion of sea cucumbers. These caloric variations are an important component of understanding ecosystem level effects sea otters have in the nearshore environment.
Temperature is a key abiotic factor controlling population dynamics. In facultatively sexual animals inhabiting the temperate zone, temperature regulates the switch between asexual and sexual modes of reproduction, initiates growth or dormancy and acts together with photoperiod to mediate seasonal physiological transitions. Increasing temperature due to recent global warming is likely to disrupt population dynamics of facultatively sexual animals because of the strong temperature-dependence of multiple fitness components. However, the fitness consequences of warming in these animals are still poorly understood. This is unfortunate, since facultatively sexual animals – through their ability for asexual reproduction resulting in quick population growth and sexual reproduction enabling long-term persistence – are key components of freshwater ecosystems. Here, I studied the fitness effects of warming in Hydra oligactis, a freshwater cnidarian that reproduces asexually throughout most of the year but switches to sexual reproduction under decreasing temperatures. I exposed hydra polyps to simulated short summer heatwaves or long-term elevated winter temperatures. Since sexual development in this species is dependent on low temperature, I predicted reduced sexual investment (gonad production) and elevated asexual fitness (budding) in polyps exposed to higher temperatures. The results show a complex effect of warming on sexual fitness: while gonad number decreased in response to warming, polyps exposed to high winter temperature were capable of multiple rounds of gamete production. Asexual reproduction and survival rate, on the other hand, clearly increased in response to higher temperatures, especially in males. These results predict increased population growth of H. oligactis in temperate freshwater habitats, which will likely affect the population dynamics of its’ main prey (freshwater zooplankton), and through that, the whole food web.
Insect decline is a major threat for ecosystems around the world as they provide many important functions, such as pollination or pest control. Pollution is one of the main reasons for the decline, besides changes in land use, global warming, and invasive species. While negative impacts of pesticides are well studied, there is still a lack of knowledge about the effects of other anthropogenic pollutants, such as airborne particulate matter, on insects. To address this, we exposed workers of the bumblebee Bombus terrestris to sublethal doses of diesel exhaust particles (DEPs) and brake dust, orally or via air. After seven days, we looked at the composition of the gut microbiome and tracked changes in gene expression. While there were no changes in the other treatments, oral DEP exposure significantly altered the structure of the gut microbiome. In particular, the core bacterium Snodgrassella had a decreased abundance in the DEP treatment. Similarly, transcriptome analysis revealed changes in gene expression after oral DEP exposure, but not in the other treatments. The changes are related to metabolism and signal transduction which indicates a general stress response. Taken together, our results suggest potential health effects of DEP exposure on insects, here shown in bumblebees, as gut dysbiosis may increase the susceptibility of bumblebees to pathogens, while a general stress response may lower available energy resources. However, experiments with multiple stressors and on colony level are needed to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of DEPs on insects.
Forage fishes are a critical food web link in marine ecosystems, aggregating in a hierarchical patch structure over multiple spatial and temporal scales. Surface-level forage fish aggregations (FFAs) represent a concentrated source of available prey for surface- and shallow-foraging marine predators. Existing survey and analysis methods are often imperfect for studying forage fishes at scales appropriate to foraging predators, making it difficult to quantify predator-prey interactions. In many cases, general distributions of forage fish species are known; however, these may not represent surface-level prey availability to predators. Likewise, we lack an understanding of the oceanographic drivers of spatial patterns of prey aggregation and availability or forage fish community patterns, generally. Specifically, we applied Bayesian joint species distribution models to bottom trawl survey data to assess species- and community-level forage fish distribution patterns across the US Northeast Continental Shelf (NES) ecosystem. Aerial digital surveys gathered data on surface FFAs at two project sites within the NES, which we used in a spatially explicit hierarchical Bayesian model to estimate the abundance and size of surface FFAs. We used these models to examine the oceanographic drivers of forage fish distributions and aggregations. Our results suggest that, in the NES, regions of high community species richness are spatially consistent with regions of high surface FFA abundance. Bathymetric depth drove both patterns, while subsurface features, such as mixed layer depth, primarily influenced aggregation behavior and surface features, such as sea surface temperature, sub-mesoscale eddies, and fronts influenced forage fish diversity. In combination, these models help quantify the availability of forage fishes to marine predators and represent a novel application of spatial models to aerial digital survey data.
Strong theory exists regarding population sex ratio evolution that predicts equal sex ratio (when parental investment is equal). In most animals, sex chromosomes determine the sex of offspring, and this fixed genotype for sex has made theory difficult to test since genotypic variance for the trait (sex) is lacking. It has long been argued that the genotype has become fixed in most animals due to the strong selection for equal sex ratios. The marine copepod Tigriopus californicus has no sex chromosomes, multiple genes affecting female brood sex ratio and a brood sex ratio that responds to selection. The species thus provides an opportune system in which to test established sex ratio theory. In this paper we further our exploration on the possibility that T. californicus has polygenic sex determination using an incomplete diallel crossing design and the “animal model” for analysis of the variance components of sex determination in the species. Our data confirm the presence of extra-binomial variance for sex, further confirming that sex is not determined through simple Mendelian trait inheritance. In addition, our crosses and backcrosses of isofemale lines selected for biased brood sex ratios show intermediate phenotypic means, as expected if sex is a threshold trait determined by an underlying “liability” trait controlled by many genes of small effects. Finally, we estimate heritability of an individual to be male or female on the observed binary scale as 0.09 (95% CI: 0.034-0.14). This work furthers our accumulating evidence for polygenic sex determination in T. californicus.
Current ecological research and ecosystem management call for improved understanding of the abiotic drivers of community dynamics, including temperature effects on species interactions and biomass accumulation. Allometric trophic network (ATN) models provide an attractive framework to study consumer-resource interactions from organisms to ecosystems, but they rarely consider changes in some key abiotic drivers that affect e.g. consumer metabolism and producer growth. Here we investigate how seasonal changes in carrying capacity and light-dependent growth rate of producers and temperature-dependent mass-specific metabolic rate of consumers affect ATN model dynamics, namely seasonal biomass accumulation, productivity and standing stock biomass of different trophic guilds, including age-structured fish communities. Our simulations of the complex Lake Constance (LC) food web indicated marked effects of seasonal abiotic drivers on seasonal biomass accumulation of different guild groups, particularly among the lowest trophic levels (autotrophs and invertebrates). While the adjustment of irradiance level had minor effect, increasing metabolic rate associated with 1–2˚C temperature increase lead to a marked decline of larval (0-year age) fish biomass, but to a substantial biomass increase of 2- and 3-year-old fish that were not predated by ≥4-year-old perch. A gradual temperature increase of 0.037˚C year–1 observed in LC increased the productivity of highest trophic levels (i.e., juvenile and adult fish) by ca. 40–50% over the 100-year simulation period. However, when looking at biomass distribution and transfer between trophic guilds in the LC food web, inclusion of seasonal abiotic drivers caused only minor changes in average standing stock biomasses and productivity of different trophic guild groups. Our results demonstrate the potential of introducing seasonal variation in abiotic ATN model parameters to simulate within-year fluctuations in community dynamics, as well as to assess potential future community-level responses to ongoing environmental changes.
Animals show among-individual variation in behaviours, including migration behaviours, which are often repeatable across time periods and contexts, commonly termed “personality”. These behaviours can be correlated, forming a behavioural syndrome. In this study, we assessed the repeatability and correlation of different behavioural traits i.e., boldness, exploration and sociality and the link to migration patterns in Atlantic cod juveniles. To do so, we collected repeated measurements within two short-term (three days) and two long-term (two months) intervals of these traits and genotypes of the Pan I locus, which is indirectly correlated to feeding migration patterns in this species. We found that mainly exploration behaviour was repeatable in the short- and long-term intervals, and a trend for the relationship between exploration and the Pan I locus. Boldness and sociality were only repeatable in the second short-term interval indicating a possible development of stability over time and did not show a relation with the Pan I locus. We found no indication of behavioural syndromes among the studied traits. Although we were unable to identify the existence of a migration syndrome for the migratory genotype (Pan IBB), this study is the first one to highlight the existence of a possible link between the personality trait exploration and the migration-linked Pan I locus. This supports the need for further research that should focus on the effect of exploration tendency and other personality traits on cod movement, including the migratory (frontal) ecotype, to develop management strategies based on behavioural units, rather than treating the population as a single homogeneous stock.
Ant societies are primarily composed of females, whereby labor is divided into reproductive and non-reproductive, worker, castes. Workers and reproductive queens can differ greatly in behavior, longevity, physiology, and morphology, but their differences are usually modest relative to the differences relative to males. Males are short-lived, typically do not provide the colony with labor, often look like a different species, and only occur seasonally. It is these differences that have historically led to their neglect in social insect research, but also why they may facilitate novel phenotypic variation – by increasing the phenotypic variability that is available for selection. In this study, worker variation along a size-shape axis corresponded with variation in male-queen size and shape. As worker variation increased within species, so did sexual variation. Across species in two independent genera, sexual size dimorphism correlated with worker polymorphism regardless of whether the ancestral condition was large or small worker/sexual dimorphism. These results, along with mounting molecular data showing that process of queen-worker caste determination has co-opted many genes/pathways from sex determination, lead to the hypothesis that sexual selection and selection on colony-level traits are non-independent and that sexual dimorphism may even have facilitated the evolution of the distinct worker caste.
In the Flora of China account (Pan et al. 2001) of Saxifraga mengtzeana Engl. & Irmsch., eight synonyms were attributed to it and one variant, recognised as S. epiphylla Gornall & Ohba, was split from it. This study re-evaluates the taxonomic status of some of the synonyms and of the segregated species in the light of new evidence presented here. Morphological and molecular evidence demonstrate that populations from north-western Yunnan and Sichuan are genetically differentiated from those in south-eastern Yunnan and neighbouring Guangxi. Observations in the field and in cultivation show that the peltate petiole attachment diagnostic of S. mengtzeana var. peltifolia Engl. & Irmsch. is developmentally labile. Similar observations combined with molecular data show that viviparous phenotypes, formerly treated as S. epiphylla, although largely under genetic control, occur sporadically throughout the ranges of both northern and southern taxa. Populations from north-western Yunnan and Sichuan are best recognised as S. geifolia Balf.f., whereas those from south-eastern Yunnan and neighbouring Guangxi are S. mengtzeana. Peltate-leaved variants of the latter are given no status and are relegated to complete synonymy. Viviparous phenotypes of S. mengtzeana are demoted to the rank of forma, as f. epiphylla; analogous phenotypes of S. geifolia are newly described as f. vivipara. Keywords China, Saxifragaceae, Phylogeny, Morphology, Taxonomy
Increased access to genome-wide data provides new opportunities for plant conservation. However, information on neutral genetic diversity in a small number of marker loci can still be valuable because genomic data are not available to most rare plant species. In the hope of bridging the gap between conservation science and practice, we outline how conservation practitioners can more efficiently employ population genetic information in plant conservation. We first review the current knowledge about the within-population genetic variation and among-population differentiation in neutral genetic variation (NGV) and adaptive genetic variation (AGV) in seed plants. We then introduce the estimates of among-population genetic differentiation in quantitative traits (QST) and neutral markers (FST) to plant biology and summarize conservation applications derived from QST–FST comparisons, particularly on how to capture most AGV and NGV on both in-situ and ex-situ programs. Based on a review of published studies, we found that, on average, two and four populations would be needed for woody perennials (n = 18) to capture 99% of neutral and adaptive genetic variation, respectively, whereas four populations would be needed in case of herbaceous perennials (n = 14). On average, QST is about 3.6, 1.5, and 1.1 times greater than FST in woody plants, annuals, and herbaceous perennials, respectively. We suggest using maximum QST rather than average QST among trait comparisons. Hence, conservation and management policies or suggestions based solely on inference on FST could be misleading, particularly in woody species. We recommend conservation managers and practitioners consider this when formulating further conservation and restoration plans for plant species, and for woody species in particular.
Conversion of the North American prairies to cropland remains a prominent threat to grassland bird populations. Yet, a few species nest in these vastly modified systems. The thick-billed longspur (Rhynchophanes mccownii) is an obligate grassland bird whose populations have declined 4% annually during the past 50 years. Thick-billed longspurs historically nested in recently disturbed or sparsely vegetated patches within native mixed-grass prairie, but observations of longspurs in crop fields during the breeding season suggest such fields also provide cues for habitat selection. Maladaptive selection for poor quality habitat may contribute to ongoing declines in longspur populations, but information on thick-billed longspur breeding ecology in crop fields is lacking. We hypothesized that crop fields may function as ecological traps; specifically, we expected that crop fields may provide cues for territory selection but frequent human disturbance and increased exposure to weather and predators would have negative consequences for reproduction. To address this hypothesis, we compared measures of habitat selection (settlement patterns and trends in abundance) and productivity (nest density, nest survival, and number of young fledged) between crop fields and native sites in northeastern Montana, USA. Settlement patterns were similar across site types and occupancy ranged from 0.52 ± 0.17SE to 0.99 ± 0.01 on April 7 and 30, respectively. Early season abundance differed by year and changes in abundance during the breeding season were associated with precipitation-driven vegetation conditions, rather than habitat type. Standardized nest density (0.19 ± 0.27SD nests/plot/hour), the number of young fledged per successful nest (2.9 ± 0.18SE), and nest survival (0.24 ± 0.03 SE; n=222 nests) were similar for crop and native sites. Collectively, the data did not support our hypothesis that crop fields are ecological traps: longspurs did not exhibit a clear preference for cropland and reproductive output was not significantly reduced. Our results indicate that crop fields provide alternative breeding habitat within a human-dominated landscape.
Wolf spiders are typically the most common group of arthropod predators on both lake and marine shorelines, because of the high prey availability in these habitats. However, shores are also harsh environments due to flooding and, in proximity to marine waters, to toxic salinity levels. Here, we describe the spider community, prey availabilities and spider diets between shoreline sites with different salinities, albeit with comparatively small differences (5 vs. 7‰). Despite the small environmental differences, spider communities between low and higher saline sites showed an almost complete species turnover. At the same time, differences in prey availability or spider gut contents did not match changes in spider species composition but rather changed with habitat characteristics within region, where spiders collected at sites with thick wrack beds had a different diet than sites with little wrack. These data suggest that shifts in spider communities are due to habitat characteristics rather than prey availabilities, and the most likely candidate restricting species in high salinity would be saline sensitivity. At the same time, species absences from low-saline habitats remain unresolved.
During litter decomposition, part of the water-soluble components of the material dissolve (leach) rapidly into available water in the environment. Studies on litter decomposition that quantify mass-loss from litterbags integrate leaching and mineralization. In contrast to Lind et al. (2022), we believe that correcting for leaching in (terrestrial) litterbags studies such as the Tea Bag Index will result in more uncertainties than it resolves. This is mainly because leaching is a continuous process and because leached material can still be mineralized after leaching. Further, amount of material that potentially leaches from tea is comparable to other litter types. When correcting for leaching, it is key to be specific about the employed method, just like being specific about the study specific definition of decomposition.
Aim: To test whether the occupancy of shorebirds has changed in the eastern Canadian Arctic, and whether these changes could indicate that shorebird distributions are shifting in response to long-term climate change Location: Foxe Basin and Rasmussen Lowlands, Nunavut, Canada Methods: We used a unique set of observations, made 25 years apart, using general linear models to test if there was a relationship between changes in shorebird species’ occupancy and their Species Temperature Index, a simple version of a species climate envelope. Results: Changes in occupancy and density varied widely across species, with some increasing and some decreasing. This is despite that overall population trends are known to be negative for all of these species, based on surveys during migration. The changes in occupancy that we observed were positively related to the Species Temperature Index, such that the warmer-breeding species appear to be moving into these regions, while colder-breeding species appear to be shifting out of the regions, likely northwards. Main Conclusions: Our results suggest that we should be concerned about declining breeding habitat availability for bird species whose current breeding ranges are centred on higher and colder latitudes.