Global change alters ecological communities with consequences for ecosystem processes. Such processes and functions are a central aspect of ecological research and vital to understanding and mitigating the consequences of global change, but also those of other drivers of change in organism communities. In this context, the concept of energy flux through trophic networks integrates food-web theory and biodiversity-ecosystem functioning theory and connects biodiversity to multitrophic ecosystem functioning. As such, the energy flux approach is a strikingly effective tool to answer central questions in ecology and global-change research. This might seem straight forward, given that the theoretical background and software to efficiently calculate energy flux are readily available. However, the implementation of such calculations is not always straight forward, especially for those who are new to the topic and not familiar with concepts central to this line of research, such as food-web theory or metabolic theory. To facilitate wider use of energy flux in ecological research, we thus provide a guide to adopting energy-flux calculations for people new to the method, struggling with its implementation, or simply looking for background reading, important resources, and standard solutions to the problems everyone faces when starting to quantify energy fluxes for their community data. First, we introduce energy flux and its use in community and ecosystem ecology. Then, we provide a comprehensive explanation of the single steps towards calculating energy flux for community data. Finally, we discuss remaining challenges and exciting research frontiers for future energy-flux research.
Education in ecology and evolution often utilizes field instruction to teach key learning outcomes. Remote teaching of learning outcomes that have been traditionally taught in the field, necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, presents unique challenges for students, instructors, and institutions. A survey of 117 faculty conducted during spring 2020 revealed substantial reduction of learning outcomes typically taught in the field, and frequent substitutions of less active and more instructor-centered remote activities for field activities. The survey revealed generally negative instructor views on many remote teaching substitutions, yet also showed several approaches that instructors regarded as more effective, despite potential challenges with equitably teaching them. I suggest several models of remote substitutions for traditional field teaching of identification, field techniques, data collection, and study design in the context of the results of this survey.
The wild tomato species Solanum chilense is divided in geographically and genetically distinct populations that show signs of defense gene selection and differential phenotypes when challenged with several phytopathogens, including the oomycete causal agent of late blight Phytophthora infestans. To better understand the phenotypic diversity of this disease resistance in S. chilense and to assess the effect of plant genotype vs. pathogen isolate, respectively, we evaluated infection frequency in a systematic approach and with large sample sizes. We studied 85 genetically distinct individuals representing nine geographically separated populations of S. chilense. This showed that differences in quantitative resistance properties can be observed between but also within populations at the level of individual plants. Data also did not reveal clear indications for complete immunity in any of the genotypes. We further evaluated the resistance of a subset of the plants against P. infestans isolates with diverse virulence properties. This confirmed that the relative differences in resistance phenotypes between individuals were mainly determined by the plant genotype under consideration with modest effects of pathogen isolate used in the study. Thus, our report suggest that quantitative resistance against P. infestans in natural populations of a wild tomato species S. chilense is likely not the result of specific adaptations of hosts to the pathogen but of basal defence responses that depend on the host genotype and are pathogen isolate-unspecific.
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.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the transition of many traditional face-to-face classes into an online format with little time to prepare best practice guidelines. In this article we share ways to adapt a group field activity into an individual lab assignment that can be completed during shelter-in-place restrictions. We address the tactics, difficulties, successes, and ideas for future applications while staying mindful of the ways in which this pandemic has highlighted the inequities of the classroom.
1. Restoration ecology has historically focused on reconstructing communities of highly visible taxa whilst less visible taxa, such as invertebrates and microbes, are ignored. This is problematic as invertebrates and microbes make up the vast bulk of biodiversity and drive many key ecosystem processes, yet they are rarely actively reintroduced following restoration, potentially limiting ecosystem function and biodiversity in these areas. 2. In this review, we discuss the current (limited) incorporation of invertebrates and microbes in restoration and rewilding projects. We argue that these groups should be actively rewilded during restoration to improve biodiversity and ecosystem function outcomes and highlight how they can be used to greater effect in the future. For example, invertebrates and microbes are easily manipulated, meaning whole communities can potentially be rewilded through habitat transplants in a practice that we refer to as “whole-of-community” rewilding. 3. We provide a framework for whole-of-community rewilding and describe empirical case studies as practical applications of this under-researched restoration tool that land managers can use to improve restoration outcomes. 4. We hope this new perspective on whole-of-community restoration will promote applied research into restoration that incorporates all biota, irrespective of size, whilst also enabling a better understanding of fundamental ecological theory, such as colonisation- competition trade-offs. This may be a necessary consideration as invertebrates that are important in providing ecosystem services are declining globally; targeting invertebrate communities during restoration may be crucial in stemming this decline.
As an essential micronutrient for many organisms, sodium plays an important role in ecological and evolutionary dynamics. Although plants mediate trophic fluxes of sodium, from substrates to higher trophic levels, we know relatively little about plants’ comparative growth and sodium accumulation responses to variation in substrate sodium. We carried out a systematic review to examine how plants respond to variation in substrate sodium concentrations. We compared growth and tissue-sodium responses among 107 populations (67 species in 20 plant families), broadly expanding beyond the agricultural and model taxa for which several generalizations previously have been made. We hypothesized a priori response models for each population’s growth and sodium accumulation responses as a function of increasing substrate NaCl. We used BIC to choose the best model. Additionally, using a phylogenetic signal analysis, we tested for phylogenetic patterning of growth and sodium accumulation responses across plant taxa. The influence of substrate sodium on growth differed across taxa, with most populations experiencing detrimental effects at high concentrations. Irrespective of growth response, tissue concentrations of sodium for most taxa increased as sodium concentrations in the substrate increased. We found no strong associations between growth and types of sodium accumulation responses across taxa. Our phylogenetic signal analyses found that evolutionary history helps predict the distribution of total plant growth responses across the phylogeny, but not sodium accumulation responses. Our study suggests that saltier plants in saltier soils may prove to be a broadly general pattern for sodium across plant taxa. Regardless of growth responses, sodium accumulation mostly followed an increasing trend and did not have any evident association with growth responses as substrate sodium levels increased. Finally, plant adaptations to substrate sodium vary with a degree of phylogenetic conservatism.
1. Landscape change is a key driver of biodiversity declines due to habitat loss and fragmentation, but spatially shifting resources can also facilitate range expansion and invasion. Invasive populations are reproductively successful, and landscape change may buoy this success. 2. We show how modelling the spatial structure of reproductive success can elucidate the mechanisms of range shifts and sustained invasions for mammalian species with attendant young. We use an example of white-tailed deer (deer; Odocoileus virginianus) expansion in the Nearctic boreal forest, a North American phenomenon implicated in severe declines of threatened woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus). 3. We hypothesized that deer reproductive success is linked to forage subsidies provided by extensive landscape change via resource extraction. We measured deer occurrence using data from 62 camera-traps in northern Alberta, Canada, over three years. We weighed support for multiple competing hypotheses about deer reproductive success using multi-state occupancy models and generalized linear models in an AIC-based model selection framework. 4. Spatial patterns of reproductive success were best explained by features associated with petroleum exploration and extraction, which offer early seral vegetation resource subsidies. Effect sizes of anthropogenic features eclipsed natural heterogeneity by two orders of magnitude. We conclude that deer populations are likely buffered from overwinter mortality by landscape change, wherein early seral forage subsidies support high springtime reproductive success to offset or exceed winter losses. 5. Synthesis and Applications. Modelling spatial structuring in reproductive success can become a key goal of remote camera-based global networks, yielding ecological insights into mechanisms of invasion and range shifts to inform effective decision-making for global biodiversity conservation.
Longevity is highly variable among animal species, and has coevolved with other of life-history traits, like body size and rates of reproduction. Telomeres, through their erosion over time, are one of the cell mechanisms that produce senescence at the cell level, and might even have an influence on the rate of ageing in whole organisms. However, uneroded telomeres are also risk factors of cell immortalization. The associations of telomere lengths, their rate of change, and life-history traits independent of body size are largely underexplored for birds. To test associations of life-history traits and telomere dynamics, we conducted a phylogenetic meta-analysis using studies of 53 species of birds. We restricted analyses to studies that applied the telomere restriction fragment length (TRF) method, and examined relationships between mean telomere length at the chick (Chick TL) and adult (Adult TL) stages, the mean rate of change in telomere length during life (TROC), and life-history traits. We examined 3 principal components of 12 life-history variables that represented: body size (PC1), the slow-fast continuum of pace-of-life (PC2) and post-fledging parental care (PC3). Phylogeny had at best a small-to-medium influence on Adult and Chick TL (r² = 0.190 and 0.138, respectively), but a substantial influence on TROC (r² = 0.688). Phylogeny strongly influenced life histories: PC1 (r² = 0.828), PC2 (0.838), and PC3 (0.613). Adult TL and Chick TL were poorly associated with the life-history variables. TROC, however, was negatively and moderate-to-strongly associated with PC2 (unadjusted r = -0.340; with phylogenetic correction, r = -0.490). Independent of body size, long-lived species with smaller clutches and slower embryonic rate of growth may exhibited less change in telomere length over their lifetimes. We suggest that telomere lengths may have diverged even among closely avian related species, yet telomere dynamics are strongly linked to the pace of life.
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.
The capacity of some yeasts to extract energy from single sugars, generating CO2 and ethanol (=fermentation), even in the presence of oxygen is known as the Crabtree effect. This phenomenon represents an important adaptation as it allowed the utilization of the ecological niche given by modern fruits, an abundant source of food that emerged in the terrestrial environment in the Cretaceous. However, identifying the evolutionary events that triggered fermentative capacity in Crabtree positive species is challenging, as microorganisms do not leave fossil evidence. Thus, key innovations should be inferred based only on traits measured under culture conditions. Here, we reanalyzed data form a common-garden experiment where several proxies of fermentative capacity were recorded in Crabtree positive and negative species, representing yeast’s phylogenetic diversity. In particular, we applied the “lasso-OU” algorithm which detects points of adaptive shifts, provided trait values representing a given performance measure. We tested whether multiple events or a single event explains the actual fermentative capacity of yeasts. According to the lasso-OU procedure, evolutionary changes in the three proxies of fermentative capacity that we considered (i.e., glycerol production, ethanol yield and respiratory quotient) are consistent with a single evolutionary episode (a whole-genomic duplication, WGD), instead of a series of small genomic rearrangements. Thus, the WGD appears as the key event behind the diversification of fermentative yeasts, which by increasing gene dosage and maximized their capacity of energy extraction for exploiting the new ecological niche provided by single sugars.
White-nose syndrome (WNS) has decimated hibernating bat populations across eastern and central North America for over a decade. Disease severity is driven by the interaction between bat characteristics, the cold-loving fungal agent, and the hibernation environment. While we further improve hibernation energetics models, we have yet to examine how spatial heterogeneity in host traits is linked to survival in this disease system. Here we develop predictive spatial models of body mass for the little brown myotis (Myotis lucifugus) and reassess previous definitions of the duration of hibernation of this species. Using data from published literature, public databases, local experts, and our own fieldwork, we fit a series of generalized linear models with hypothesized abiotic drivers to create distribution-wide predictions of pre-hibernation body fat and hibernation duration. Our results provide improved estimations of hibernation duration and identify a scaling relationship between body mass and body fat; this relationship allows for the first continuous estimates of pre-hibernation body mass and fat across the species’ distribution. We used these results to inform a hibernation energetic model to create spatially-varying fat use estimates for M. lucifugus. These results predict that WNS mortality of newly and soon-to-be infected M. lucifugus populations in western North America may be comparable to the substantial die-off observed in eastern and central populations.
Understanding and predicting how species will response to future climate change is crucial for biodiversity conservation. Here, we conducted an assessment of future climate change impacts on the distribution of D. involucrate in China, using the most recent global circulation models developed in the sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC6). We assessed the potential range shifts in this species by using an ensemble of species distribution models (SDMs). The ensemble SDMs exhibited high predictive ability and suggested that the temperature annual range, annual mean temperature, and precipitation of the driest month are the most influential predictors in shaping distribution patterns of this species. The projections of the ensemble SDMs also suggested that D. involucrate is very vulnerable to future climate change, with at least one-third of its suitable range expected to be lost in all future climate change scenarios and will shift to the northward of high-latitude regions. These findings suggest that it is of great urgent and significance to adaptive management strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change on D. involucrate.
Fungi are a key component of tropical biodiversity. Due to their inconspicuous and largely subterranean nature, they are however usually neglected in biodiversity inventories. The goal of this study was to identify the key determinants of fungal richness, community composition, and turnover in tropical rainforests. We tested specifically for the effect of soil properties, habitat, and locality in Amazonia. For these analyses, we used high-throughput sequencing data of short and long reads of fungal DNA present in soil and organic litter samples, combining existing and novel genomic data. Habitat type (phytophysiognomies) emerges as the strongest factor in explaining fungal community composition. Naturally open areas – campinas – are the richest habitat overall. Soil properties have different effects depending on the soil layer (litter or mineral soil) and the choice of genetic marker. We suggest that campinas could be a neglected hotspot of fungal diversity. An underlying cause for their rich diversity may be the overall low soil fertility, which increases the reliance on biotic interactions essential for nutrient absorption in these environments, notably ectomycorrhizal fungi–plant associations. Our results highlight the advantages of using both short and long DNA reads produced through high-throughput sequencing to characterize fungal diversity. While short-reads can suffice for diversity and community comparison, long-reads add taxonomic precision and have the potential to reveal population diversity.
Attacks on humans by Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is an extreme form of Human-elephant conflict. It is a serious issue in southern lowland Nepal where elephants kill more humans than any other wildlife. Detailed understanding of elephant attacks on humans in Nepal is still lacking which affected in devising appropriate strategies and actions for human elephant conflict mitigation. This study documented spatio-temporal pattern of elephant attacks on humans, factors associated with the attacks and human/elephant behaviour contributing to deaths of victims when attacked. We compiled all the documented incidences of elephant attacks on humans in Nepal for last 20 years across Terai and Siwalik region of Nepal. We also visited and interviewed 412 victim families (274 fatalities and 138 injuries) on elephant attacks. Majority of the victims were males (87.86%) and had low level of education. One fourth of the elephant attacks occurred while chasing the elephants. Solitary bulls or group of sub-adult males were involved in most of the attack. We found higher number of attacks outside the protected area. People who were drunk and chasing elephants using fire-crackers were more vulnerable to the fatalities. In contrast, chasing elephants using fire was negatively associated to the fatalities. Elephant attacks were concentrated in proximity of forests primarily affecting the socio-economically marginalized communities. Integrated settlement, safe housing for marginalized community and community grain house in the settlement should be promoted to reduce the confrontation between elephants and humans. Conservation of elephant should be carried out in entire landscape, extending beyond the boundary of protected areas to reduce threats of elephant extinction.
Ancient DNA research has developed rapidly over the past few decades due to the improvement in PCR and next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies, but challenges still exist. One major challenge in relation to ancient DNA research is to recover genuine endogenous ancient DNA sequences from the raw sequencing data. This is often difficult due to the degradation of ancient DNA and high levels of contamination, especially homologous contamination. In this study, we collected whole genome sequencing (WGS) data from 6 ancient samples to compare different mapping algorithms. To further explore more effective methods to separate endogenous DNA from the homologous contaminations, we attempted to recover reads based on the ancient DNA specific characteristics of deamination, depurination, and DNA fragmentation with different parameters. We propose a quick and improved pipeline for separating endogenous ancient DNA while simultaneously decreasing the homologous contaminations to a very low proportion. Overall, these recommendations for ancient DNA mapping and separation of endogenous DNA in this study could facilitate future studies of ancient DNA.
As science and student populations continue to diversify, it is important for ecologists, evolutionary scientists, and educators to foster inclusive environments in their research and teaching. Academics are often poorly trained in diversity, equity, and inclusion best practices and may not know where to start to make scientific environments more welcoming and inclusive. We propose that by approaching research and teaching with empathy, flexibility, and a growth mindset, scientists can be more supportive and inclusive of their colleagues and students. This paper provides guidance, explores strategies, and directs scientists to resources to better cultivate an inclusive environment in three common settings: the classroom, the research lab, and the field. As ecologists and evolutionary scientists, we have an opportunity to adapt our teaching and research practices in order to foster an inclusive educational ecosystem for students and colleagues alike.
Meta-analyses often encounter studies with incompletely reported variance measures (e.g. standard deviation values) or sample sizes, both needed to conduct weighted meta-analyses. Here, we first present a systematic literature survey on the frequency and treatment of missing data in published ecological meta-analyses showing that the majority of meta-analyses encountered incompletely reported studies. We then simulated meta-analysis data sets to investigate the performance of 14 options to treat or impute missing SDs and/or SSs. Performance was thereby assessed using results from fully informed weighted analyses on (hypothetically) complete data sets. We show that the omission of incompletely reported studies is not a viable solution. Unweighted and sample size-based variance approximation can yield unbiased grand means if effect sizes are independent of their corresponding SDs and SSs. The performance of different imputation methods depends on the structure of the meta-analysis data set, especially in the case of correlated effect sizes and standard deviations or sample sizes. In a best-case scenario, which assumes that SDs and/or SSs are both missing at random and are unrelated to effect sizes, our simulations show that the imputation of up to 90% of missing data still yields grand means and confidence intervals that are similar to those obtained with fully informed weighted analyses. We conclude that multiple imputation of missing variance measures and sample sizes could help overcome the problem of incompletely reported primary studies, not only in the field of ecological meta-analyses. Still, caution must be exercised in consideration of potential correlations and pattern of missingness.