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.
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.
Prey monitor surrounding dangers independently or cooperatively (synchronized and coordinated vigilance), with independent and synchronized scanning being prevalent. Coordinated vigilance, including unique sentinel behaviour, is rare in nature, since it is time-consuming and benefit-limited. Evidence does not indicate animals adopting alternative vigilance strategies during antipredation scanning. Considering the cooperative nature of both synchronization and coordination, we assessed whether group members could keep alert synchronously or coordinatedly under different circumstances, determining whether cooperative vigilance is context dependent. Under the framework of conservation behavior, we studied how human behaviour and species-specific variables impacted individual and collective vigilance of globally threatened Black-necked Cranes (Grus nigricollis) and explored behaviour-based wildlife management. We tested both predation risk (juveniles in group) and human disturbance (level and distance) effects on individual and collective antipredation vigilance of black-necked crane families. Adults spent significantly more time (proportion and duration) on scanning than juveniles, and parents with juveniles behaved more vigilant. Observer distance affected individual vigilance of adults while juveniles were influenced by none of these variables. With the number of juveniles and disturbance increased, crane couples decreased synchronization of vigilance and they shifted to coordination, which has so far never been reported yet. Similarly, with observer approaching, adults shift vigilance from synchronization to coordination. The collective vigilance shift from synchronization to coordination as a function of observer distance could help us determining a safe distance of c. 400m for the most vulnerable family groups with two juveniles, so as no obvious interference with the threatened birds by human proximity. We argue that vigilance behaviour could be a reliable indicator in future nature-based tourist management and decision-making, which can be derived from conservation solutions in nature.
The analysis of stable isotope composition is an important tool in research on plant physiological ecology. However, large-scale patterns of leaf stable isotopes for aquatic macrophytes have received considerably less attention. In this study, we examined the spatial pattern of the leaf δ13C and δ15N of macrophytes collected across the arid zone of northwestern China and tried to illustrate how they were affected by different environmental factors. Our results showed that the mean values of leaf δ13C and δ15N in the macrophytes sampled from the arid zone were -24.49‰ and 6.82‰, respectively, which were drastically higher than the values of terrestrial plants. In addition, leaf δ13C varied significantly among different life forms, possibly reflecting the complex photosynthetic fixation and adaptations of macrophytes. In addition to, our studies indicated that the foliar δ13C values of all the aquatic macrophytes were only negatively associated with precipitation, but the foliar δ15N values were mainly associated with temperature, precipitation and potential evapotranspiration. Therefore, we speculated that the determinant of the leaf δ13C of macrophytes in the arid zone of northwestern China is water factors and the leaf δ15N values is the complex combination of water and energy factors.
Huanglongbing (HLB) is the most devastating citrus disease worldwide. The causal organism of the disease is spread by an insect vector, Diaphorina citri, commonly known as Asian citrus psyllid (ACP). Current management of HLB relies either on physical removal of the infected plants or on chemical control of ACP. Both methods are not overly effective and costly. In addition, public concerns regarding insecticide residues in fruit have greatly increased in recent years. It has been hypothesized that plant volatiles could act as repellents to ACP, thus reduce the incidence of HLB. To test this hypothesis, the repellency of fresh tissues of 41 aromatic plant species to ACP was investigated. The repellency of individual species was determined using a Y-tube olfactometer. Our results showed that volatiles of five plant species were highly effective in repelling ACP with repellency as much as 76%. Among these, the tree species, Camptotheca acuminate, and the two shrubs, Lantana camara and Mimosa bimucronata, could potentially be planted as a landscape barrier. The two herbs, Capsicum annuum and Gynura bicolor, could potentially be used as interrow plantings in orchards. This is the first time that the repellency of fresh tissues from a diverse range of plant species to ACP has been determined. Although further field evaluation of various interplanting regimes and landscape barriers are needed to assess their effectiveness, our results showed that these aromatic species, being highly repellent to ACT, offer great potential as more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable alternatives to the current methods of managing HLB.
Interspecific hybrid frequencies can vary considerably across contact zones of a single pair of progenitor species. The reasons for this are not well understood, but could help explain processes such as species diversification or the range expansion of invasive hybrids. The widespread cattails Typha latifolia and T. angustifolia seldom hybridize in some parts of their range, but in other areas produce the dominant hybrid T. × glauca. We used a combination of field and greenhouse experiments to investigate why T. × glauca has invaded wetlands in the Laurentian Great Lakes region of southern Ontario, Canada, but is much less common in the coastal wetlands of Nova Scotia in eastern Canada. One potentially important environmental difference between these two regions is salinity. We therefore tested three hypotheses: 1) T. latifolia and T. angustifolia in Nova Scotia are genetically incompatible; 2) the germination or growth of T. × glauca is reduced by salinity; and 3) T. latifolia, a main competitor of T. × glauca, is locally adapted to saline conditions in Nova Scotia. Our experiments showed that Nova Scotia T. latifolia and T. angustifolia are genetically compatible, and that saline conditions do not impede growth of hybrid plants. However, we also found that under conditions of high salinity, germination rates of hybrid seeds were substantially lower than those of Nova Scotia T. latifolia. In addition, germination rates of Nova Scotia T. latifolia were higher than those of Ontario T. latifolia, suggesting local adaptation to salinity in coastal wetlands. This study adds to the growing body of literature which identifies the important roles that local habitat and adaptation can play in the distributions and characteristics of hybrid zones.
The utility of elevational gradients as tools to test either ecological hypotheses and delineate elevation-associated environmental factors that explain the species diversity patterns is critical for moss species conservation. We examined the elevational patterns of species richness and evaluated the effects of spatial and environmental factors on moss species predicted a priori by alternative hypotheses, including mid-domain effect (MDE), habitat complexity, energy, and environment proposed to explain the variation of diversity. Last, we assessed the contribution of elevation toward explaining the heterogeneity among sampling sites. We observed the hump-shaped distribution pattern of species richness along elevational gradient. The MDE and the habitat complexity hypothesis were supported with MDE being the primary driver for richness patterns, whereas little support was found for the energy, and the environment. Moss species richness pattern in the mountain is driven by ecological and evolutionary effects, whereas evolutionary factors predominately shape the large heterogeneity through dispersal, extinction and speciation processes.
Climate change is expected to systematically alter the distribution and poEurycea pulation dynamics of species around the world. The effects are expected to be particularly strong at high latitudes and elevations, and for ectothermic species with small ranges and limited movement potential, such as salamanders in the southern Appalachian Mountains. In this study, we sought to establish baseline abundance estimates for plethodontid salamanders (family: Plethodontidae) over an elevational gradient in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In addition to generating these baseline data for multiple species, we describe methods for surveying salamanders that allow for meaningful comparisons over time by separating observation and ecological processes generating the data. We found that Plethodon jordani had a mid-elevation peak (1500 m) in abundance and Desmognathus wrighti increased in abundance with elevation up to the highest areas of the park (2025 m), whereas Eurycea wilderae increased in abundance up to 1600 m and then plateaued with increasing uncertainty. In addition to elevation, litter depth, herbaceous ground cover, and proximity to stream were important predictors of abundance (dependent upon species), whereas daily temperature, precipitation, ground cover, and humidity influenced detection rates. Our data provide some of the first minimally biased information for future studies to assess changes in the abundance and distribution of salamanders in this region. Understanding abundance patterns along with detailed baseline distributions will be critical for comparisons with future surveys to understand the population and community-level effects of climate change on montane salamanders.
1. Studies on the effects of human-driven forest disturbance usually focus on either biodiversity or carbon dynamics but much less is known about ecosystem processes that integrate trophic levels. Herbivory is one fundamental ecological process for ecosystem functioning that remains underexplored and is poorly quantified in human-modified tropical rainforests. 2. Here, we present the results of the largest study to date on the impacts of human disturbances on herbivory. We quantified the incidence and severity of herbivory caused by chewers, miners and gall-formers in 199,869 canopy leaf blades from 1,102 trees distributed across 20 forest plots located along a gradient of human disturbance in the Amazon. 3. We found that chewers dominated herbivory incidence, yet were not a good predictor of the other forms of herbivory either at the stem or plot level. Herbivory severity was correlated with disturbance intensity, being greater at more disturbed sites. 4. Synthesis. Although our large-scale study of canopy herbivory in Amazonian forests suggests that human disturbance increases the severity of leaf herbivory, effects were weak. Additionally, we found no effect of human disturbance in incidence of leaf herbivory. These results combined indicate that herbivory is a relatively resilient process to human impacts.