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28 Aug 2023
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Implementing a rapid geographic range expansion - the role of behavior changes

Behavioral changes in the rapid geographic expansion of the great-tailed grackle

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Francois-Xavier Dechaume-Moncharmont, Pizza Ka Yee Chow and 1 anonymous reviewer

While many species' populations are declining, primarily due to human-related impacts (McKnee et al., 2014), certain species have thrived by utilizing human-influenced environments, leading to their population expansion (Muñoz & Real, 2006). In this context, the capacity to adapt and modify behaviors in response to new surroundings is believed to play a crucial role in facilitating species' spread to novel areas (Duckworth & Badyaev, 2007). For example, an increase in innovative behaviors within recently established communities could aid in discovering previously untapped food resources, while a decrease in exploration might reduce the likelihood of encountering dangers in unfamiliar territories (e.g., Griffin et al., 2016). To investigate the contribution of these behaviors to rapid range expansions, it is essential to directly measure and compare behaviors in various populations of the species.

The study conducted by Logan et al. (2023) aims to comprehend the role of behavioral changes in the range expansion of great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus). To achieve this, the researchers compared the prevalence of specific behaviors at both the expansion's edge and its middle. Great-tailed grackles were chosen as an excellent model due to their behavioral adaptability, rapid geographic expansion, and their association with human-modified environments. The authors carried out a series of experiments in captivity using wild-caught individuals, following a detailed protocol. The study successfully identified differences in two of the studied behavioral traits: persistence (individuals participated in a larger proportion of trials) and flexibility variance (a component of the species' behavioral flexibility, indicating a higher chance that at least some individuals in the population could be more flexible). Notably, individuals at the edge of the population exhibited higher values of persistence and flexibility, suggesting that these behavioral traits might be contributing factors to the species' expansion. Overall, the study by Logan et al. (2023) is an excellent example of the importance of behavioral flexibility and other related behaviors in the process of species' range expansion and the significance of studying these behaviors across different populations to gain a better understanding of their role in the expansion process.

Finally, it is important to underline that this study is part of a pre-registration that received an In Principle Recommendation in PCI Ecology (Sebastián-González 2020) where objectives, methodology, and expected results were described in detail. The authors have identified any deviation from the original pre-registration and thoroughly explained the reasons for their deviations, which were very clear. 


Duckworth, R. A., & Badyaev, A. V. (2007). Coupling of dispersal and aggression facilitates the rapid range expansion of a passerine bird. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(38), 15017-15022.

Griffin, A.S., Guez, D., Federspiel, I., Diquelou, M., Lermite, F. (2016). Invading new environments: A mechanistic framework linking motor diversity and cognition to establishment success. Biological Invasions and Animal Behaviour, 26e46.

Logan, C. J., McCune, K., LeGrande-Rolls, C., Marfori, Z., Hubbard, J., Lukas, D. 2023. Implementing a rapid geographic range expansion - the role of behavior changes. EcoEvoRxiv, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology.

McKee, J. K., Sciulli, P. W., Fooce, C. D., & Waite, T. A. (2004). Forecasting global biodiversity threats associated with human population growth. Biological Conservation, 115(1), 161-164.

Muñoz, A. R., & Real, R. (2006). Assessing the potential range expansion of the exotic monk parakeet in Spain. Diversity and Distributions, 12(6), 656-665.

Sebastián González, E. (2020) The role of behavior and habitat availability on species geographic expansion. Peer Community in Ecology, 100062. Reviewers: Caroline Nieberding, Tim Parker, and Pizza Ka Yee Chow.

Implementing a rapid geographic range expansion - the role of behavior changesLogan CJ, McCune KB, LeGrande-Rolls C, Marfori Z, Hubbard J, Lukas D<p>It is generally thought that behavioral flexibility, the ability to change behavior when circumstances change, plays an important role in the ability of species to rapidly expand their geographic range. Great-tailed grackles (<em>Quiscalus mexi...Behaviour & Ethology, Preregistrations, ZoologyEsther Sebastián González2023-04-12 11:00:42 View
02 Aug 2022
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The effect of dominance rank on female reproductive success in social mammals

When do dominant females have higher breeding success than subordinates? A meta-analysis across social mammals.

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

In this meta-analysis, Shivani et al. [1] investigate 1) whether dominance and reproductive success are generally associated across social mammals and 2) whether this relationship varies according to a) life history traits (e.g., stronger for species with large litter size), b) ecological conditions (e.g., stronger when resources are limited) and c) the social environment (e.g., stronger for cooperative breeders than for plural breeders). Generally, the results are consistent with their predictions, except there was no clear support for this relationship to be conditional on the ecological conditions. considered

As I have previously recommended the preregistration of this study [2,3], I do not have much to add here, as such recommendation should not depend on the outcome of the study. What I would like to recommend is the whole scientific process performed by the authors, from preregistration sent for peer review, to preprint submission and post-study peer review. It is particularly recommendable to notice that this project was a Masters student project, which shows that it is possible and worthy to preregister studies, even for such rather short-term projects. I strongly congratulate the authors for choosing this process even for an early career short-term project. I think it should be made possible for short-term students to conduct a preregistration study as a research project, without having to present post-study results. I hope this study can encourage a shift in the way we sometimes evaluate students’ projects.

I also recommend the readers to look into the whole pre- and post- study reviewing history of this manuscript and the associated preregistration, as it provides a better understanding of the process and a good example of the associated challenges and benefits [4]. It was a really enriching experience and I encourage others to submit and review preregistrations and registered reports!



[1] Shivani, Huchard, E., Lukas, D. (2022). The effect of dominance rank on female reproductive success in social mammals. EcoEvoRxiv, rc8na, ver. 10 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

[2] Shivani, Huchard, E., Lukas, D. (2020). Preregistration - The effect of dominance rank on female reproductive success in social mammals In principle acceptance by PCI Ecology of the version 1.2 on 07 July 2020.

[3] Paquet, M. (2020) Why are dominant females not always showing higher reproductive success? A preregistration of a meta-analysis on social mammals. Peer Community in Ecology, 100056.

[4] Parker, T., Fraser, H., & Nakagawa, S. (2019). Making conservation science more reliable with preregistration and registered reports. Conservation Biology, 33(4), 747-750.

The effect of dominance rank on female reproductive success in social mammalsShivani, Elise Huchard, Dieter Lukas<p>Life in social groups, while potentially providing social benefits, inevitably leads to conflict among group members. In many social mammals, such conflicts lead to the formation of dominance hierarchies, where high-ranking individuals consiste...Behaviour & Ethology, Meta-analysesMatthieu Paquet2021-10-13 18:26:42 View
13 Jul 2020
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Preregistration - The effect of dominance rank on female reproductive success in social mammals

Why are dominant females not always showing higher reproductive success? A preregistration of a meta-analysis on social mammals

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Bonaventura Majolo and 1 anonymous reviewer

In social species conflicts among group members typically lead to the formation of dominance hierarchies with dominant individuals outcompeting other groups members and, in some extreme cases, suppressing reproduction of subordinates. It has therefore been typically assumed that dominant individuals have a higher breeding success than subordinates. However, previous work on mammals (mostly primates) revealed high variation, with some populations showing no evidence for a link between female dominance reproductive success, and a meta-analysis on primates suggests that the strength of this relationship is stronger for species with a longer lifespan [1]. Therefore, there is now a need to understand 1) whether dominance and reproductive success are generally associated across social mammals (and beyond) and 2) which factors explains the variation in the strength (and possibly direction) of this relationship.
In their preregistration, Shivani et al. [2] plan to perform a meta-analysis on 86 social mammal species to address these two points. More specifically, they will investigate whether the relationship between female dominance and reproductive success vary according to life history traits (e.g. stronger for species with large litter size), ecological conditions (e.g. stronger when resources are limited) and the social environment (e.g. stronger for cooperative breeders than for plural breeders).
The two reviewers and I were particularly positive and enthusiastic about this preregistration and only had minor comments that were nicely addressed by the authors. We found the background well-grounded in the existing literature and that the predictions were therefore clear and well-motivated. The methods were particularly transparent with a nicely annotated R script and the authors even simulated a dataset with the same structure as the actual data in order to make sure that the coding of the data handling and statistical analyses were appropriate (without being tempted to look at model outputs from the true dataset).
Perhaps one limitation to keep in mind once we will have the chance to look at the outcome of this study if that the dataset may not be fully representative of social species with dominance hierarchies. For example, the current dataset contains only one aquatic mammal (Mirounga angustirostris) as far as I can see, which is likely due to a lack of knowledge on such systems. Furthermore, not only mammals exhibit dominance hierarchies and it will be interesting to see if the results of the proposed study hold for other social taxa (and if not, what may explain their differences).
That being said, the proposed study will already offer a much broader overview of the relationship between dominance and reproductive success in animal societies and a better understanding for its variation. The reviewers and I believe it will make an important contribution to the fields of socio-ecology and evolutionary ecology. I therefore strongly recommend this preregistration and we are particularly looking forward to seeing the outcome of this exciting study.


[1] Majolo, B., Lehmann, J., de Bortoli Vizioli, A., & Schino, G. (2012). Fitness‐related benefits of dominance in primates. American journal of physical anthropology, 147(4), 652-660. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22031
[2] Shivani, Huchard, E., Lukas, D. (2020). Preregistration - The effect of dominance rank on female reproductive success in social mammals In principle acceptance by PCI Ecology of the version 1.2 on 07 July 2020.

Preregistration - The effect of dominance rank on female reproductive success in social mammalsShivani, Elise Huchard, Dieter Lukas<p>Life in social groups, while potentially providing social benefits, inevitably leads to conflict among group members. In many social mammals, such conflicts lead to the formation of dominance hierarchies, where high-ranking individuals consiste...Behaviour & Ethology, Meta-analyses, Preregistrations, Social structure, ZoologyMatthieu Paquet Bonaventura Majolo, Anonymous2020-04-06 17:42:37 View
16 Nov 2020
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Intraspecific diversity loss in a predator species alters prey community structure and ecosystem functions

Hidden diversity: how genetic richness affects species diversity and ecosystem processes in freshwater ponds

Recommended by based on reviews by Andrew Barnes and Jes Hines

Biodiversity loss can have important consequences for ecosystem functions, as exemplified by a large body of literature spanning at least three decades [1–3]. While connections between species diversity and ecosystem functions are now well-defined and understood, the importance of diversity within species is more elusive. Despite a surge in theoretical work on how intraspecific diversity can affect coexistence in simple community types [4,5], not much is known about how intraspecific diversity drives ecosystem processes in more complex community types. One particular challenge is that intraspecific diversity can be expressed as observable variation of functional traits, or instead subsist as genetic variation of which the consequences for ecosystem processes are harder to grasp.
Raffard et al. [6] examined how intraspecific biodiversity loss in a consumer fish changes species diversity at lower trophic levels and ecosystem processes in pond mesocosms. An interesting feature of this experiment is that it crosses functional and genetic intraspecific diversity. To do so, Raffard and colleagues measured and genotyped European minnow (P. phoxinus) individuals sampled from streams across southern France. Combining these collected specimens into experimental ponds allowed them to control functional (population variance of body size) and genetic intraspecific richness (number of genotypes).
Effects on minnow biomass production were mostly small; biomass was significantly reduced only when lowering both functional and genetic richness. However, the consequences for lower trophic levels (zooplankton and macroinvertebrates) were more pronounced and – importantly – not intuitive. For instance, the macroinvertebrate community was less species-diverse at higher minnow functional richness. If minnows with different body sizes would be the main regulator factors [7] explaining macroinvertebrate interactions, one would expect a more diverse set of minnow body sizes (i.e. higher functional minnow richness) to permit higher instead of lower macroinvertebrate richness. At the same time, the macroinvertebrate community was more species-diverse at higher minnow genotype richness, which could indicate unobserved minnow traits determining macroinvertebrate diversity more than the usual suspects (functional consumer richness). Such unobserved traits could be behavioral traits, allowing for resource partitioning among fish.
The consequences of functional minnow diversity loss on zooplankton diversity were negative, as expected in case body size differences among fish would facilitate coexistence of their zooplankton prey, as explained above. However, this was only the case when genetic diversity was high, suggesting nonstraightforward interactive effects of observed and non-observed traits on prey diversity.
The effects of functional and genetic minnow diversity loss on invertebrate (macroinvertebrates and zooplankton) abundance were more consistent than for invertebrate diversity. This suggests again nonstraightforward relationships in this experimental ecosystem, but now between invertebrate diversity and abundance. When using abundance as a proxy for an ecosystem process (which the authors did not), this result illustrates that biodiversity loss in multitrophic communities can have consequences that are challenging to interpret, let alone predict [8,9]. Path analyses showed how the observed changes of invertebrate diversity and abundance co-determined decomposition, a key ecosystem function. These path analyses had highest explanatory power show when including both kinds of intraspecific diversity.
Taken together, the results by Raffard and colleagues suggest that genetic consumer richness can drive species diversity of connected trophic levels and ecosystem processes with similar magnitude as functional diversity. Indeed, the effects of genetic consumer richness were shown to be so strong as to compensate or exacerbate the loss of observed functional richness. The exact mechanisms explaining these effects remain to be identified, however. The possibility that fish grazing by fish with different (observed or not observed) traits regulates coexistence among invertebrate prey, for instance, would depend on how strong fish consumption feeds back on prey growth during a 30-week experiment. As the authors indicate, detailed studies on resource partitioning among consumers (e.g. using stable isotope labelling) can shed light on these matters. Doing so may address a more fundamental question, which is if the mechanisms linking intraspecific diversity to function are different from those linking interspecific diversity to function, and at what time scales.


[1] Tilman D, Downing JA (1994) Biodiversity and stability in grasslands. Nature, 367, 363–365.
[2] Cardinale BJ, Duffy JE, Gonzalez A, Hooper DU, Perrings C, Venail P, Narwani A, Mace GM, Tilman D, Wardle DA, Kinzig AP, Daily GC, Loreau M, Grace JB, Larigauderie A, Srivastava DS, Naeem S (2012) Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity. Nature, 486, 59–67.
[3] De Laender F, Rohr JR, Ashauer R, Baird DJ, Berger U, Eisenhauer N, Grimm V, Hommen U, Maltby L, Meliàn CJ, Pomati F, Roessink I, Radchuk V, Brink PJV den (2016) Reintroducing Environmental Change Drivers in Biodiversity–Ecosystem Functioning Research. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 31, 905–915.
[4] Hart SP, Schreiber SJ, Levine JM (2016) How variation between individuals affects species coexistence. Ecology Letters, 19, 825–838.
[5] Barabás G, D’Andrea R (2016) The effect of intraspecific variation and heritability on community pattern and robustness. Ecology Letters, 19, 977–986.
[6] Raffard A, Cucherousset J, Montoya JM, Richard M, Acoca-Pidolle S, Poésy C, Garreau A, Santoul F, Blanchet S (2020) Intraspecific diversity loss in a predator species alters prey community structure and ecosystem functions. bioRxiv, 2020.06.10.144337, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology.
[7] Pásztor L, Botta-Dukát Z, Magyar G, Czárán T, Meszéna G. Theory-Based Ecology: A Darwinian approach. Oxford University Press.
[8] Binzer A, Guill C, Rall BC, Brose U (2016) Interactive effects of warming, eutrophication and size structure: impacts on biodiversity and food-web structure. Global Change Biology, 22, 220–227.
[9] Schwarz B, Barnes AD, Thakur MP, Brose U, Ciobanu M, Reich PB, Rich RL, Rosenbaum B, Stefanski A, Eisenhauer N (2017) Warming alters energetic structure and function but not resilience of soil food webs. Nature Climate Change, 7, 895–900.

Intraspecific diversity loss in a predator species alters prey community structure and ecosystem functionsAllan Raffard, Julien Cucherousset, José M. Montoya, Murielle Richard, Samson Acoca-Pidolle, Camille Poésy, Alexandre Garreau, Frédéric Santoul & Simon Blanchet.<p>Loss in intraspecific diversity can alter ecosystem functions, but the underlying mechanisms are still elusive, and intraspecific biodiversity-ecosystem function relationships (iBEF) have been restrained to primary producers. Here, we manipulat...Community ecology, Ecosystem functioning, Experimental ecology, Food webs, Freshwater ecologyFrederik De Laender Andrew Barnes2020-06-15 09:04:53 View
18 Apr 2024
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The large and central Caligo martia eyespot may reduce fatal attacks by birds: a case study supports the deflection hypothesis in nature

Intimidation or deflection: field experiments in a tropical forest to simultaneously test two competing hypotheses about how butterfly eyespots confer protection against predators

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Eyespots—round or oval spots, usually accompanied by one or more concentric rings, that together imitate vertebrate eyes—are found in insects of at least three orders and in some tropical fishes (Stevens 2005). They are particularly frequent in Lepidoptera, where they occur on wings of adults in many species (Monteiro et al. 2006), and in caterpillars of many others (Janzen et al. 2010). The resemblance of eyespots to vertebrate eyes often extends to details, such as fake « pupils » (round or slit-like) and « eye sparkle » (Blut et al. 2012). Larvae of one hawkmoth species even have fake eyes that appear to blink (Hossie et al. 2013). Eyespots have interested evolutionary biologists for well over a century. While they appear to play a role in mate choice in some adult Lepidoptera, their adaptive significance in adult Lepidoptera, as in caterpillars, is mainly as an anti-predator defense (Monteiro 2015). However, there are two competing hypotheses about the mechanism by which eyespots confer defense against predators. The « intimidation » hypothesis postulates that eyespots intimidate potential predators, startling them and reducing the probability of attack. The « deflection » hypothesis holds that eyespots deflect attacks to parts of the body where attack has relatively little effect on the animal’s functioning and survival. In caterpillars, there is little scope for the deflection hypothesis, because attack on any part of a caterpillar’s body is likely to be lethal. Much observational and some experimental evidence supports the intimidation hypothesis in caterpillars (Hossie & Sherratt 2012). In adult Lepidoptera, however, both mechanisms are plausible, and both have found support (Stevens 2005). The most spectacular examples of intimidation are in butterflies in which eyespots located centrally in hindwings and hidden in the natural resting position are suddenly exposed, startling the potential predator (e.g., Vallin et al. 2005). The most spectacular examples of deflection are seen in butterflies in which eyespots near the hindwing margin combined with other traits give the appearance of a false head (e.g., Chotard et al. 2022; Kodandaramaiah 2011). 

Most studies have attempted to test for only one or the other of these mechanisms—usually the one that seems a priori more likely for the butterfly species being studied. But for many species, particularly those that have neither spectacular startle displays nor spectacular false heads, evidence for or against the two hypotheses is contradictory.  

Iserhard et al. (2024) attempted to simultaneously test both hypotheses, using the neotropical nymphalid butterfly Caligo martia. This species has a large ventral hindwing eyespot, exposed in the insect’s natural resting position, while the rest of the ventral hindwing surface is cryptically coloured. In a previous study of this species, De Bona et al. (2015) presented models with intact and disfigured eyespots on a computer monitor to a European bird species, the great tit (Parus major). The results favoured the intimidation hypothesis. Iserhard et al. (2024) devised experiments presenting more natural conditions, using fairly realistic dummy butterflies, with eyespots manipulated or unmanipulated, exposed to a diverse assemblage of insectivorous birds in nature, in a tropical forest. Using color-printed paper facsimiles of wings, with eyespots present, UV-enhanced, or absent, they compared the frequency of beakmarks on modeling clay applied to wing margins (frequent attacks would support the deflection hypothesis) and (in one of two experiments) on dummies with a modeling-clay body (eyespots should lead to reduced frequency of attack, to wings and body, if birds are intimidated). Their experiments also included dummies without eyespots whose wings were either cryptically coloured (as in unmanipulated butterflies) or not. Their results, although complex, indicate support for the deflection hypothesis: dummies with eyespots were mostly attacked on these less vital parts. Dummies lacking eyespots were less frequently attacked, especially when they were camouflaged. Camouflaged dummies without eyespots were in fact the least frequently attacked of all the models. However, when dummies lacking eyespots were attacked, attacks were usually directed to vital body parts. These results show some of the complexity of estimating costs and benefits of protective conspicuous signals vs. camouflage (Stevens et al. 2008).

Two complementary experiments were conducted. The first used facsimiles with « wings » in a natural resting position (folded, ventral surfaces exposed), but without a modeling-clay « body ». In the second experiment, facsimiles had a modeling-clay « body », placed between the two unfolded wings to make it as accessible to birds as the wings. However, these dummies displayed the ventral surfaces of unfolded wings, an unnatural resting position. The study was thus not able to compare bird attacks to the body vs. wings in a natural resting position. One can understand the reason for this methodological choice, but it is a limitation of the study.

The naturalness of the conditions under which these field experiments were conducted is a strong argument for the biological significance of their results. However, the uncontrolled conditions naturally result in many questions being left open. The butterfly dummies were exposed to at least nine insectivorous bird species. Do bird species differ in their behavioral response to eyespots? Do responses depend on the distance at which a bird first detects the butterfly? Do eyespots and camouflage markings present on the same animal both function, but at different distances (Tullberg et al. 2005)? Do bird responses vary depending on the particular light environment in the places and at the times when they encounter the butterfly (Kodandaramaiah 2011)? Answering these questions under natural, uncontrolled conditions will be challenging, requiring onerous methods, (e.g., video recording in multiple locations over time). The study indicates the interest of pursuing these questions.


Blut, C., Wilbrandt, J., Fels, D., Girgel, E.I., & Lunau, K. (2012). The ‘sparkle’ in fake eyes–the protective effect of mimic eyespots in Lepidoptera. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 143, 231-244.

Chotard, A., Ledamoisel, J., Decamps, T., Herrel, A., Chaine, A.S., Llaurens, V., & Debat, V. (2022). Evidence of attack deflection suggests adaptive evolution of wing tails in butterflies. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 289, 20220562.

De Bona, S., Valkonen, J.K., López-Sepulcre, A., & Mappes, J. (2015). Predator mimicry, not conspicuousness, explains the efficacy of butterfly eyespots. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 282, 1806.

Hossie, T.J., & Sherratt, T.N. (2012). Eyespots interact with body colour to protect caterpillar-like prey from avian predators. Animal Behaviour, 84, 167-173.

Hossie, T.J., Sherratt, T.N., Janzen, D.H., & Hallwachs, W. (2013). An eyespot that “blinks”: an open and shut case of eye mimicry in Eumorpha caterpillars (Lepidoptera: Sphingidae). Journal of Natural History, 47, 2915-2926.

Iserhard, C.A., Malta, S.T., Penz, C.M., Brenda Barbon Fraga; Camila Abel da Costa; Taiane Schwantz; & Kauane Maiara Bordin (2024). The large and central Caligo martia eyespot may reduce fatal attacks by birds : a case study supports the deflection hypothesis in nature. Zenodo, ver. 1 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

Janzen, D.H., Hallwachs, W., & Burns, J.M. (2010). A tropical horde of counterfeit predator eyes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 107, 11659-11665.

Kodandaramaiah, U. (2011). The evolutionary significance of butterfly eyespots. Behavioral Ecology, 22, 1264-1271.

Monteiro, A. (2015). Origin, development, and evolution of butterfly eyespots. Annual Review of Entomology, 60, 253-271.

Monteiro, A., Glaser, G., Stockslager, S., Glansdorp, N., & Ramos, D. (2006). Comparative insights into questions of lepidopteran wing pattern homology. BMC Developmental Biology, 6, 1-13.

Stevens, M. (2005). The role of eyespots as anti-predator mechanisms, principally demonstrated in the Lepidoptera. Biological Reviews, 80, 573–588.

Stevens, M., Stubbins, C.L., & Hardman C.J. (2008). The anti-predator function of ‘eyespots’ on camouflaged and conspicuous prey. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 62, 1787-1793.

Tullberg, B.S., Merilaita, S., & Wiklund, C. (2005). Aposematism and crypsis combined as a result of distance dependence: functional versatility of the colour pattern in the swallowtail butterfly larva. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 272, 1315-1321.

Vallin, A., Jakobsson, S., Lind, J., & Wiklund, C. (2005). Prey survival by predator intimidation: an experimental study of peacock butterfly defence against blue tits. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 272, 1203-1207.

The large and central *Caligo martia* eyespot may reduce fatal attacks by birds: a case study supports the deflection hypothesis in natureCristiano Agra Iserhard, Shimene Torve Malta, Carla Maria Penz, Brenda Barbon Fraga, Camila Abel da Costa, Taiane Schwantz, Kauane Maiara Bordin<p>Many animals have colorations that resemble eyes, but the functions of such eyespots are debated. Caligo martia (Godart, 1824) butterflies have large ventral hind wing eyespots, and we aimed to test whether these eyespots act to deflect or to t...Biodiversity, Community ecology, Conservation biology, Life history, Tropical ecologyDoyle Mc Key2023-11-21 15:00:20 View
01 Mar 2023
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Effects of adaptive harvesting on fishing down processes and resilience changes in predator-prey and tritrophic systems

Adaptive harvesting, “fishing down the food web”, and regime shifts

Recommended by based on reviews by Pierre-Yves HERNVANN and 1 anonymous reviewer

The mean trophic level of catches in world fisheries has generally declined over the 20th century, a phenomenon called "fishing down the food web" (Pauly et al. 1998). Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain this decline including the collapse of, or decline in, higher trophic level stocks leading to the inclusion of lower trophic level stocks in the fishery. Fishing down the food web may lead to a reduction in the resilience, i.e., the capacity to rebound from change, of the fished community, which is concerning given the necessity of resilience in the face of climate change. 

The practice of adaptive harvesting, which involves fishing stocks based on their availability, can also result in a reduction in the average trophic level of a fishery (Branch et al. 2010). Adaptive harvesting, similar to adaptive foraging, can affect the resilience of fisheries. Generally, adaptive foraging acts as a stabilizing force in communities (Valdovinos et al. 2010), however it is not clear how including harvesters as the adaptive foragers will affect the resilience of the system.

Tromeur and Loeuille (2023) analyze the effects of adaptively harvesting a trophic community. Using a system of ordinary differential equations representing a predator-prey model where both species are harvested, the researchers mathematically analyze the impact of increasing fishing effort and adaptive harvesting on the mean trophic level and resilience of the fished community. This is achieved by computing the equilibrium densities and equilibrium allocation of harvest effort.  In addition, the researchers numerically evaluate adaptive harvesting in a tri-trophic system (predator, prey, and resource). The study focuses on the effect of adaptively distributing harvest across trophic levels on the mean trophic level of catches, the propensity for regime shifts to occur, the ability to return to equilibrium after a disturbance, and the speed of this return. 

The results indicate that adaptive harvesting leads to a decline in the mean trophic level of catches, resulting in “fishing down the food web”. Furthermore, the study shows that adaptive harvesting may harm the overall resilience of the system. Similar results were observed numerically in a tri-trophic community.

While adaptive foraging is generally a stabilizing force on communities, the researchers found that adaptive harvesting can destabilize the harvested community. One of the key differences between adaptive foraging models and the model presented here, is that the harvesters do not exhibit population dynamics. This lack of a numerical response by the harvesters to decreasing population sizes of their stocks leads to regime shifts. The realism of a fishery that does not respond numerically to declining stock is debatable, however it is very likely that there will a least be significant delays due to social and economic barriers to leaving the fishery, that will lead to similar results.

This study is not unique in demonstrating the ability of adaptive harvesting to result in “fishing down the food web”. As pointed out by the researchers, the same results have been shown with several different model formulations (e.g., age and size structured models). Similarly, this study is not unique to showing that increasing adaptation speeds decreases the resilience of non-linear predator-prey systems by inducing oscillatory behaviours. Much of this can be explained by the destabilising effect of increasing interaction strengths on food webs (McCann et al. 1998). 

By employing a straightforward model, the researchers were able to demonstrate that adaptive harvesting, a common strategy employed by fishermen, can result in a decline in the average trophic level of catches, regime shifts, and reduced resilience in the fished community. While previous studies have observed some of these effects, the fact that the current study was able to capture them all with a simple model is notable. This modeling approach can offer insight into the role of human behavior on the complex dynamics observed in fisheries worldwide.


Branch, T. A., R. Watson, E. A. Fulton, S. Jennings, C. R. McGilliard, G. T. Pablico, D. Ricard, et al. 2010. The trophic fingerprint of marine fisheries. Nature 468:431–435.

Tromeur, E., and N. Loeuille. 2023. Effects of adaptive harvesting on fishing down processes and resilience changes in predator-prey and tritrophic systems. bioRxiv 290460, ver 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology.

McCann, K., A. Hastings, and G.R. Huxel. 1998. Weak trophic interactions and the balance of nature. Nature 395: 794-798.

Pauly, D., V. Christensen, J. Dalsgaard, R. Froese, and F. Torres Jr. 1998. Fishing down marine food webs. Science 279:860–86.

Valdovinos, F.S., R. Ramos-Jiliberto, L. Garay-Naravez, P. Urbani, and J.A. Dunne. 2010. Consequences of adaptive behaviour for the structure and dynamics of food webs. Ecology Letters 13: 1546-1559.

Effects of adaptive harvesting on fishing down processes and resilience changes in predator-prey and tritrophic systemsEric Tromeur, Nicolas Loeuille<p>Many world fisheries display a declining mean trophic level of catches. This "fishing down the food web" is often attributed to reduced densities of high-trophic-level species. We show here that the fishing down pattern can actually emerge from...Biodiversity, Community ecology, Food webs, Foraging, Population ecology, Theoretical ecologyAmanda Lynn Caskenette2022-05-03 21:09:35 View
27 Jan 2023
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Spatial heterogeneity of interaction strength has contrasting effects on synchrony and stability in trophic metacommunities

How does spatial heterogeneity affect stability of trophic metacommunities?

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Phillip P.A. Staniczenko, Ludek Berec and Diogo Provete

The temporal or spatial variability in species population sizes and interaction strength of animal and plant communities has a strong impact on aggregate community properties (for instance biomass), community composition, and species richness (Kokkoris et al. 2002). Early work on spatial and temporal variability strongly indicated that asynchronous population and environmental fluctuations tend to stabilise community structures and diversity (e.g. Holt 1984, Tilman and Pacala 1993, McCann et al. 1998, Amarasekare and Nisbet 2001). Similarly, trophic networks might be stabilised by spatial heterogeneity (Hastings 1977) and an asymmetry of energy flows along food chains (Rooney et al. 2006). The interplay between temporal, spatial, and trophic heterogeneity within the meta-community concept has got much less interest. In the recent preprint in PCI Ecology, Quévreux et al. (2023) report that Spatial heterogeneity of interaction strength has contrasting effects on synchrony and stability in trophic metacommunities. These authors rightly notice that the interplay between trophic and spatial heterogeneity might induce contrasting effects depending on the internal dynamics of the system. Their contribution builds on prior work (Quévreux et al. 2021a, b) on perturbed trophic cascades.

I found this paper particularly interesting because it is in the, now century-old, tradition to show that ecological things are not so easy. Since the 1930th, when Nicholson and Baily and others demonstrated that simple deterministic population models might generate stability and (pseudo-)chaos ecologists have realised that systems triggered by two or more independent processes might be intrinsically unpredictable and generate different outputs depending on the initial parameter settings. This resembles the three-body problem in physics. The present contribution of Quévreux et al. (2023) extends this knowledge to an example of a spatially explicit trophic model. Their main take-home message is that asymmetric energy flows in predator–prey relationships might have contrasting effects on the stability of metacommunities receiving localised perturbations. Stability is context dependent.

Of course, the work is merely a theoretical exercise using a simplistic trophic model. It demands verification with field data. Nevertheless, we might expect even stronger unpredictability in more realistic multitrophic situations. Therefore, it should be seen as a proof of concept. Remember that increasing trophic connectance tends to destabilise food webs (May 1972). In this respect, I found the final outlook to bioconservation ambitious but substantiated. Biodiversity management needs a holistic approach focusing on all aspects of ecological functioning. I would add the need to see stability and biodiversity within an evolutionary perspective.        


Amarasekare P, Nisbet RM (2001) Spatial Heterogeneity, Source‐Sink Dynamics, and the Local Coexistence of Competing Species. The American Naturalist, 158, 572–584.

Hastings A (1977) Spatial heterogeneity and the stability of predator-prey systems. Theoretical Population Biology, 12, 37–48.

Holt RD (1984) Spatial Heterogeneity, Indirect Interactions, and the Coexistence of Prey Species. The American Naturalist, 124, 377–406.

Kokkoris GD, Jansen VAA, Loreau M, Troumbis AY (2002) Variability in interaction strength and implications for biodiversity. Journal of Animal Ecology, 71, 362–371.

May RM (1972) Will a Large Complex System be Stable? Nature, 238, 413–414.

McCann K, Hastings A, Huxel GR (1998) Weak trophic interactions and the balance of nature. Nature, 395, 794–798.

Quévreux P, Barbier M, Loreau M (2021) Synchrony and Perturbation Transmission in Trophic Metacommunities. The American Naturalist, 197, E188–E203.

Quévreux P, Pigeault R, Loreau M (2021) Predator avoidance and foraging for food shape synchrony and response to perturbations in trophic metacommunities. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 528, 110836.

Quévreux P, Haegeman B, Loreau M (2023) Spatial heterogeneity of interaction strength has contrasting effects on synchrony and stability in trophic metacommunities. hal-03829838, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

Rooney N, McCann K, Gellner G, Moore JC (2006) Structural asymmetry and the stability of diverse food webs. Nature, 442, 265–269.

Tilman D, Pacala S (1993) The maintenance of species richness in plant communities. In: Ricklefs, R.E., Schluter, D. (eds) Species Diversity in Ecological Communities: Historical and Geographical Perspectives. University of Chicago Press, pp. 13–25.

Spatial heterogeneity of interaction strength has contrasting effects on synchrony and stability in trophic metacommunitiesPierre Quévreux, Bart Haegeman and Michel Loreau<p>&nbsp;Spatial heterogeneity is a fundamental feature of ecosystems, and ecologists have identified it as a factor promoting the stability of population dynamics. In particular, differences in interaction strengths and resource supply between pa...Dispersal & Migration, Food webs, Interaction networks, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & Metapopulations, Theoretical ecologyWerner Ulrich2022-10-26 13:38:34 View
06 Mar 2020
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Interplay between the paradox of enrichment and nutrient cycling in food webs

New insights into the role of nutrient cycling in food web dynamics

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Jean-François Arnoldi, Wojciech Uszko and 1 anonymous reviewer

Understanding the factors that govern the relationship between structure, stability and functioning of food webs has been a central problem in ecology for many decades. Historically, apart from microbial and soil food webs, the role of nutrient cycling has largely been ignored in theoretical and empirical food web studies. A prime example of this is the widespread use of Lotka-Volterra type models in theoretical studies; these models per se are not designed to capture the effect of nutrients being released back into the system by interacting populations. Thus overall, we still lack a general understanding of how nutrient cycling affects food web dynamics.
A new study by Quévreux, Barot and Thébault [1] tackles this problem by building a new food web model. This model features some important biological details: trophic interactions and vital rates constrained by species' body masses (using Ecological Metabolic Theory), adaptive foraging, and stoichiometric rules to ensure meaningful conversion between carbon and nutrient flows. The authors analyze the model through detailed simulations combined with thorough sensitivity analyses of model assumptions and parametrizations (including of allometric scaling relationships). I am happy to recommend this preprint because of the novelty of the work and it's technical quality.
The study yields interesting and novel findings. Overall, nutrient cycling does have a strong effect on community dynamics. Nutrient recycling is driven mostly by consumers at low mineral nutrient inputs, and by primary producers at high inputs. The extra nutrients made available through recycling increases species' persistence at low nutrient input levels, but decreases persistence at higher input levels by increasing population oscillations (a new, nuanced perspective on the classical "paradox of enrichment"). Also, for the same level of nutrient input, food webs with nutrient recycling show more fluctuations in primary producer biomass (and less at higher trophic levels) than those without recycling, with this effect weakening in more complex food webs.
Overall, these results provide new insights, suggesting that nutrient cycling may enhance the positive effects of species richness on ecosystem stability, and point at interesting new directions for future theoretical and empirical studies.


[1] Quévreux, P., Barot, S. and E. Thébault (2020) Interplay between the paradox of enrichment and nutrient cycling in food webs. bioRxiv, 276592, ver. 7 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/276592

Interplay between the paradox of enrichment and nutrient cycling in food websPierre Quévreux, Sébastien Barot and Élisa Thébault<p>Nutrient cycling is fundamental to ecosystem functioning. Despite recent major advances in the understanding of complex food web dynamics, food web models have so far generally ignored nutrient cycling. However, nutrient cycling is expected to ...Biodiversity, Community ecology, Ecosystem functioning, Food webs, Interaction networks, Theoretical ecologySamraat Pawar2018-11-03 21:47:37 View
10 Oct 2018
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Detecting within-host interactions using genotype combination prevalence data

Combining epidemiological models with statistical inference can detect parasite interactions

Recommended by based on reviews by Samuel Díaz Muñoz, Erick Gagne and 1 anonymous reviewer

There are several important topics in the study of infectious diseases that have not been well explored due to technical difficulties. One such topic is pursued by Alizon et al. in “Modelling coinfections to detect within-host interactions from genotype combination prevalences” [1]. Both theory and several important examples have demonstrated that interactions among co-infecting strains can have outsized impacts on disease outcomes, transmission dynamics, and epidemiology. Unfortunately, empirical data on pathogen interactions and their outcomes is often correlational making results difficult to decipher.
The analytical framework developed by Alizon et al. [1] infers the presence and strength of pathogen interactions through their impact on transmission dynamics using a novel application of Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC)-regression to epidemiological data. Traditional analytic approaches identify pathogen interactions when the observed distribution of pathogens among hosts differ from ‘neutral’ expectations. However, deviations from this expectation are not only a result of inter-strain interactions but can be caused by many ecological interactions, such as heterogeneity in host contact networks. To overcome this difficulty, Alizon et al [1] develop an analytical framework that incorporates explicit epidemiological models to allow inference of interactions among strains of Human Papillomaviruses (HPV) even with other ecological interactions that impact the distribution of strains among hosts. Alizon et al also demonstrate that using more of the available data, including the specific combination of strains present in hosts and knowledge of the connectivity of the hosts (i.e., super-spreaders), leads to more accurate inferences of the strength and direction of within-host interactions among coinfecting strains. This method successfully identified data generated from models with high and moderate inter-strain interaction intensity when the host population was homogeneous and was only slightly less successful when the host population was heterogeneous (super-spreaders present). By comparison, some previously published analytical methods could identify only some inter-strain interactions in datasets generated from models with homogeneous host populations, but host heterogeneity obscured these interactions.
This manuscript makes seamless connections between basic viral biology and its epidemiological consequences by tying them together with realistic models, illustrating the fundamental utility of biological modeling. This analytical framework provides crucial tools for experimentalists, facilitating collaborations with theoreticians to better understand the epidemiological consequences of co-infections. In addition, the method is simple enough to be applied by a broad base of experimentalists to the many pathogens where co-infections are common. Thus, this paper has the potential to impact several research fields and public health practice. Those attempting to apply this method should note the potential limitations noted by the authors. For example, it is not designed to detect the mechanisms of inter-strain interactions (there is no within host component of the models) but to identify the existence of interactions through patterns indicative of these interactions while ruling out other sources that could cause the pattern. This approach is likely to be most accurate when strain identification within hosts is precise and unbiased - which is unlikely in many systems where samples are taken only from symptomatic cases and strain detection is not sufficiently sensitive – and when host contact networks can be reasonably estimated. Importantly, a priori knowledge of the set of possible epidemiological models is needed for accurate parameter estimates, which may be true for several prominent pathogens, but not be so for many other pathogens and symbionts. We look forward to future extensions of this framework where this restriction is relaxed. Alizon et al. [1] have provided a framework that will facilitate theoretical and empirical work on the impact of coinfections on infectious disease and should shape future public health data collection standards.


[1] Alizon, S., Murall, C.L., Saulnier, E., & Sofonea, M.T. (2018). Detecting within-host interactions using genotype combination prevalence data. bioRxiv, 256586, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/256586

Detecting within-host interactions using genotype combination prevalence dataSamuel Alizon, Carmen Lía Murall, Emma Saulnier, Mircea T Sofonea<p>Parasite genetic diversity can provide information on disease transmission dynamics but most methods ignore the exact combinations of genotypes in infections. We introduce and validate a new method that combines explicit epidemiological modelli...Eco-immunology & Immunity, Epidemiology, Host-parasite interactions, Statistical ecologyDustin Brisson Samuel Díaz Muñoz, Erick Gagne2018-02-01 09:23:26 View
13 Jul 2023
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Parasites make hosts more profitable but less available to predators

Indirect effects of parasitism include increased profitability of prey to optimal foragers

Recommended by based on reviews by Thierry DE MEEUS and Eglantine Mathieu-Bégné

Even though all living organisms are, at the same time, involved in host-parasite interactions and embedded in complex food webs, the indirect effects of parasitism are only beginning to be unveiled.

Prosnier et al. investigated the direct and indirect effects of parasitism making use of a very interesting biological system comprising the freshwater zooplankton Daphnia magna and its highly specific parasite, the iridovirus DIV-1 (Daphnia-iridescent virus 1). Daphnia are typically semitransparent, but once infected develop a white phenotype with a characteristic iridescent shine due to the enlargement of white fat cells.

In a combination of infection trials and comparison of white and non-white phenotypes collected in natural ponds, the authors demonstrated increased mortality and reduced lifetime fitness in infected Daphnia. Furthermore, white phenotypes had lower mobility, increased reflectance, larger body sizes and higher protein content than non-white phenotypes. As a consequence, total energy content was effectively doubled in white Daphnia when compared to non-white broodless Daphnia

Next the authors conducted foraging trials with Daphnia predators Notonecta (the backswimmer) and Phoxinus (the European minnow). Focusing on Notonecta, unchanged search time and increased handling time were more than compensated by the increased energy content of white Daphnia. White Daphnia were 24% more profitable and consistently preferred by Notonecta, as the optimal foraging theory would predict. The authors argue that menu decisions of optimal foragers in the field might be different, however, as the prevalence – and therefore availability - of white phenotypes in natural populations is very low.

The study therefore contributes to our understanding of the trophic context of parasitism. One shortcoming of the study is that the authors rely exclusively on phenotypic signs for determining infection. On their side, DIV-1 is currently known to be highly specific to Daphnia, their study site is well within DIV-1 distributional range, and the symptoms of infection are very conspicuous. Furthermore, the infection trial – in which non-white Daphnia were exposed to white Daphnia homogenates - effectively caused several lethal and sublethal effects associated with DIV-1 infection, including iridescence. However, the infection trial also demonstrated that part of the exposed individuals developed intermediate traits while still keeping the non-white, non-iridescent phenotype. Thus, there may be more subtleties to the association of DIV-1 infection of Daphnia with ecological and evolutionary consequences, such as costs to resistance or covert infection, that the authors acknowledge, and that would be benefitted by coupling experimental and observational studies with the determination of actual infection and viral loads.​​​


Prosnier L., N. Loeuille, F.D. Hulot, D. Renault, C. Piscart, B. Bicocchi, M, Deparis, M. Lam, & V. Médoc. (2023). Parasites make hosts more profitable but less available to predators. BioRxiv, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

Parasites make hosts more profitable but less available to predatorsLoïc Prosnier, Nicolas Loeuille, Florence D. Hulot, David Renault, Christophe Piscart, Baptiste Bicocchi, Muriel Deparis, Matthieu Lam, Vincent Médoc<p>Parasites are omnipresent, and their eco-evolutionary significance has aroused much interest from scientists. Parasites may affect their hosts in many ways by altering host density, vulnerability to predation, and energy content, thus modifying...Community ecology, Eco-evolutionary dynamics, Epidemiology, Experimental ecology, Food webs, Foraging, Freshwater ecology, Host-parasite interactions, Life history, Parasitology, Statistical ecologyLuis Schiesari2022-05-20 10:15:41 View