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31 Aug 2023
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Assessing species interactions using integrated predator-prey models

Addressing the daunting challenge of estimating species interactions from count data

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO and ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Trophic interactions are at the heart of community ecology. Herbivores consume plants, predators consume herbivores, and pathogens and parasites infect, and sometimes kill, individuals of all species in a food web. Given the ubiquity of trophic interactions, it is no surprise that ecologists and evolutionary biologists strive to accurately characterize them. 

The outcome of an interaction between individuals of different species depends upon numerous factors such as the age, sex, and even phenotype of the individuals involved and the environment in which they are in. Despite this complexity, biologists often simplify an interaction down to a single number, an interaction coefficient that describes the average outcome of interactions between members of the populations of the species. Models of interacting species tend to be very simple, and interaction coefficients are often estimated from time series of population sizes of interacting species. Although biologists have long known that this approach is often approximate and sometimes unsatisfactory, work on estimating interaction strengths in more complex scenarios, and using ecological data beyond estimates of abundance, is still in its infancy. 

In their paper, Matthieu Paquet and Frederic Barraquand (2023)​ develop a demographic model of a predator and its prey. They then simulate demographic datasets that are typical of those collected by ecologists and use integrated population modelling to explore whether they can accurately retrieve the values interaction coefficients included in their model. They show that they can with good precision and accuracy. The work takes an important step in showing that accurate interaction coefficients can be estimated from the types of individual-based data that field biologists routinely collect, and it paves for future work in this area.

As if often the case with exciting papers such as this, the work opens up a number of other avenues for future research. What happens as we move from demographic models of two species interacting such as those used by Paquet and Barraquand​ to more realistic scenarios including multiple species? How robust is the approach to incorrectly specified process or observation models, core components of integrated population modelling that require detailed knowledge of the system under study? 

Integrated population models have become a powerful and widely used tool in single-species population ecology. It is high time the techniques are extended to community ecology, and this work takes an important step in showing that this should and can be done. I would hope the paper is widely read and cited.

References

Paquet, M., & Barraquand, F. (2023). Assessing species interactions using integrated predator-prey models. EcoEvoRxiv, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology. https://doi.org/10.32942/X2RC7W

Assessing species interactions using integrated predator-prey modelsMatthieu Paquet, Frederic Barraquand<p style="text-align: justify;">Inferring the strength of species interactions from demographic data is a challenging task. The Integrated Population Modelling (IPM) approach, bringing together population counts, capture-recapture, and individual-...Community ecology, Demography, Euring Conference, Food webs, Population ecology, Statistical ecologyTim Coulson Ilhan Özgen-Xian2023-01-05 17:02:22 View
31 May 2023
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Conservation networks do not match the ecological requirements of amphibians

Amphibians under scrutiny - When human-dominated landscape mosaics are not in full compliance with their ecological requirements

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Peter Vermeiren and 1 anonymous reviewer

Among vertebrates, amphibians are one of the most diverse groups with more than 7,000 known species. Amphibians occupy various ecosystems, including forests, wetlands, and freshwater habitats. Amphibians are known to be highly sensitive to changes in their environment, particularly to water quality and habitat degradation, so that monitoring abundance of amphibian populations can provide early warning signs of ecosystem disturbances that may also affect other organisms including humans (Bishop et al., 2012). Accordingly, efforts in habitat preservation and sustainable land and water management are necessary to safeguard amphibian populations.

In this context, Matutini et al. (2023) compared ecological requirements of amphibian species with the quality of agricultural landscape mosaics. Doing so, they identified critical gaps in existing conservation tools that include protected areas, green infrastructures, and inventoried sites. Matutini et al. (2023) focused on nine amphibian species in the Pays-de-la-Loire region where the landscape has been fashioned over the years by human activities. Three of the chosen amphibian species are living in a dense hedgerow mosaic landscape, while five others are more generalists.

Matutini et al. (2023) established multi-species habitat suitability maps, together with their levels of confidence, by combining single species maps with a probabilistic stacking method at 500-m resolution. From these maps, habitats were classified in five categories, from not suitable to highly suitable. Then, the circuit theory was used to map the potential connections between each highly suitable patch at the regional scale. Finally, comparing suitability maps with existing conservation tools, Matutini et al. (2023) were able to assess their coverage and efficiency.

Whatever their species status (endangered or not), Matutini et al. (2023) highlighted some discrepancies between the ecological requirements of amphibians in terms of habitat quality and the conservation tools of the landscape mosaic within which they are evolving. More specifically, Matutini et al. (2023) found that protected areas and inventoried sites covered only a small proportion of highly suitable habitats, while green infrastructures covered around 50% of the potential habitat for amphibian species. Such a lack of coverage and efficiency of protected areas brings to light that geographical sites with amphibian conservation challenges are known but not protected. Regarding the landscape fragmentation, Matutini et al. (2023) found that generalist amphibian species have a more homogeneous distribution of suitable habitats at the regional scale. They also identified two bottlenecks between two areas of suitable habitats, a situation that could prove critical to amphibian movements if amphibians were forced to change habitats to global change.

In conclusion, Matutini et al. (2023) bring convincing arguments in support of land-use species-conservation planning based on a better consideration of human-dominated landscape mosaics in full compliance with ecological requirements of the species that inhabit the regions concerned.

References

Bishop, P.J., Angulo, A., Lewis, J.P., Moore, R.D., Rabb, G.B., Moreno, G., 2012. The Amphibian Extinction Crisis - what will it take to put the action into the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan? Sapiens - Surveys and Perspectives Integrating Environment and Society 5, 1–16. http://journals.openedition.org/sapiens/1406

Matutini, F., Baudry, J., Fortin, M.-J., Pain, G., Pithon, J., 2023. Conservation networks do not match ecological requirements of amphibians. bioRxiv, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.07.18.500425

Conservation networks do not match the ecological requirements of amphibiansMatutini Florence, Jacques Baudry, Marie-Josée Fortin, Guillaume Pain, Joséphine Pithon<p style="text-align: justify;">1. Amphibians are among the most threatened taxa as they are highly sensitive to habitat degradation and fragmentation. They are considered as model species to evaluate habitats quality in agricultural landscapes. I...Biodiversity, Biogeography, Human impact, Landscape ecology, Macroecology, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & Metapopulations, Species distributions, Terrestrial ecologySandrine Charles2022-09-20 14:40:03 View
06 Nov 2023
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Influence of mimicry on extinction risk in Aculeata: a theoretical approach

Mullerian and Batesian mimicry can influence population and community dynamics

Recommended by based on reviews by Jesus Bellver and 1 anonymous reviewer

Mimicry between species has long attracted the attention of scientists. Over a century ago, Bates first proposed that palatable species should gain a benefit by resembling unpalatable species (Bates 1862). Not long after, Müller suggested that there could also be a mutual advantage for two unpalatable species to mimic one another to reduce predator error (Müller 1879). These forms of mimicry, Batesian and Müllerian, are now widely studied, providing broad insights into behaviour, ecology and evolution.

Numerous taxa, including both invertebrates and vertebrates, show examples of Batesian or Müllerian mimicry. Bees and wasps provide a particularly interesting case due to the differences in defence between females and males of the same species. While both males and females may display warning colours, only females can sting and inject venom to cause pain and allow escape from predators. Therefore, males are palatable mimics and can resemble females of their own species or females of another species (dual sex-limited mimicry). This asymmetry in defence could have impacts on both population structure and community assembly, yet research into mimicry largely focuses on systems without sex differences.

Here, Boutin and colleagues (2023) use a differential equations model to explore the effect of mimicry on population structure and community assembly for sex-limited defended species. Specifically, they address three questions, 1) how do female noxiousness and sex-ratio influence the extinction risk of a single species?; 2) what is the effect of mimicry on species co-existence? and 3) how does dual sex-limited mimicry influence species co-existence? Their results reveal contexts in which populations with undefended males can persist, the benefit of Müllerian mimicry for species coexistence and that dual sex-limited mimicry can have a destabilising impact on species coexistence.

The results not only contribute to our understanding of how mimicry is maintained in natural systems but also demonstrate how changes in relative abundance or population structure of one species could impact another species. Further insight into the population and community dynamics of insects is particularly important given the current population declines (Goulson 2019; Seibold et al 2019).

References

Bates, H. W. 1862. Contributions to the insect fauna of the Amazon Valley, Lepidoptera: Heliconidae. Trans. Linn. Soc. Lond. 23:495- 566. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1096-3642.1860.tb00146.x

Boutin, M., Costa, M., Fontaine, C., Perrard, A., Llaurens, V. 2022 Influence of sex-limited mimicry on extinction risk in Aculeata: a theoretical approach. bioRxiv, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1101/2022.10.21.513153

Goulson, D. 2019. The insect apocalypse, and why it matters. Curr. Biol. 29: R967-R971. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.06.069

Müller, F. 1879. Ituna and Thyridia; a remarkable case of mimicry in butterflies. Trans. Roy. Entom. Roc. 1879:20-29.

Seibold, S., Gossner, M. M., Simons, N. K., Blüthgen, N., Müller, J., Ambarlı, D., ... & Weisser, W. W. 2019. Arthropod decline in grasslands and forests is associated with landscape-level drivers. Nature, 574: 671-674. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1684-3

Influence of mimicry on extinction risk in Aculeata: a theoretical approachMaxime Boutin, Manon Costa, Colin Fontaine, Adrien Perrard, Violaine Llaurens<p style="text-align: justify;">Positive ecological interactions, such as mutualism, can play a role in community structure and species co-existence. A well-documented case of mutualistic interaction is Mullerian mimicry, the convergence of colour...Biodiversity, Coexistence, Eco-evolutionary dynamics, Evolutionary ecology, Facilitation & MutualismAmanda Franklin2022-10-25 19:11:55 View
26 May 2023
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Using repeatability of performance within and across contexts to validate measures of behavioral flexibility

Do reversal learning methods measure behavioral flexibility?

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Maxime Dahirel and Aparajitha Ramesh

Assessing the reliability of the methods we use in actually measuring the intended trait should be one of our first priorities when designing a study – especially when the trait in question is not directly observable and is measured through a proxy. 

This is the case for cognitive traits, which are often quantified through measures of behavioral performance. Behavioral flexibility is of particular interest in the context of great environmental changes that a lot of populations have to experiment. This type of behavioral performance is often measured through reversal learning experiments (Bond 2007). In these experiments, individuals first learn a preference, for example for an object of a certain type of form or color, associated with a reward such as food. The characteristics of the rewarded object then change, and the individuals hence have to learn these new characteristics (to get the reward). The time needed by the individual to make this change in preference has been considered a measure of behavioral flexibility.

Although reversal learning experiments have been widely used, their construct validity to assess behavioral flexibility has not been thoroughly tested. This was the aim of McCune and collaborators' (2023) study, through the test of the repeatability of individual performance within and across contexts of reversal learning, in the great-tailed grackle.

This manuscript presents a post-study of the preregistered study* (Logan et al. 2019) that was peer-reviewed and received an In Principle Recommendation for PCI Ecology (Coulon 2019; the initial preregistration was split into 3 post-studies).
Using 34 great-tailed grackles wild-caught in Tempe, Arizona (USA), the authors tested in aviaries 2 hypotheses:

  • First, that the behavioral flexibility measured by reversal learning is repeatable within individuals across sessions of the same experiment;
  • Second, that there is repeatability of the measured behavioral flexibility (within individuals) across different types of reversal learning experiments (context).

The first hypothesis was tested by measuring the repeatability of the time needed by individuals to switch color preference in a color reversal learning task (colored tubes), over serial sessions of this task. The second one was tested by measuring the time needed by individuals to switch solutions, within 3 different contexts: (1) colored tubes, (2) plastic and (3) wooden multi-access boxes involving several ways to access food.

Despite limited sample sizes, the results of these experiments suggest that there is both temporal and contextual repeatability of behavioral flexibility performance of great-tailed grackles, as measured by reversal learning experiments.

Those results are a first indication of the construct validity of reversal learning experiments to assess behavioral flexibility. As highlighted by McCune and collaborators, it is now necessary to assess the discriminant validity of these experiments, i.e. checking that a different performance is obtained with tasks (experiments) that are supposed to measure different cognitive abilities.
 
* A pre-registered study is a study in which context, aims, hypotheses and methodologies have been written down as an empirical paper, peer-reviewed and pre-accepted before research is undertaken. Pre-registrations are intended to reduce publication bias and reporting bias.
 
REFERENCES
 
Bond, A. B., Kamil, A. C., & Balda, R. P. (2007). Serial reversal learning and the evolution of behavioral
flexibility in three species of north american corvids (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus, Nucifraga columbiana,
Aphelocoma californica). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 121 (4), 372. https://doi.org/10.1037/0735-7036.121.4.372

Coulon, A. (2019) Can context changes improve behavioral flexibility? Towards a better understanding of species adaptability to environmental changes. Peer Community in Ecology, 100019. https://doi.org/10.24072/pci.ecology.100019

Logan, CJ, Lukas D, Bergeron L, Folsom M, & McCune, K. (2019).  Is behavioral flexibility related to foraging and social behavior in a rapidly expanding species? In Principle Acceptance by PCI Ecology of the Version on 6 Aug 2019. http://corinalogan.com/Preregistrations/g_flexmanip.html

McCune KB, Blaisdell AP, Johnson-Ulrich Z, Lukas D, MacPherson M, Seitz BM, Sevchik A, Logan CJ (2023) Using repeatability of performance within and across contexts to validate measures of behavioral flexibility. EcoEvoRxiv, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology. https://doi.org/10.32942/X2R59K

Using repeatability of performance within and across contexts to validate measures of behavioral flexibilityMcCune KB, Blaisdell AP, Johnson-Ulrich Z, Lukas D, MacPherson M, Seitz BM, Sevchik A, Logan CJ<p style="text-align: justify;">Research into animal cognitive abilities is increasing quickly and often uses methods where behavioral performance on a task is assumed to represent variation in the underlying cognitive trait. However, because thes...Behaviour & Ethology, Evolutionary ecology, Preregistrations, ZoologyAurélie Coulon2022-08-15 20:56:42 View
18 Apr 2024
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Insights on the effect of mega-carcass abundance on the population dynamics of a facultative scavenger predator and its prey

Unveiling the influence of carrion pulses on predator-prey dynamics

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Eli Strauss and 1 anonymous reviewer

Most, if not all, predators consume carrion in some circumstances (Sebastián-Gonzalez et al. 2023). Consequently, significant fluctuations in carrion availability can impact predator-prey dynamics by altering the ratio of carrion to live prey in the predators' diet (Roth 2003). Changes in carrion availability may lead to reduced predation when carrion is more abundant (hypo-predation) and intensified predation if predator populations surge in response to carrion influxes but subsequently face scarcity (hyper-predation), (Moleón et al. 2014, Mellard et al. 2021). However, this relationship between predation and scavenging is often challenging because of the lack of empirical data.
 
In the study conducted by Sidous et al. (2024), they used a large database on the abundance of spotted hyenas and their prey in Zimbabwe and Multivariate Autoregressive State-Space Models to calculate hyena and prey population densities and trends over a 60-year span. The researchers took advantage of abrupt fluctuations in elephant carcass availability that produced alternating periods of high and low carrion availability related to changing management strategies (i.e., elephant culling and water supply).
 
Interestingly, their analyses reveal a coupling of predator and prey densities over time, but they do not detect an effect of carcass availability on predator and prey dynamics. However, the density of prey and hyena was partially driven by the different temporal periods, suggesting some subtle effects of carrion availability on population trends. While it is acknowledged that other variables likely impact the population dynamics of hyenas and their prey, this is the first attempt to understand the influence of carrion pulses on predator-prey interactions across an extensive temporal scale. I hope this helps to establish a new research line on the effect of large carrion pulses, as this is currently largely understudied, even though the occurrence of carrion pulses, such as mass mortality events, is expected to increase over time (Fey et al. 2015).
 
References
 
Courchamp, F. et al. 2000. Rabbits killing birds: modelling the hyperpredation process. J. Anim. Ecol. 69: 154-164.
https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2656.2000.00383.x

Fey, S. B. et al. 2015. Recent shifts in the occurrence, cause, and magnitude of animal mass mortality events. PNAS 112: 1083-1088.
https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1414894112
 
Mellard, J. P. et al. 2021. Effect of scavenging on predation in a food web. Ecol. Evol. 11: 6742- 6765.
https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.7525

Moleón, M. et al. 2014. Inter-specific interactions linking predation and scavenging in terrestrial vertebrate assemblages. Biol. Rev. Camb. Philos. Soc. 89: 1042-1054.
https://doi.org/10.1111/brv.12097
 
Roth, J. 2003. Variability in marine resources affects arctic fox population dynamics. J. Anim. Ecol. 72: 668-676.
https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2656.2003.00739.x
 
Sebastián-González, E. et al. 2023. The underestimated role of carrion in diet studies. Global Ecol. Biogeogr. 32: 1302-1310.
https://doi.org/10.1111/geb.13707
 
Sidous, M. et al. 2024. Insights on the effect of mega-carcass abundance on 1 the population dynamics of a facultative scavenger predator and its prey. bioRxiv, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology.
https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.11.08.566247

Insights on the effect of mega-carcass abundance on the population dynamics of a facultative scavenger predator and its preyMellina Sidous; Sarah Cubaynes; Olivier Gimenez; Nolwenn Drouet-Hoguet; Stephane Dray; Loic Bollache; Daphine Madhlamoto; Nobesuthu Adelaide Ngwenya; Herve Fritz; Marion Valeix<p>The interplay between facultative scavenging and predation has gained interest in the last decade. The prevalence of scavenging induced by the availability of large carcasses may modify predator density or behaviour, potentially affecting prey....Community ecologyEsther Sebastián González Eli Strauss2023-11-14 15:27:16 View
29 Aug 2023
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Provision of essential resources as a persistence strategy in food webs

High-order interactions in food webs may strongly impact persistence of species

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Jean-Christophe POGGIALE and 1 anonymous reviewer

Michael Raatz (2023) provides here a relevant exploration of higher-order interactions, i.e. interactions involving more than two related species (Terry et al. 2019), in the case of food web and competition interactions. More precisely, he shows by modeling that essential resources may significantly mediate focal species' persistence. Simultaneously, the provision of essential resources may strongly affect the resulting community structure, by driving to extinction first the predator and then, depending on the higher-order interaction, potentially also the associated competitor. 

Today, all ecologists should be aware of the potential effects of high-order interactions on species' (and likely on ecosystem's) fate (Golubski et al. 2016, Grilli et al. 2017). Yet, we should soon be prepared to include any high-order interaction into any interaction network (i.e. not only between species, but also between species and abiotic components, and between biotic, anthropogenic and abiotic components too). For this purpose, we will need innovative approaches such as hypergraphs (Golubski et al. 2016) and discrete-event models (Gaucherel and Pommereau 2019, Thomas et al. 2022) able to manage highly complex interactions, with numerous interacting components and variables. Such a rigorous study is a necessary and preliminary step in taking into account such a higher complexity. 

References

Gaucherel, C. and F. Pommereau. 2019. Using discrete systems to exhaustively characterize the dynamics of an integrated ecosystem. Methods in Ecology and Evolution 00:1–13. https://doi.org/10.1111/2041-210X.13242

Golubski, A. J., E. E. Westlund, J. Vandermeer, and M. Pascual. 2016. Ecological Networks over the Edge: Hypergraph Trait-Mediated Indirect Interaction (TMII) Structure trends in Ecology & Evolution 31:344-354. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2016.02.006

Grilli, J., G. Barabas, M. J. Michalska-Smith, and S. Allesina. 2017. Higher-order interactions stabilize dynamics in competitive network models. Nature 548:210-213. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature23273

Raatz, M. 2023. Provision of essential resources as a persistence strategy in food webs. bioRxiv, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.01.27.525839

Terry, J. C. D., R. J. Morris, and M. B. Bonsall. 2019. Interaction modifications lead to greater robustness than pairwise non-trophic effects in food webs. Journal of Animal Ecology 88:1732-1742. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2656.13057

Thomas, C., M. Cosme, C. Gaucherel, and F. Pommereau. 2022. Model-checking ecological state-transition graphs. PLoS Computational Biology 18:e1009657. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1009657

Provision of essential resources as a persistence strategy in food websMichael Raatz<p style="text-align: justify;">Pairwise interactions in food webs, including those between predator and prey are often modulated by a third species. Such higher-order interactions are important structural components of natural food webs that can ...Biodiversity, Coexistence, Competition, Ecological stoichiometry, Food webs, Interaction networks, Theoretical ecologyCédric Gaucherel2023-02-23 17:48:26 View
24 May 2024
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Effects of water nutrient concentrations on stream macroinvertebrate community stoichiometry: a large-scale study

The influence of water phosphorus and nitrogen loads on stream macroinvertebrate community stoichiometry

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Thomas Guillemaud, Jun Zuo and 1 anonymous reviewer

The manuscript by Beck et al. (2024) investigates the effects of water phosphorus and nitrogen loads on stream macroinvertebrate community stoichiometry across France. Utilizing data from over 1300 standardized sampling events, this research finds that community stoichiometry is significantly influenced by water phosphorus concentration, with the strongest effects at low nitrogen levels.

The results demonstrate that the assumptions of Ecological Stoichiometry Theory apply at the community level for at least two dominant taxa and across a broad spatial scale, with probable implications for nutrient cycling and ecosystem functionality.

This manuscript contributes to ecological theory, particularly by extending Ecological Stoichiometry Theory to include community-level interactions, clarifying the impact of nutrient concentrations on community structure and function, and informing nutrient management and conservation strategies.

In summary, this study not only addresses a gap in community-level stoichiometric research but also delivers crucial empirical support for advancing ecological science and promoting environmental stewardship.

References

Beck M, Billoir E, Usseglio-Polatera P, Meyer A, Gautreau E and Danger M (2024) Effects of water nutrient concentrations on stream macroinvertebrate community stoichiometry: a large-scale study. bioRxiv, 2024.02.01.574823, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1101/2024.02.01.574823

Effects of water nutrient concentrations on stream macroinvertebrate community stoichiometry: a large-scale studyMiriam Beck, Elise Billoir, Philippe Usseglio-Polatera, Albin Meyer, Edwige Gautreau, Michael Danger<p>Basal resources generally mirror environmental nutrient concentrations in the elemental composition of their tissue, meaning that nutrient alterations can directly reach consumer level. An increased nutrient content (e.g. phosphorus) in primary...Community ecology, Ecological stoichiometryHuihuang Chen Thomas Guillemaud, Jun Zuo, Anonymous2024-02-02 10:14:01 View
05 Feb 2020
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A flexible pipeline combining clustering and correction tools for prokaryotic and eukaryotic metabarcoding

A flexible pipeline combining clustering and correction tools for prokaryotic and eukaryotic metabarcoding

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Tiago Pereira and 1 anonymous reviewer

High-throughput sequencing-based techniques such as DNA metabarcoding are increasingly advocated as providing numerous benefits over morphology‐based identifications for biodiversity inventories and ecosystem biomonitoring [1]. These benefits are particularly apparent for highly-diversified and/or hardly accessible aquatic and marine environments, where simple water or sediment samples could already produce acceptably accurate biodiversity estimates based on the environmental DNA present in the samples [2,3]. However, sequence-based characterization of biodiversity comes with its own challenges. A major one resides in the capacity to disentangle true biological diversity (be it taxonomic or genetic) from artefactual diversity generated by sequence-errors accumulation during PCR and sequencing processes, or from the amplification of non-target genes (i.e. pseudo-genes). On one hand, the stringent elimination of sequence variants might lead to biodiversity underestimation through the removal of true species, or the clustering of closely-related ones. On the other hand, a more permissive sequence filtering bears the risks of biodiversity inflation. Recent studies have outlined an excellent methodological framework for addressing this issue by proposing bioinformatic tools that allow the amplicon-specific error-correction as alternative or as complement to the more arbitrary approach of clustering into Molecular Taxonomic Units (MOTUs) based on sequence dissimilarity [4,5]. But to date, the relevance of amplicon-specific error-correction tools has been demonstrated only for a limited set of taxonomic groups and gene markers.
The study of Brandt et al. [6] successfully builds upon existing methodological frameworks for filling this gap in current literature. By proposing a bioinformatic pipeline combining Amplicon Sequence Variants (ASV) curation with MOTU clustering and additional post-clustering curation, the authors show that contrary to previous recommendations, ASV-based curation alone does not represent an adequate approach for DNA metabarcoding-based inventories of metazoans. Metazoans indeed, do exhibit inherently higher intra-specific and intra-individual genetic variability, necessarily leading to biased biodiversity estimates unbalanced in favor of species with higher intraspecific diversity in the absence of MOTU clustering. Interestingly, the positive effect of additional clustering showed to be dependent on the target gene region. Additional clustering had proportionally higher effect on the more polymorphic mitochondrial COI region (as compared to the 18S ribosomal gene). Thus, the major advantage of the study lies in the provision of optimal curation parameters that reflect the best possible balance between minimizing the impact of PCR/sequencing errors and the loss of true biodiversity across markers with contrasting levels of intragenomic variation. This is important as combining multiple markers is increasingly considered for improving the taxonomic coverage and resolution of data in DNA metabarcoding studies.
Another critical aspect of the study is the taxonomic assignation of curated OTUs (which is also the case for the majority of DNA metabarcoding-based biodiversity assessments). Facing the double challenge of focusing on taxonomic groups that are both highly diverse and poorly represented in public sequence reference databases, the authors failed to obtain high-resolution taxonomic assignments for several of the most closely-related species. As a result, taxa with low divergence levels were clustered as single taxonomic units, subsequently leading to underestimation of true biodiversity present. This finding adds to the argument that in order to be successful, sequence-based techniques still require the availability of comprehensive, high-quality reference databases.
Perhaps the only regret we might have with the study is the absence of mock community validation for the prokaryotes compartment. Even though the analyses of natural samples seem to suggest a positive effect of the curation pipeline, the concept of intra- versus inter-species variation in naturally occurring prokaryote communities remains at best ambiguous. Of course, constituting a representative sample of taxonomically-resolved prokaryote taxa from deep-sea habitats does not come without difficulties but has the benefit of opening opportunities for further studies on the matter.

References

[1] Porter, T. M., and Hajibabaei, M. (2018). Scaling up: A guide to high-throughput genomic approaches for biodiversity analysis. Molecular Ecology, 27(2), 313–338. doi: 10.1111/mec.14478
[2] Valentini, A., Taberlet, P., Miaud, C., Civade, R., Herder, J., Thomsen, P. F., … Dejean, T. (2016). Next-generation monitoring of aquatic biodiversity using environmental DNA metabarcoding. Molecular Ecology, 25(4), 929–942. doi: 10.1111/mec.13428
[3] Leray, M., and Knowlton, N. (2015). DNA barcoding and metabarcoding of standardized samples reveal patterns of marine benthic diversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(7), 2076–2081. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1424997112
[4] Callahan, B. J., McMurdie, P. J., and Holmes, S. P. (2017). Exact sequence variants should replace operational taxonomic units in marker-gene data analysis. The ISME Journal, 11(12), 2639–2643. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2017.119
[5] Edgar, R. C. (2016). UNOISE2: improved error-correction for Illumina 16S and ITS amplicon sequencing. BioRxiv, 081257. doi: 10.1101/081257
[6] Brandt, M. I., Trouche, B., Quintric, L., Wincker, P., Poulain, J., and Arnaud-Haond, S. (2020). A flexible pipeline combining clustering and correction tools for prokaryotic and eukaryotic metabarcoding. BioRxiv, 717355, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/717355

A flexible pipeline combining clustering and correction tools for prokaryotic and eukaryotic metabarcoding Miriam I Brandt, Blandine Trouche, Laure Quintric, Patrick Wincker, Julie Poulain, Sophie Arnaud-Haond<p>Environmental metabarcoding is an increasingly popular tool for studying biodiversity in marine and terrestrial biomes. With sequencing costs decreasing, multiple-marker metabarcoding, spanning several branches of the tree of life, is becoming ...Biodiversity, Community ecology, Marine ecology, Molecular ecologyStefaniya Kamenova2019-08-02 20:52:45 View
06 Dec 2019
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Does phenology explain plant-pollinator interactions at different latitudes? An assessment of its explanatory power in plant-hoverfly networks in French calcareous grasslands

The role of phenology for determining plant-pollinator interactions along a latitudinal gradient

Recommended by based on reviews by Ignasi Bartomeus, Phillip P.A. Staniczenko and 1 anonymous reviewer

Increased knowledge of what factors are determining species interactions are of major importance for our understanding of dynamics and functionality of ecological communities [1]. Currently, when ongoing temperature modifications lead to changes in species temporal and spatial limits the subject gets increasingly topical. A species phenology determines whether it thrive or survive in its environment. However, as the phenologies of different species are not necessarily equally affected by environmental changes, temporal or spatial mismatches can occur and affect the species-species interactions in the network [2] and as such the full network structure.
In this preprint by Manincor et al. [3] the authors explore the effect of phenology overlap on a large network of species interactions in calcareous grasslands in France. They analyze if and how this effect varies along a latitudinal gradient using empirical data on six plant-hoverfly networks. When comparing ecological network along gradients a well-known problem is that the network metrics is dependent on network size [4]. Therefore, instead of focusing on complete network structure the authors here focus on the factors that determine the probability of interactions and interaction frequency (number of visits). The authors use Bayesian Structural Equation Models (SEM) to link the interaction probability and number of visits to phenology overlap and species abundance. SEM is a multivariate technique that can be used to test several hypotheses and evaluate multiple causal relationships using both observed and latent variables to explain some other observed variables. The authors provide a nice description of the approach for this type of study system. In addition, the study also tests whether phenology affects network compartmentalization, by analyzing species subgroups using a latent block model (LBM) which is a clustering method particularly well-suited for weighted networks.
The authors identify phenology overlap as an important determinant of plant-pollinator interactions, but also conclude this factor alone is not sufficient to explain the species interactions. Species abundances was important for number of visits. Plant phenology drives the duration of the phenology overlap between plant and hoverflies in the studied system. This in turn influences either the probability of interaction or the expected number of visits, as well as network compartmentalization. Longer phenologies correspond to lower modularity inferring less constrained interactions, and shorter phenologies correspond to higher modularity inferring more constrained interactions.
What make this study particularly interesting is the presentation of SEMs as an innovative approach to compare networks of different sizes along environmental gradients. The authors show that these methods can be a useful tool when the aim is to understand the structure of plant-pollinator networks and data is varying in complexities. During the review process the authors carefully addressed to the comments from the two reviewers and the manuscript improved during the process. Both reviewers have expertise highly relevant for the research performed and the development of the manuscript. In my opinion this is a highly interesting and valuable piece of work both when it comes to the scientific question and the methodology. I look forward to further follow this research.

References

[1] Pascual, M., and Dunne, J. A. (Eds.). (2006). Ecological networks: linking structure to dynamics in food webs. Oxford University Press.
[2] Parmesan, C. (2007). Influences of species, latitudes and methodologies on estimates of phenological response to global warming. Global Change Biology, 13(9), 1860-1872. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2007.01404.x
[3] de Manincor, N., Hautekeete, N., Piquot, Y., Schatz, B., Vanappelghem, C. and Massol, F. (2019). Does phenology explain plant-pollinator interactions at different latitudes? An assessment of its explanatory power in plant-hoverfly networks in French calcareous grasslands. Zenodo, 2543768, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.2543768
[4] Staniczenko, P. P., Kopp, J. C., and Allesina, S. (2013). The ghost of nestedness in ecological networks. Nature communications, 4, 1391. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2422

Does phenology explain plant-pollinator interactions at different latitudes? An assessment of its explanatory power in plant-hoverfly networks in French calcareous grasslandsNatasha de Manincor, Nina Hautekeete, Yves Piquot, Bertrand Schatz, Cédric Vanappelghem, François Massol<p>For plant-pollinator interactions to occur, the flowering of plants and the flying period of pollinators (i.e. their phenologies) have to overlap. Yet, few models make use of this principle to predict interactions and fewer still are able to co...Interaction networks, Pollination, Statistical ecologyAnna Eklöf2019-01-18 19:02:13 View
20 Feb 2019
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Differential immune gene expression associated with contemporary range expansion of two invasive rodents in Senegal

Are all the roads leading to Rome?

Recommended by based on reviews by Nadia Aubin-Horth and 1 anonymous reviewer

Identifying the factors which favour the establishment and spread of non-native species in novel environments is one of the keys to predict - and hence prevent or control - biological invasions. This includes biological factors (i.e. factors associated with the invasive species themselves), and one of the prevailing hypotheses is that some species traits may explain their impressive success to establish and spread in novel environments [1]. In animals, most research studies have focused on traits associated with fecundity, age at maturity, level of affiliation to humans or dispersal ability for instance. The “composite picture” of the perfect (i.e. successful) invader that has gradually emerged is a small-bodied animal strongly affiliated to human activities with high fecundity, high dispersal ability and a super high level of plasticity. Of course, the story is not that simple, and actually a perfect invader sometimes – if not often- takes another form… Carrying on to identify what makes a species a successful invader or not is hence still an important research axis with major implications.
In this manuscript, Charbonnel and collaborators [2] provide an interesting opportunity to gain novel insights into our understanding of (the) traits underlying invasion success. They nicely combine the power of Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) with a clever comparative approach of two closely-related invasive rodents (the house mouse Mus musculus and the black rat Rattus rattus) in a common environment. They use this experimental design to test the appealing hypothesis that pathogens may be actors of the story, and may indirectly explain why some non-native species are so successful in invading novel habitats.
It is generally assumed that the community of pathogens encountered by non-native species in novel environments is different from that of their native area. On the one hand (the enemy-release hypothesis), it can be hypothesized that non-native species, when they arrive into a novel environment, will be relaxed from the pressure imposed by their native pathogens because local pathogens are not adapted (and hence do not infect) to this novel host. Because immune defence against pathogens is highly costly, non-native species establishing into a novel environment could hence reallocate these costs to other functions such as fecundity or dispersal apparatus. This scenario has been termed the “evolution of increased competitive ability” (EICA) hypothesis [3]. On the other hand (the EICA-refined hypothesis [4]), one can assume that invaders will encounter new pathogens in newly established areas, and will allocate energy toward cost-effective immune pathways to permit allocating a non-negligible amount of energy toward other functions. Finally, a last hypothesis (the “immune protection” hypothesis) assumes major changes in pathogen composition between native and invaded areas, which should lead to an overall increase in immune investment by the native species to successfully invade novel environments [4]. This last hypothesis suggests that only non-native species being able to take up the associated costs of immunity will be successful invaders.
The role of immunity in invasion success has yet been poorly investigated, mainly because of the difficulty to simultaneously analyse multiple immune pathways [4]. Charbonnel and collaborators [2] overpass this difficulty by screening all genes expressed (using a whole RNA sequencing approach) in an immune tissue: the spleen. They do so along the invasion routes of two sympatric invasive rodents in Africa and compare anciently and newly invaded areas (respectively). For one of the two species (the house mouse), they found a high number of immune-related genes to be up-regulated in newly invaded areas compared to anciently invaded areas. All categories of immune pathways (costly and cost-effective) were up-regulated, suggesting an overall increase in immune investment in the mouse, which corroborates the “immune protection” hypothesis. For the black rat, patterns of gene expression were somewhat different, with much less pronounced differentiation in gene expression between newly and anciently invaded areas. Among the few differentiated genes, a few were associated to immune responses and some of theses genes were even down-regulated in the newly invaded areas. This pattern may actually corroborate the EICA hypothesis, although it could alternatively suggest that stochastic processes (drift) associated to recent decrease in population size (which is expected during a colonisation event) are more important than selection imposed by pathogens in shaping patterns of immune gene expression.
Overall, this study [2] suggests (i) that immune-related traits are important in predicting invasion success and (ii) that two successful species with a similar invasion history and living in similar environments can use different life-history strategies to reach the same success. This later finding is particularly relevant and intriguing as it suggests that the traits and strategies deployed by species to colonise new habitats might actually be idiosyncratic, and that, if general trends actually emerge in regards of traits predicting the success of invaders, the devil might actually be into the details. Comparative studies are extremely important to identify the general rules and the specificities sustaining actual patterns, but these approaches are yet poorly used in biological invasions (at least empirically). The work presented by Charbonnel and colleagues [2] calls for future comparative studies performed at multiple spatial scales (native vs. non-native areas, anciently vs. recently invaded areas), multiple taxonomic resolutions and across multiple traits (to search for trade-offs), so that the success of invasive species can be properly understood and predicted.

References

[1] Jeschke, J. M., & Strayer, D. L. (2006). Determinants of vertebrate invasion success in Europe and North America. Global Change Biology, 12(9), 1608-1619. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2006.01213.x
[2] Blossey, B., & Notzold, R. (1995). Evolution of increased competitive ability in invasive nonindigenous plants: a hypothesis. Journal of Ecology, 83(5), 887-889. doi: 10.2307/2261425
[3] Charbonnel, N., Galan, M., Tatard, C., Loiseau, A., Diagne, C. A., Dalecky, A., Parrinello, H., Rialle, S., Severac, D., & Brouat, C. (2019). Differential immune gene expression associated with contemporary range expansion of two invasive rodents in Senegal. bioRxiv, 442160, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/442160
[4] Lee, K. A., & Klasing, K. C. (2004). A role for immunology in invasion biology. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 19(10), 523-529. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2004.07.012

Differential immune gene expression associated with contemporary range expansion of two invasive rodents in SenegalNathalie Charbonnel, Maxime Galan, Caroline Tatard, Anne Loiseau, Christophe Diagne, Ambroise Dalecky, Hugues Parrinello, Stephanie Rialle, Dany Severac and Carine Brouat<p>Background: Biological invasions are major anthropogenic changes associated with threats to biodiversity and health. What determines the successful establishment of introduced populations still remains unsolved. Here we explore the appealing as...Biological invasions, Eco-immunology & Immunity, Population ecologySimon Blanchet2018-10-14 12:21:52 View