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19 Dec 2020
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Hough transform implementation to evaluate the morphological variability of the moon jellyfish (Aurelia spp.)

A new member of the morphometrics jungle to better monitor vulnerable lagoons

Recommended by based on reviews by Julien Claude and 1 anonymous reviewer

In the recent years, morphometrics, the quantitative description of shape and its covariation [1] gained considerable momentum in evolutionary ecology. Using the form of organisms to describe, classify and try to understand their diversity can be traced back at least to Aristotle. More recently, two successive revolutions rejuvenated this idea [1–3]: first, a proper mathematical refoundation of the theory of shape, then a technical revolution in the apparatus able to acquire raw data. By using a feature extraction method and planning its massive use on data acquired by aerial drones, the study by Lacaux and colleagues [4] retraces this curse of events.
The radial symmetry of Aurelia spp. jelly fish, a common species complex, is affected by stress and more largely by environmental variations, such as pollution exposition. Aurelia spp. normally present four gonads so that the proportion of non-tetramerous individuals in a population has been proposed as a biomarker [5,6].
In this study, the authors implemented the Hough transform to largely automate the detection of the gonads in Aurelia spp. Such use of the Hough transform, a long-used approach to identify shapes through edge detection, is new to morphometrics. Here, the Aurelia spp. gonads are identified as ellipses from which aspect descriptors can be derived, and primarily counted and thus can be used to quantify the proportion of individuals presenting body plans disorders.

The sample sizes studied here were too low to allow finer-grained ecophysiological investigations. That being said, the proof-of-concept is convincing and this paper paths the way for an operational and innovative approach to the ecological monitoring of sensible aquatic ecosystems.


[1] Kendall, D. G. (1989). A survey of the statistical theory of shape. Statistical Science, 87-99. doi:
[2] Rohlf, F. J., and Marcus, L. F. (1993). A revolution morphometrics. Trends in ecology & evolution, 8(4), 129-132. doi:
[3] Adams, D. C., Rohlf, F. J., and Slice, D. E. (2004). Geometric morphometrics: ten years of progress following the ‘revolution’. Italian Journal of Zoology, 71(1), 5-16. doi:
[4] Lacaux, C., Desolneux, A., Gadreaud, J., Martin-Garin, B. and Thiéry, A. (2020) Hough transform implementation to evaluate the morphological variability of the moon jellyfish (Aurelia spp.). bioRxiv, 2020.03.11.986984, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology. doi:
[5] Gershwin, L. A. (1999). Clonal and population variation in jellyfish symmetry. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 79(6), 993-1000. doi:
[6] Gadreaud, J., Martin-Garin, B., Artells, E., Levard, C., Auffan, M., Barkate, A.-L. and Thiéry, A. (2017) The moon jellyfish as a new bioindicator: impact of silver nanoparticles on the morphogenesis. In: Mariottini GL, editor. Jellyfish: ecology, distribution patterns and human interactions. Nova Science Publishers; 2017. pp. 277–292.

Hough transform implementation to evaluate the morphological variability of the moon jellyfish (Aurelia spp.)Céline Lacaux, Agnès Desolneux, Justine Gadreaud, Bertrand Martin-Garin and Alain Thiéry<p>Variations of the animal body plan morphology and morphometry can be used as prognostic tools of their habitat quality. The potential of the moon jellyfish (Aurelia spp.) as a new model organism has been poorly tested. However, as a tetramerous...MorphometricsVincent Bonhomme2020-03-18 17:40:51 View
28 Mar 2019
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Direct and transgenerational effects of an experimental heat wave on early life stages in a freshwater snail

Escargots cooked just right: telling apart the direct and indirect effects of heat waves in freashwater snails

Recommended by based on reviews by Amanda Lynn Caskenette, Kévin Tougeron and arnaud sentis

Amongst the many challenges and forms of environmental change that organisms face in our era of global change, climate change is perhaps one of the most straightforward and amenable to investigation. First, measurements of day-to-day temperatures are relatively feasible and accessible, and predictions regarding the expected trends in Earth surface temperature are probably some of the most reliable we have. It appears quite clear, in particular, that beyond the overall increase in average temperature, the heat waves locally experienced by organisms in their natural habitats are bound to become more frequent, more intense, and more long-lasting [1]. Second, it is well appreciated that temperature is a major environmental factor with strong impacts on different facets of organismal development and life-history [2-4]. These impacts have reasonably clear mechanistic underpinnings, with definite connections to biochemistry, physiology, and considerations on energetics. Third, since variation in temperature is a challenge already experienced by natural populations across their current and historical ranges, it is not a completely alien form of environmental change. Therefore, we already learnt quite a lot about it in several species, and so did the species, as they may be expected to have evolved dedicated adaptive mechanisms to respond to elevated temperatures. Last, but not least, temperature is quite amenable to being manipulated as an experimental factor.
For all these reasons, experimental studies of the consequences of increased temperature hit some of a sweetspot and are a source of very nice research, in many different organisms. The work by Leicht and Seppala [5] complements a sequence of earlier studies by this group, using the freshwater snail Lymnaea stagnalis as their model system [6-7].
In the present study, the authors investigate how a heat wave (a period of abnormally elevated temperature, here 25°C versus a normal 15°C) may have indirect effects on the next generation, through maternal effects. They question whether such indirect effects exist, and if they exist, how they compare, in terms of effect size, with the (more straightforward) direct effects observed in individuals that directly experience a heat wave. Transgenerational effects are well-known to occur following periods of physiological stress, and might thus have non negligible contributions to the overall effect of warming.
In this freshwater snail, heat has very strong direct effects: mortality increases at high temperature, but survivors grow much bigger, with a greater propensity to lay eggs and a (spectacular) three-fold increase in the number of eggs laid [6]. Considering that, it is easy to consider that transgenerational effects should be small game. And indeed, the present study also observes the big and obvious direct effects of elevated temperature: higher mortality, but greater propensity to oviposit. However, it was also found that the eggs were smaller if from mothers exposed to high temperature, with a correspondingly smaller size of hatchlings. This suggests that a heat wave causes the snails to lay more eggs, but smaller ones, reminiscent of a size-number trade-off. Unfortunately, clutch size could not be measured in this experiment, so this cannot be investigated any further. For this trait, the indirect effect may indeed be regarded as small game : eggs and hatchlings were about 15 % smaller, an effect size pretty small compared to the mammoth direct positive effect of temperature on shell length (see Figure 4 ; and also [6]). The same is true for developmental time (Figure 3).
However, for some traits the story was different. In particular, it was found that the (smaller) eggs produced from heated mothers were more likely to hatch by almost 10% (Figure 2). Here the indirect effect not only goes against the direct effect (hatching rate is lower at high temperature), but it also has similar effect size. As a consequence, taking into account both the indirect and direct effects, hatching success is essentially the same at 15°C and 25°C (Figure 2). Survival also had comparable effect sizes for direct and indirect effects. Indeed, survival was reduced by about 20% regardless of whom endured the heat stress (the focal individual or her mother; Figure 4). Interestingly, the direct and indirect effects were not quite cumulative: if a mother experienced a heat wave, heating up the offspring did not do much more damage, as though the offspring were ‘adapted’ to the warmer conditions (but keep in mind that, surprisingly, the authors’ stats did not find a significant interaction; Table 2).
At the end of the day, even though at first heat seems a relatively simple and understandable component of environmental change, this study shows how varied its effects can be effects on different components of individual fitness. The overall impact most likely is a mix of direct and indirect effects, of shifts along allocation trade-offs, and of maladaptive and adaptive responses, whose overall ecological significance is not so easy to grasp. That said, this study shows that direct and indirect (maternal) effects can sometimes go against one another and have similar intensities. Indirect effects should therefore not be overlooked in this kind of studies. It also gives a hint of what an interesting challenge it is to understand the adaptive or maladaptive nature of organism responses to elevated temperatures, and to evaluate their ultimate fitness consequences.


[1] Meehl, G. A., & Tebaldi, C. (2004). More intense, more frequent, and longer lasting heat waves in the 21st century. Science (New York, N.Y.), 305(5686), 994–997. doi: 10.1126/science.1098704
[2] Adamo, S. A., & Lovett, M. M. E. (2011). Some like it hot: the effects of climate change on reproduction, immune function and disease resistance in the cricket Gryllus texensis. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 214(Pt 12), 1997–2004. doi: 10.1242/jeb.056531
[3] Deutsch, C. A., Tewksbury, J. J., Tigchelaar, M., Battisti, D. S., Merrill, S. C., Huey, R. B., & Naylor, R. L. (2018). Increase in crop losses to insect pests in a warming climate. Science (New York, N.Y.), 361(6405), 916–919. doi: 10.1126/science.aat3466
[4] Sentis, A., Hemptinne, J.-L., & Brodeur, J. (2013). Effects of simulated heat waves on an experimental plant–herbivore–predator food chain. Global Change Biology, 19(3), 833–842. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12094
[5] Leicht, K., & Seppälä, O. (2019). Direct and transgenerational effects of an experimental heat wave on early life stages in a freshwater snail. BioRxiv, 449777, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/449777
[6] Leicht, K., Seppälä, K., & Seppälä, O. (2017). Potential for adaptation to climate change: family-level variation in fitness-related traits and their responses to heat waves in a snail population. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 17(1), 140. doi: 10.1186/s12862-017-0988-x
[7] Leicht, K., Jokela, J., & Seppälä, O. (2013). An experimental heat wave changes immune defense and life history traits in a freshwater snail. Ecology and Evolution, 3(15), 4861–4871. doi: 10.1002/ece3.874

Direct and transgenerational effects of an experimental heat wave on early life stages in a freshwater snailKatja Leicht, Otto Seppälä<p>Global climate change imposes a serious threat to natural populations of many species. Estimates of the effects of climate change‐mediated environmental stresses are, however, often based only on their direct effects on organisms, and neglect t...Climate changevincent calcagno2018-10-22 22:19:22 View
06 Sep 2019
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Assessing metacommunity processes through signatures in spatiotemporal turnover of community composition

On the importance of temporal meta-community dynamics for our understanding of assembly processes

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

The processes that trigger community assembly are still in the centre of ecological interest. While prior work mostly focused on spatial patterns of co-occurrence within a meta-community framework [reviewed in 1, 2] recent studies also include temporal patterns of community composition [e.g. 3, 4, 5, 6]. In this preprint [7], Franck Jabot and co-workers extend they prior approaches to quasi neutral community assembly [8, 9, 10] and develop an analytical framework of spatial and temporal diversity turnover. A simple and heuristic path model for beta diversity and an extended ecological drift model serve as starting points. The model can be seen as a counterpart to Ulrich et al. [5]. These authors implemented competitive hierarchies into their neutral meta-community model while the present paper focuses on environmental filtering. Most important, the model and parameterization of four empirical data sets on aquatic plant and animal meta-communities used by Jabot et al. returned a consistent high influence of environmental stochasticity on species turnover. Of course, this major result does not come to a surprise. As typical for this kind of models it depends also to a good deal on the initial model settings. It nevertheless makes a strong conceptual point for the importance of environmental variability over dispersal and richness effects. One interesting side effect regards the impact of richness differences (ΔS). Jabot et al. interpret this as a ‘nuisance variable’ as they do not have a stringent explanation. Of course, it might be a pure statistical bias introduced by the Soerensen metric of turnover that is normalized by richness. However, I suspect that there is more behind the ΔS effect. Richness differences are generally associated with respective differences in total abundances and introduce source – sink dynamics that inevitably shape subsequent colonization – extinction processes. It would be interesting to see whether ΔS alone is able to trigger observed patterns of community assembly and community composition. Such an analysis would require partitioning of species turnover into richness and nestedness effects [11]. I encourage Jabot et al. to undertake such an effort.
The present paper is also another call to include temporal population variability into metapopulation models for a better understanding of the dynamics and triggering of community assembly. In a next step, competitive interactions should be included into the model to infer the relative importance of both factors.


[1] Götzenberger, L. et al. (2012). Ecological assembly rules in plant communities—approaches, patterns and prospects. Biological reviews, 87(1), 111-127. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2011.00187.x
[2] Ulrich, W., & Gotelli, N. J. (2013). Pattern detection in null model analysis. Oikos, 122(1), 2-18. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2012.20325.x
[3] Grilli, J., Barabás, G., Michalska-Smith, M. J., & Allesina, S. (2017). Higher-order interactions stabilize dynamics in competitive network models. Nature, 548(7666), 210. doi: 10.1038/nature23273
[4] Nuvoloni, F. M., Feres, R. J. F., & Gilbert, B. (2016). Species turnover through time: colonization and extinction dynamics across metacommunities. The American Naturalist, 187(6), 786-796. doi: 10.1086/686150
[5] Ulrich, W., Jabot, F., & Gotelli, N. J. (2017). Competitive interactions change the pattern of species co‐occurrences under neutral dispersal. Oikos, 126(1), 91-100. doi: 10.1111/oik.03392
[6] Dobramysl, U., Mobilia, M., Pleimling, M., & Täuber, U. C. (2018). Stochastic population dynamics in spatially extended predator–prey systems. Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and Theoretical, 51(6), 063001. doi: 10.1088/1751-8121/aa95c7
[7] Jabot, F., Laroche, F., Massol, F., Arthaud, F., Crabot, J., Dubart, M., Blanchet, S., Munoz, F., David, P., and Datry, T. (2019). Assessing metacommunity processes through signatures in spatiotemporal turnover of community composition. bioRxiv, 480335, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/480335
[8] Jabot, F., & Chave, J. (2011). Analyzing tropical forest tree species abundance distributions using a nonneutral model and through approximate Bayesian inference. The American Naturalist, 178(2), E37-E47. doi: 10.1086/660829
[9] Jabot, F., & Lohier, T. (2016). Non‐random correlation of species dynamics in tropical tree communities. Oikos, 125(12), 1733-1742. doi: 10.1111/oik.03103
[10] Datry, T., Bonada, N., & Heino, J. (2016). Towards understanding the organisation of metacommunities in highly dynamic ecological systems. Oikos, 125(2), 149-159. doi: 10.1111/oik.02922
[11] Baselga, A. (2010). Partitioning the turnover and nestedness components of beta diversity. Global ecology and biogeography, 19(1), 134-143. doi: 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2009.00490.x

Assessing metacommunity processes through signatures in spatiotemporal turnover of community compositionFranck Jabot, Fabien Laroche, Francois Massol, Florent Arthaud, Julie Crabot, Maxime Dubart, Simon Blanchet, Francois Munoz, Patrice David, Thibault Datry<p>Although metacommunity ecology has been a major field of research in the last decades, with both conceptual and empirical outputs, the analysis of the temporal dynamics of metacommunities has only emerged recently and still consists mostly of r...Biodiversity, Coexistence, Community ecology, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & MetapopulationsWerner Ulrich2018-11-29 14:58:54 View
12 May 2022
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Riparian forest restoration as sources of biodiversity and ecosystem functions in anthropogenic landscapes

Complex but positive diversity - ecosystem functioning relationships in Riparian tropical forests

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Many ecological drivers can impact ecosystem functionality and multifunctionality, with the latter describing the joint impact of different functions on ecosystem performance and services. It is now generally accepted that taxonomically richer ecosystems are better able to sustain high aggregate functionality measures, like energy transfer, productivity or carbon storage (Buzhdygan 2020, Naeem et al. 2009), and different ecosystem services (Marselle et al. 2021) than those that are less rich. Antonini et al. (2022) analysed an impressive dataset on animal and plant richness of tropical riparian forests and abundances, together with data on key soil parameters. Their work highlights the importance of biodiversity on functioning, while accounting for a manifold of potentially covarying drivers. Although the key result might not come as a surprise, it is a useful contribution to the diversity - ecosystem functioning topic, because it is underpinned with data from tropical habitats. To date, most analyses have focused on temperate habitats, using data often obtained from controlled experiments. 

The paper also highlights that diversity–functioning relationships are complicated. Drivers of functionality vary from site to site and each measure of functioning, including parameters as demonstrated here, can be influenced by very different sets of predictors, often associated with taxonomic and trait diversity. Single correlative comparisons of certain aspects of diversity and functionality might therefore return very different results. Antonini et al. (2022) show that, in general, using 22 predictors of functional diversity, varying predictor subsets were positively associated with soil functioning. Correlational analyses alone cannot resolve the question of causal link. Future studies should therefore focus on inferring precise mechanisms behind the observed relationships, and the environmental constraints on predictor subset composition and strength.


Antonini Y, Beirão MV, Costa FV, Azevedo CS, Wojakowski MM, Kozovits AR, Pires MRS, Sousa HC de, Messias MCTB, Fujaco MA, Leite MGP, Vidigal JP, Monteiro GF, Dirzo R (2022) Riparian forest restoration as sources of biodiversity and ecosystem functions in anthropogenic landscapes. bioRxiv, 2021.09.08.459375, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

Buzhdygan OY, Meyer ST, Weisser WW, Eisenhauer N, Ebeling A, Borrett SR, Buchmann N, Cortois R, De Deyn GB, de Kroon H, Gleixner G, Hertzog LR, Hines J, Lange M, Mommer L, Ravenek J, Scherber C, Scherer-Lorenzen M, Scheu S, Schmid B, Steinauer K, Strecker T, Tietjen B, Vogel A, Weigelt A, Petermann JS (2020) Biodiversity increases multitrophic energy use efficiency, flow and storage in grasslands. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 4, 393–405.

Marselle MR, Hartig T, Cox DTC, de Bell S, Knapp S, Lindley S, Triguero-Mas M, Böhning-Gaese K, Braubach M, Cook PA, de Vries S, Heintz-Buschart A, Hofmann M, Irvine KN, Kabisch N, Kolek F, Kraemer R, Markevych I, Martens D, Müller R, Nieuwenhuijsen M, Potts JM, Stadler J, Walton S, Warber SL, Bonn A (2021) Pathways linking biodiversity to human health: A conceptual framework. Environment International, 150, 106420.

Naeem S, Bunker DE, Hector A, Loreau M, Perrings C (Eds.) (2009) Biodiversity, Ecosystem Functioning, and Human Wellbeing: An Ecological and Economic Perspective. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Riparian forest restoration as sources of biodiversity and ecosystem functions in anthropogenic landscapesYasmine Antonini, Marina Vale Beirao, Fernanda Vieira Costa, Cristiano Schetini Azevedo, Maria Wojakowski, Alessandra Kozovits, Maria Rita Silverio Pires, Hildeberto Caldas Sousa, Maria Cristina Teixeira Braga Messias, Maria Augusta Goncalves Fuja...<ol> <li style="text-align: justify;">Restoration of tropical riparian forests is challenging, since these ecosystems are the most diverse, dynamic, and complex physical and biological terrestrial habitats. This study tested whether biodiversity ...Biodiversity, Community ecology, Ecological successions, Ecosystem functioning, Terrestrial ecologyWerner Ulrich2021-09-10 10:51:23 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
23 Oct 2023
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The Moa the Merrier: Resolving When the Dinornithiformes Went Extinct

Are Moas ancient Lazarus species?

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Tim Coulson and Richard Holdaway

Ancient human colonisation often had catastrophic consequences for native fauna. The North American Megafauna went extinct shortly after humans entered the scene and Madagascar suffered twice, before 1500 CE and around 1700 CE after the Malayan and European colonisation. Maoris colonised New Zealand by about 1300 and a century later the giant Moa birds (Dinornithiformes) sharply declined. But did they went extinct or are they an ancient example of Lazarus species, species thought to be extinct but still alive? Scattered anecdotes of late sightings of living Moas even up to the 20th century seem to suggest the latter. The quest for later survival has also a criminal aspect. Who did it, the Maoris or the white colonisers in the late 18th century?

The present work by Floe Foxon (2023) tries to settle this question. It uses a survival modelling approach and an assessment of the reliability of nearly 100 alleged sightings. The model favours the so-called overkill hypothesis, that Moas probably went extinct in the 15th century shortly after Maori colonisation. A small but still remarkable probability remained for survival up to 1770. Later sightings turned out to be highly unreliable.

The paper is important as it does not rely on subjective discussions of late sightings but on a probabilistic modelling approach with sensitivity testing prior applied to marsupials. As common in probabilistic approaches, the study does not finally settle the case. A probability of as much as 20% remained for late survival after 1450 CE. This is not improbable as New Zealand was sufficiently unexplored in those days to harbour a few refuges for late survivors. However, in this respect, it is a bit unfortunate that at the end of the discussion, the paper cites Heuvelmans, the founder of cryptozoology, and it mentions the ivory-billed woodpecker, which has recently been redetected. No Moa remains were found after 1450.


Foxon F (2023) The Moa the Merrier: Resolving When the Dinornithiformes Went Extinct. bioRxiv, 2023.08.07.552261, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

The Moa the Merrier: Resolving When the Dinornithiformes Went ExtinctFloe Foxon<p style="text-align: justify;">The Moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes) are an extinct group of the ratite clade from New Zealand. The overkill hypothesis asserts that the first New Zealand settlers hunted the Moa to extinction by 1450 CE, whereas the st...Conservation biology, Human impact, Statistical ecology, ZoologyWerner Ulrich Tim Coulson, Richard Holdaway2023-08-08 17:14:30 View