Submit a preprint

Latest recommendationsrsstwitter

IdTitleAuthorsAbstractPictureThematic fieldsRecommender▲ReviewersSubmission date
11 Aug 2023
article picture

Implementing Code Review in the Scientific Workflow: Insights from Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

A handy “How to” review code for ecologists and evolutionary biologists

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Serena Caplins and 1 anonymous reviewer

Ivimey Cook et al. (2023) provide a concise and useful “How to” review code for researchers in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology, where the systematic review of code is not yet standard practice during the peer review of articles. Consequently, this article is full of tips for authors on how to make their code easier to review. This handy article applies not only to ecology and evolutionary biology, but to many fields that are learning how to make code more reproducible and shareable. Taking this step toward transparency is key to improving research rigor (Brito et al. 2020) and is a necessary step in helping make research trustable by the public (Rosman et al. 2022).


Brito, J. J., Li, J., Moore, J. H., Greene, C. S., Nogoy, N. A., Garmire, L. X., & Mangul, S. (2020). Recommendations to enhance rigor and reproducibility in biomedical research. GigaScience, 9(6), giaa056.

Ivimey-Cook, E. R., Pick, J. L., Bairos-Novak, K., Culina, A., Gould, E., Grainger, M., Marshall, B., Moreau, D., Paquet, M., Royauté, R., Sanchez-Tojar, A., Silva, I., Windecker, S. (2023). Implementing Code Review in the Scientific Workflow: Insights from Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. EcoEvoRxiv, ver 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community In Ecology.

Rosman, T., Bosnjak, M., Silber, H., Koßmann, J., & Heycke, T. (2022). Open science and public trust in science: Results from two studies. Public Understanding of Science, 31(8), 1046-1062.

Implementing Code Review in the Scientific Workflow: Insights from Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyEdward Ivimey-Cook, Joel Pick, Kevin Bairos-Novak, Antica Culina, Elliot Gould, Matthew Grainger, Benjamin Marshall, David Moreau, Matthieu Paquet, Raphaël Royauté, Alfredo Sanchez-Tojar, Inês Silva, Saras Windecker<p>Code review increases reliability and improves reproducibility of research. As such, code review is an inevitable step in software development and is common in fields such as computer science. However, despite its importance, code review is not...Meta-analyses, Statistical ecologyCorina Logan2023-05-19 15:54:01 View
19 Aug 2020
article picture

Three points of consideration before testing the effect of patch connectivity on local species richness: patch delineation, scaling and variability of metrics

Good practice guidelines for testing species-isolation relationships in patch-matrix systems

Recommended by based on reviews by 3 anonymous reviewers

Conservation biology is strongly rooted in the theory of island biogeography (TIB). In island systems where the ocean constitutes the inhospitable matrix, TIB predicts that species richness increases with island size as extinction rates decrease with island area (the species-area relationship, SAR), and species richness increases with connectivity as colonisation rates decrease with island isolation (the species-isolation relationship, SIR)[1]. In conservation biology, patches of habitat (habitat islands) are often regarded as analogous to islands within an unsuitable matrix [2], and SAR and SIR concepts have received much attention as habitat loss and habitat fragmentation are increasingly threatening biodiversity [3,4].
The existence of SAR in patch-matrix systems has been confirmed in several studies, while the relative importance of SIR remains debated [2,5] and empirical evidence is mixed. For example, Thiele et al. [6] showed that connectivity effects are trait specific and more important to explain species richness of short-distant dispersers and of specialist species for which the matrix is less permeable. Some authors have also cautioned that the relative support for or against the existence of SIR may depend on methodological decisions related to connectivity metrics, patch classification, scaling decisions and sample size [7].
In this preprint, Laroche and colleagues [8] argue that methodological limits should be fully understood before questioning the validity of SIR in patch-matrix systems. In consequence, they used a virtual ecologist approach [9] to qualify different methodological aspects and derive good practice guidelines related to patch delineation, patch connectivity indices, and scaling of indices with species dispersal distance.
Laroche et al. [8] simulated spatially-explicit neutral meta-communities with up to 100 species in artificial fractal (patch-matrix) landscapes. Each habitat cell could hold up to 100 individuals. In each time step, some individuals died and were replaced by an individual from the regional species pool depending on relative local and regional abundance as well as dispersal distance to the nearest source habitat cell. Different scenarios were run with varying degrees of spatial autocorrelation in the fractal landscape (determining the clumpiness of habitat cells), the proportion of suitable habitat, and the species dispersal distances (with all species showing the same dispersal distance). Laroche and colleagues then sampled species richness in the simulated meta-communities, computed different local connectivity indices for the simulated landscapes (Buffer index with different radii, dIICflux index and dF index, and, finally, related species richness to connectivity.
The complex simulations allowed Laroche and colleagues [8] to test how methodological choices and landscape features may affect SIR. Overall, they found that patch delineation is crucial and should be fine enough to exclude potential within-patch dispersal limitations, and the scaling of the connectivity indices (in simplified words, the window of analyses) should be tailored to the dispersal distance of the species group. Of course, tuning the scaling parameters will be more complicated when dispersal distances vary across species but overall these results corroborate empirical findings that SIR effects are trait specific [6]. Additionally, the results by Laroche and colleagues [8] indicated that indices based on Euclidian rather than topological distance are more performant and that evidence of SIR is more likely if Buffer indices are highly variable between sampled patches.
Although the study is very technical due to the complex simulation approach and the different methods tested, I hope it will not only help guiding methodological choices but also inspire ecologists to further test or even revisit SIR (and SAR) hypotheses for different systems. Also, Laroche and colleagues propose many interesting avenues that could still be explored in this context, for example determining the optimal grid resolution for the patch delineation in empirical studies.


[1] MacArthur, R.H. and Wilson, E.O. (1967) The theory of island biogeography. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
[2] Fahrig, L. (2013) Rethinking patch size and isolation effects: the habitat amount hypothesis. Journal of Biogeography, 40(9), 1649-1663. doi: 10.1111/jbi.12130
[3] Hanski, I., Zurita, G.A., Bellocq, M.I. and Rybicki J (2013) Species–fragmented area relationship. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A., 110(31), 12715-12720. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1311491110
[4] Giladi, I., May, F., Ristow, M., Jeltsch, F. and Ziv, Y. (2014) Scale‐dependent species–area and species–isolation relationships: a review and a test study from a fragmented semi‐arid agro‐ecosystem. Journal of Biogeography, 41(6), 1055-1069. doi: 10.1111/jbi.12299
[5] Hodgson, J.A., Moilanen, A., Wintle, B.A. and Thomas, C.D. (2011) Habitat area, quality and connectivity: striking the balance for efficient conservation. Journal of Applied Ecology, 48(1), 148-152. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01919.x
[6] Thiele, J., Kellner, S., Buchholz, S., and Schirmel, J. (2018) Connectivity or area: what drives plant species richness in habitat corridors? Landscape Ecology, 33, 173-181. doi: 10.1007/s10980-017-0606-8
[7] Vieira, M.V., Almeida-Gomes, M., Delciellos, A.C., Cerqueira, R. and Crouzeilles, R. (2018) Fair tests of the habitat amount hypothesis require appropriate metrics of patch isolation: An example with small mammals in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Biological Conservation, 226, 264-270. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2018.08.008
[8] Laroche, F., Balbi, M., Grébert, T., Jabot, F. and Archaux, F. (2020) Three points of consideration before testing the effect of patch connectivity on local species richness: patch delineation, scaling and variability of metrics. bioRxiv, 640995, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/640995
[9] Zurell, D., Berger, U., Cabral, J.S., Jeltsch, F., Meynard, C.N., Münkemüller, T., Nehrbass, N., Pagel, J., Reineking, B., Schröder, B. and Grimm, V. (2010) The virtual ecologist approach: simulating data and observers. Oikos, 119(4), 622-635. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2009.18284.x

Three points of consideration before testing the effect of patch connectivity on local species richness: patch delineation, scaling and variability of metricsF. Laroche, M. Balbi, T. Grébert, F. Jabot & F. Archaux<p>The Theory of Island Biogeography (TIB) promoted the idea that species richness within sites depends on site connectivity, i.e. its connection with surrounding potential sources of immigrants. TIB has been extended to a wide array of fragmented...Biodiversity, Community ecology, Dispersal & Migration, Landscape ecology, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & MetapopulationsDamaris Zurell2019-05-20 16:03:47 View
22 Apr 2021
article picture

The hidden side of the Allee effect: correlated demographic traits and extinction risk in experimental populations

Allee effects under the magnifying glass

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Tom Van Dooren, Dani Oro and 1 anonymous reviewer

For decades, the effect of population density on individual performance has been studied by ecologists using both theoretical, observational, and experimental approaches. The generally accepted definition of the Allee effect is a positive correlation between population density and average individual fitness that occurs at low population densities, while individual fitness is typically decreased through intraspecific competition for resources at high population densities.  Allee effects are very relevant in conservation biology because species at low population densities would then be subjected to much higher extinction risks. 

However, due to all kinds of stochasticity, low population numbers are always more vulnerable to extinction than larger population sizes. This effect by itself cannot be necessarily ascribed to lower individual performance at low densities, i.e, Allee effects. Vercken and colleagues (2021) address this challenging question and measure the extent to which average individual fitness is affected by population density analyzing 30 experimental populations. As a model system, they use populations of parasitoid wasps of the genus Trichogramma. They report Allee effect in 8 out 30 experimental populations. Vercken and colleagues's work has several strengths. 

First of all, it is nice to see that they put theory at work. This is a very productive way of using theory in ecology. As a starting point, they look at what simple theoretical population models say about Allee effects (Lewis and Kareiva 1993; Amarasekare 1998; Boukal and Berec 2002). These models invariably predict a one-humped relation between population-density and per-capita growth rate. It is important to remark that pure logistic growth, the paradigm of density-dependence, would never predict such qualitative behavior. It is only when there is a depression of per-capita growth rates at low densities that true Allee effects arise. Second, these authors manage to not only experimentally test this main prediction but also report additional demographic traits that are consistently affected by population density. 

In these wasps, individual performance can be measured in terms of the average number of individuals every adult is able to put into the next generation ---the lambda parameter in their analysis. The first panel in figure 3 shows that the per-capita growth rates are lower in populations presenting Allee effects, the ones showing a one-humped behavior in the relation between per-capita growth rates and population densities (see figure 2). Also other population traits, such maximum population size and exitinction probability, change in a correlated and consistent manner. 

In sum, Vercken and colleagues's results are experimentally solid and based on theory expectations. However, they are very intriguing. They find the signature of Allee effects in only 8 out 30 populations, all from the same genus Trichogramma, and some populations belonging to the same species (from different sampling sites) do not show consistently Allee effects. Where does this population variability comes from? What are the reasons underlying this within- and between-species variability? What are the individual mechanisms driving Allee effects in these populations? Good enough, this piece of work generates more intriguing questions than the question is able to clearly answer. Science is not a collection of final answers but instead good questions are the ones that make science progress. 


Amarasekare P (1998) Allee Effects in Metapopulation Dynamics. The American Naturalist, 152, 298–302.

Boukal DS, Berec L (2002) Single-species Models of the Allee Effect: Extinction Boundaries, Sex Ratios and Mate Encounters. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 218, 375–394.

Lewis MA, Kareiva P (1993) Allee Dynamics and the Spread of Invading Organisms. Theoretical Population Biology, 43, 141–158.

Vercken E, Groussier G, Lamy L, Mailleret L (2021) The hidden side of the Allee effect: correlated demographic traits and extinction risk in experimental populations. HAL, hal-02570868, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer community in Ecology.

The hidden side of the Allee effect: correlated demographic traits and extinction risk in experimental populationsVercken Elodie, Groussier Géraldine, Lamy Laurent, Mailleret Ludovic<p style="text-align: justify;">Because Allee effects (i.e., the presence of positive density-dependence at low population size or density) have major impacts on the dynamics of small populations, they are routinely included in demographic models ...Demography, Experimental ecology, Population ecologyDavid Alonso2020-09-30 16:38:29 View
12 Sep 2023
article picture

Linking intrinsic scales of ecological processes to characteristic scales of biodiversity and functioning patterns

The impact of process at different scales on diversity and ecosystem functioning: a huge challenge

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Shai Pilosof, Gian Marco Palamara and 1 anonymous reviewer

Scale is a big topic in ecology [1]. Environmental variation happens at particular scales. The typical scale at which organisms disperse is species-specific, but, as a first approximation, an ensemble of similar species, for instance, trees, could be considered to share a typical dispersal scale. Finally, characteristic spatial scales of species interactions are, in general, different from the typical scales of dispersal and environmental variation. Therefore, conceptually, we can distinguish these three characteristic spatial scales associated with three different processes: species selection for a given environment (E), dispersal (D), and species interactions (I), respectively.  

From the famous species-area relation to the spatial distribution of biomass and species richness, the different macro-ecological patterns we usually study emerge from an interplay between dispersal and local interactions in a physical environment that constrains species establishment and persistence in every location. To make things even more complicated, local environments are often modified by the species that thrive in them, which establishes feedback loops.  It is usually assumed that local interactions are short-range in comparison with species dispersal, and dispersal scales are typically smaller than the scales at which the environment varies (I < D < E, see [2]), but this should not always be the case. 

The authors of this paper [2] relax this typical assumption and develop a theoretical framework to study how diversity and ecosystem functioning are affected by different relations between the typical scales governing interactions, dispersal, and environmental variation. This is a huge challenge. First, diversity and ecosystem functioning across space and time have been empirically characterized through a wide variety of macro-ecological patterns. Second, accommodating local interactions, dispersal and environmental variation and species environmental preferences to model spatiotemporal dynamics of full ecological communities can be done also in a lot of different ways. One can ask if the particular approach suggested by the authors is the best choice in the sense of producing robust results, this is, results that would be predicted by alternative modeling approaches and mathematical analyses [3]. The recommendation here is to read through and judge by yourself.  

The main unusual assumption underlying the model suggested by the authors is non-local species interactions. They introduce interaction kernels to weigh the strength of the ecological interaction with distance, which gives rise to a system of coupled integro-differential equations. This kernel is the key component that allows for control and varies the scale of ecological interactions. Although this is not new in ecology [4], and certainly has a long tradition in physics ---think about the electric or the gravity field, this approach has been widely overlooked in the development of the set of theoretical frameworks we have been using over and over again in community ecology, such as the Lotka-Volterra equations or, more recently, the metacommunity concept [5].

In Physics, classic fields have been revised to account for the fact that information cannot travel faster than light. In an analogous way, a focal individual cannot feel the presence of distant neighbors instantaneously. Therefore, non-local interactions do not exist in ecological communities. As the authors of this paper point out, they emerge in an effective way as a result of non-random movements, for instance, when individuals go regularly back and forth between environments (see [6], for an application to infectious diseases), or even migrate between regions. And, on top of this type of movement, species also tend to disperse and colonize close (or far) environments. Individual mobility and dispersal are then two types of movements, characterized by different spatial-temporal scales in general. Species dispersal, on the one hand, and individual directed movements underlying species interactions, on the other, are themselves diverse across species, but it is clear that they exist and belong to two distinct categories. 

In spite of the long and rich exchange between the authors' team and the reviewers, it was not finally clear (at least, to me and to one of the reviewers) whether the model for the spatio-temporal dynamics of the ecological community (see Eq (1) in [2]) is only presented as a coupled system of integro-differential equations on a continuous landscape for pedagogical reasons, but then modeled on a discrete regular grid for computational convenience. In the latter case, the system represents a regular network of local communities,  becomes a system of coupled ODEs, and can be numerically integrated through the use of standard algorithms. By contrast,  in the former case, the system is meant to truly represent a community that develops on continuous time and space, as in reaction-diffusion systems. In that case, one should keep in mind that numerical instabilities can arise as an artifact when integrating both local and non-local spatio-temporal systems. Spatial patterns could be then transient or simply result from these instabilities. Therefore, when analyzing spatiotemporal integro-differential equations, special attention should be paid to the use of the right numerical algorithms. The authors share all their code at, and all this can be checked out. In any case, the whole discussion between the authors and the reviewers has inherent value in itself, because it touches on several limitations and/or strengths of the author's approach,  and I highly recommend checking it out and reading it through.

Beyond these methodological issues, extensive model explorations for the different parameter combinations are presented. Several results are reported, but, in practice, what is then the main conclusion we could highlight here among all of them?  The authors suggest that "it will be difficult to manage landscapes to preserve biodiversity and ecosystem functioning simultaneously, despite their causative relationship", because, first, "increasing dispersal and interaction scales had opposing
effects" on these two patterns, and, second, unexpectedly, "ecosystems attained the highest biomass in scenarios which also led to the lowest levels of biodiversity". If these results come to be fully robust, this is, they pass all checks by other research teams trying to reproduce them using alternative approaches, we will have to accept that we should preserve biodiversity on its own rights and not because it enhances ecosystem functioning or provides particular beneficial services to humans. 


[1] Levin, S. A. 1992. The problem of pattern and scale in ecology. Ecology 73:1943–1967.

[2] Yuval R. Zelnik, Matthieu Barbier, David W. Shanafelt, Michel Loreau, Rachel M. Germain. 2023. Linking intrinsic scales of ecological processes to characteristic scales of biodiversity and functioning patterns. bioRxiv, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

[3] Baron, J. W. and Galla, T. 2020. Dispersal-induced instability in complex ecosystems. Nature Communications  11, 6032.

[4] Cushing, J. M. 1977. Integrodifferential equations and delay models in population dynamics 
 Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

[5] M. A. Leibold, M. Holyoak, N. Mouquet, P. Amarasekare, J. M. Chase, M. F. Hoopes, R. D. Holt, J. B. Shurin, R. Law, D. Tilman, M. Loreau, A. Gonzalez. 2004. The metacommunity concept: a framework for multi-scale community ecology. Ecology Letters, 7(7): 601-613.

[6] M. Pardo-Araujo, D. García-García, D. Alonso, and F. Bartumeus. 2023. Epidemic thresholds and human mobility. Scientific reports 13 (1), 11409.

Linking intrinsic scales of ecological processes to characteristic scales of biodiversity and functioning patternsYuval R. Zelnik, Matthieu Barbier, David W. Shanafelt, Michel Loreau, Rachel M. Germain<p style="text-align: justify;">Ecology is a science of scale, which guides our description of both ecological processes and patterns, but we lack a systematic understanding of how process scale and pattern scale are connected. Recent calls for a ...Biodiversity, Community ecology, Dispersal & Migration, Ecosystem functioning, Landscape ecology, Theoretical ecologyDavid Alonso2021-10-13 23:24:45 View
20 Jun 2019
article picture

Sexual segregation in a highly pagophilic and sexually dimorphic marine predator

Sexual segregation in a sexually dimorphic seabird: a matter of spatial scale

Recommended by based on reviews by Dries Bonte and 1 anonymous reviewer

Sexual segregation appears in many taxa and can have important ecological, evolutionary and conservation implications. Sexual segregation can take two forms: either the two sexes specialise in different habitats but share the same area (habitat segregation), or they occupy the same habitat but form separate, unisex groups (social segregation) [1,2]. Segregation would have evolved as a way to avoid, or at least, reduce intersexual competition.
Testing whether social or habitat segregation is at play necessitates the use of combined approaches to determine the spatial scale at which segregation occurs. This enterprise is even more challenging when studying marine species, which travel over long distances to reach their foraging areas. This is what Barbraud et al. [3] have endeavoured on the snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea), a sexually dimorphic, polar seabird. Studying sexual segregation at sea requires tools for indirect measures of habitat use and foraging tactics. During the incubation period, in a colony based at Pointe Geologie, Adelie land, East Antarctica, the team has equipped birds with GPS loggers to analyse habitat use and foraging behaviour. It has also compared short-, mid-, and long-term stable isotopic profiles, from plasma, blood cells, and feather samples, respectively.
Barbraud et al. [3] could not detect any evidence for sexual segregation in space use. Furthermore, the two sexes showed similar δ13C profiles, illustrating similar foraging latitudes, and indicating no sexual segregation at large spatial scales. Snow petrels all forage exclusively in the sea ice environment formed over the deep Antarctic continental shelf. The authors, however, found other forms of segregation: males consistently foraged at higher sea ice concentrations than females. Males also fed on higher trophic levels than females. Therefore, male and female snow petrels segregate at a smaller spatial scale, and use different foraging tactics and diet specialisations. Females also took shorter foraging trips than males, with higher mass gain that strongly benefit from higher sea ice concentration. Mass gain in males increased with the length of their foraging trip at sea ice areas.
The authors conclude that high sea ice concentration offers the most favourable foraging habitat for snow petrels, and thus that intersexual competition may drive females away from high sea ice areas. This study shows that combining information from different tools provides an elegant way of isolating the potential factors driving sexual segregation and the spatial scales at which it occurs.


[1] Conradt, L. (2005). Definitions, hypotheses, models and measures in the study of animal segregation. In Sexual segregation in vertebrates: ecology of the two sexes (Ruckstuhl K.E. and Neuhaus, P. eds). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom. Pp:11–34.
[2] Ruckstuhl, K. E. (2007). Sexual segregation in vertebrates: proximate and ultimate causes. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 47(2), 245-257. doi: 10.1093/icb/icm030
[3] Barbraud, C., Delord, K., Kato, A., Bustamante, P., & Cherel, Y. (2018). Sexual segregation in a highly pagophilic and sexually dimorphic marine predator. bioRxiv, 472431, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended bt PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/472431

Sexual segregation in a highly pagophilic and sexually dimorphic marine predatorChristophe Barbraud, Karine Delord, Akiko Kato, Paco Bustamante, Yves Cherel<p>Sexual segregation is common in many species and has been attributed to intra-specific competition, sex-specific differences in foraging efficiency or in activity budgets and habitat choice. However, very few studies have simultaneously quantif...Foraging, Marine ecologyDenis Réale Dries Bonte, Anonymous2018-11-19 13:40:59 View
08 Aug 2020
article picture

Trophic cascade driven by behavioural fine-tuning as naïve prey rapidly adjust to a novel predator

While the quoll’s away, the mice will play… and the seeds will pay

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

A predator can strongly influence the demography of its prey, which can have profound carryover effects on the trophic network; so-called density-mediated indirect interactions (DMII; Werner and Peacor 2003; Schmitz et al. 2004; Trussell et al. 2006). Furthermore, a novel predator can alter the phenotypes of its prey for traits that will change prey foraging efficiency. These trait-mediated indirect interactions may in turn have cascading effects on the demography and features of the basal resources consumed by the intermediate consumer (TMIII; Werner and Peacor 2003; Schmitz et al. 2004; Trussell et al. 2006), but very few studies have looked for these effects (Trusell et al. 2006). The study “Trophic cascade driven by behavioural fine-tuning as naïve prey rapidly adjust to a novel predator”, by Jolly et al. (2020) is therefore a much-needed addition to knowledge in this field. The authors have profited from a rare introduction of Northern quolls (Dasyurus hallucatus) on an Australian island, to examine both the density-mediated and trait-mediated indirect interactions with grassland melomys (Melomys burtoni) and the vegetation of their woodland habitat.
Jolly et al. (2020) compared melomys populations in four quoll-invaded and three quoll-free sites on the same island. Using capture-mark-recapture methods, they found a lower survival and decreased population size in quoll-invaded sites compared to quoll-free sites. Although they acknowledge that this decline could be attributable to either the direct effects of the predator or to a wildfire that occurred early in the experiment in the quoll-invaded sites, the authors argue that the wildfire alone cannot explain all of their results.
Beyond demographic effects, Jolly et al. (2020) also examined risk taking, foraging behaviour, and predator avoidance in melomys. Quoll presence was first associated with a strong decrease in risk taking in melomys, but the difference disappeared over the three years of study, indicating a possible adjustment by the prey. In quoll-invaded sites, though, melomys continued to be more neophobic than in the quoll-free sites throughout the study. Furthermore, in a seed (i.e. wheat) removal experiment, Jolly et al. (2020) measured how melomys harvested seeds in the presence or absence of predator scents. In both quoll-invaded and quoll-free sites, melomys density increased seed harvest efficiency. Melomys also removed less seeds in quoll-invaded sites than in quoll-free sites, supporting both the DMII and TMII hypotheses. However, in the quoll-invaded sites only, melomys foraged less on predator-scented seed patches than on unscented ones, trading foraging efficiency for an increased safety against predators, and this effect increased across the years. This last result indicates that predators can indirectly influence seed consumption through the trade-off between foraging and predator avoidance, strongly supporting the TMII hypothesis.
Ideally, the authors would have run a nice before-after, impact-control design, but nature does not always allow for ideal experimental designs. Regardless, the results of such an “experiment in the wild” predation study are still valuable, as they are very rare (Trussell et al. 2006), and they provide crucial information on the direct and indirect interactions along a trophic cascade. Furthermore, the authors have effectively addressed any concerns about potential confounding factors, and thus have a convincing argument that their results represent predator-driven demographic and behavioural changes.
One important question remains from an evolutionary ecology standpoint: do the responses of melomys to the presence of quolls represent phenotypically plastic changes or rapid evolutionary changes caused by novel selection pressures? Classically, TMII are assumed to be mostly caused by phenotypic plasticity (Werner and Peacor 2003), and this might be the case when the presence of the predator is historical. Phenotypic plasticity allows quick and reversible adjustments of the prey population to changes in the predator density. When the predator population declines, such rapid phenotypic changes can be reversed, reducing the cost associated with anti-predator behaviour (e.g., lower foraging efficiency) in the absence of predators. In the case of a novel predator, however, short-term evolutionary responses by the prey may play role in the TMII, as they would allow a phenotypic shift in prey’s traits along the trade-off between foraging efficiency and anti-predator response that will probably more advantageous over the longer term, if the predator does not disappear. The authors state that they could not rule out one or the other of these hypotheses. However, future work estimating the relative importance of phenotypic plasticity and evolutionary changes in the quoll-melomys system would be valuable. Phenotypic selection analysis, for example, by estimating the link between survival and the traits measured, might help test for a fitness advantage to altered behaviour in the presence of a predator. Common garden experiments, comparing the quoll-invaded and the quoll-free melomys populations, might also provide information on any potential evolutionary changes caused by predation. More work could also analyse the potential effects on the seed populations. Not only might the reduction in seed predation have consequences on the landscape in the future, as the authors mention, but it may also mean that the seeds themselves could be subject to novel selection pressures, which may affect their phenology, physiology or life history. Off course, the authors will have to switch from wheat to a more natural situation, and evaluate the effects of changes in the melomys population on the feature of the local vegetation and the ecosystem.
Finally, the authors have not yet found that the observed changes in the traits have translated into a demographic rebound for melomys. Here again, I can see an interesting potential for further studies. Should we really expect an evolutionary rescue (Bell and Gonzalez 2009) in this system? Alternatively, should the changes in behaviour be accompanied by permanent changes in life history, such as a slower pace-of-life (Réale et al. 2010) that could possibly lead to lower melomys density?
This paper provides nice in natura evidence for density- and trait-mediated indirect interactions hypotheses. I hope it will be the first of a long series of work on this interesting quoll-melomys system, and that the authors will be able to provide more information on the eco-evolutionary consequences of a novel predator on a trophic network.


-Bell G, Gonzalez A (2009) Evolutionary rescue can prevent extinction following environmental change. Ecology letters, 12(9), 942-948.
-Jolly CJ, Smart AS, Moreen J, Webb JK, Gillespie GR, Phillips BL (2020) Trophic cascade driven by behavioural fine-tuning as naïve prey rapidly adjust to a novel predator. bioRxiv, 856997, ver. 6 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. 10.1101/856997
-Matassa C, Ewanchuk P, Trussell G (2018) Cascading effects of a top predator on intraspecific competition at intermediate and basal trophic levels. Functional Ecology, 32(9), 2241-2252.
-Réale D, Garant D, Humphries MM, Bergeron P, Careau V, Montiglio PO (2010) Personality and the emergence of the pace-of-life syndrome concept at the population level. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365(1560), 4051-4063.
-Schmitz O, Krivan V, Ovadia O (2004) Trophic cascades: the primacy of trait‐mediated indirect interactions. Ecology Letters 7(2), 153-163.
-Trussell G, Ewanchuk P, Matassa C (2006). Habitat effects on the relative importance of trait‐ and density‐mediated indirect interactions. Ecology Letters, 9(11), 1245-1252.
-Werner EE, Peacor SD (2003) A review of trait‐mediated indirect interactions in ecological communities. Ecology, 84(5), 1083-1100.[1083:AROTII]2.0.CO;2

Trophic cascade driven by behavioural fine-tuning as naïve prey rapidly adjust to a novel predatorChris J Jolly, Adam S Smart, John Moreen, Jonathan K Webb, Graeme R Gillespie and Ben L Phillips<p>The arrival of novel predators can trigger trophic cascades driven by shifts in prey numbers. Predators also elicit behavioural change in prey populations, via phenotypic plasticity and/or rapid evolution, and such changes may also contribute t...Behaviour & Ethology, Biological invasions, Evolutionary ecology, Experimental ecology, Foraging, Herbivory, Population ecology, Terrestrial ecology, Tropical ecologyDenis Réale2019-11-27 21:39:44 View
02 Jun 2021
article picture

Identifying drivers of spatio-temporal variation in survival in four blue tit populations

Blue tits surviving in an ever-changing world

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Ana Sanz-Aguilar and Vicente García-Navas

How long individuals live has a large influence on a number of biological processes, both for the individuals themselves as well as for the populations they live in. For a given species, survival is often summarized in curves showing the probability to survive from one age to the next. However, these curves often hide a large amount of variation in survival. Variation can occur from chance, or if individuals have different genotypes or phenotypes that can influence how long they might live, or if environmental conditions are not the same across time or space. Such spatiotemporal variations in the conditions that individuals experience can lead to complex patterns of evolution (Kokko et al. 2017) but because of the difficulties to obtain the relevant data they have not been studied much in natural populations.
In this manuscript, Bastianelli and colleagues (2021) identify which environmental and population conditions are associated with variation in annual survival of blue tits. The analyses are based on an impressive dataset, tracking a total of almost 5500 adults in four populations studied for at least 19 years. The authors describe two core results. First, average annual survival is lower in deciduous forests compared to evergreen forests. The differences in average annual survival between the forest types link with previously described differences, with individuals having larger clutches (Charmantier et al. 2016) and higher aggression (Dubuc-Messier et al. 2017) in the populations where adult survival is lower. Second, there are huge fluctuations from one year to the next in the percentage of individuals surviving which occur similarly in all populations. Even though survival covaried across the four populations, this variation was not associated with any of the local or global climate indices the authors investigated.
Studies like these are fundamental to our understanding of population change. They are important from an applied side as they can reveal the sustainability of populations and inform potential management options. On a basic research side, they reveal how evolution operates in populations. Theoretical studies predict that individuals are often not adapted to average conditions they experience, but either selected to balance the extremes they encounter  or to make the best during harsh conditions when it really matters (Lewontin & Cohen 1969).
This study also opens the door to new research, highlighting that demographic studies should pay attention to variation in survival and other life history traits. For blue tits specifically, the study shows that in order to understand the demography of populations we need a better mechanistic understanding of the environmental and physiological pressures influencing whether individuals die or not to make predictions whether and how climate or other ecological effects shape variation in survival.
Bastianelli O, Robert A, Doutrelant C, Franceschi C de, Giovannini P, Charmantier A (2021) Identifying drivers of spatio-temporal variation in survival in four blue tit populations. bioRxiv, 2021.01.28.428563, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer community in Ecology.

Charmantier A, Doutrelant C, Dubuc-Messier G, Fargevieille A, Szulkin M (2016) Mediterranean blue tits as a case study of local adaptation. Evolutionary Applications, 9, 135–152.

Dubuc-Messier G, Réale D, Perret P, Charmantier A (2017) Environmental heterogeneity and population differences in blue tits personality traits. Behavioral Ecology, 28, 448–459.

Kokko H, Chaturvedi A, Croll D, Fischer MC, Guillaume F, Karrenberg S, Kerr B, Rolshausen G, Stapley J (2017) Can Evolution Supply What Ecology Demands? Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 32, 187–197.

Lewontin RC, Cohen D (1969) On Population Growth in a Randomly Varying Environment. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 62, 1056–1060.

Identifying drivers of spatio-temporal variation in survival in four blue tit populationsOlivier Bastianelli, Alexandre Robert, Claire Doutrelant, Christophe de Franceschi, Pablo Giovannini, Anne Charmantier<p style="text-align: justify;">In a context of rapid climate change, the influence of large-scale and local climate on population demography is increasingly scrutinized, yet studies are usually focused on one population. Demographic parameters, i...Climate change, Demography, Evolutionary ecology, Life history, Population ecologyDieter Lukas2021-01-29 15:24:23 View
25 Oct 2021
article picture

The taxonomic and functional biogeographies of phytoplankton and zooplankton communities across boreal lakes

The difficult interpretation of species co-distribution

Recommended by based on reviews by Anthony Maire and Emilie Macke

Ecology is the study of the distribution of organisms in space and time and their interactions. As such, there is a tradition of studies relating abiotic environmental conditions to species distribution, while another one is concerned by the effects of consumers on the abundance of their resources.  Interestingly, joining the dots appears more difficult than it would suggest: eluding the effect of species interactions on distribution remains one of the greatest challenges to elucidate nowadays (Kissling et al. 2012). Theory suggests that yes, species interactions such as predation and competition should influence range limits (Godsoe et al. 2017), but the common intuition among many biogeographers remains that over large areas such as regions and continents, environmental drivers like temperature and precipitation overwhelm their local effects. Answering this question is of primary importance in the context where species are moving around with climate warming.  Inconsistencies in food web structure may arise with asynchronized movements of consumers and their resources, leading to a major disruption in regulation and potentially ecosystem functioning. Solving this problem, however, remains very challenging because we have to rely on observational data since experiments are hard to perform at the biogeographical scale. 

The study of St-Gelais is an interesting step forward to solve this problem. Their main objective was to assess the strength of the association between phytoplankton and zooplankton communities at a large spatial scale, looking at the spatial covariation of both taxonomic and functional composition. To do so, they undertook a massive survey of more than 100 lakes across three regions of the boreal region of Québec. Species and functional composition were recorded, along with a set of abiotic variables. Classic community ecology at this point. The difficulty they faced was to disentangle the multiple causal relationships involved in the distribution of both trophic levels. Teasing apart bottom-up and top-down forces driving the assembly of plankton communities using observational data is not an easy task. On the one hand, both trophic levels could respond to variations in temperature, nutrient availability and dissolved organic carbon. The interpretation is fairly straightforward if the two levels respond to different factors, but the situation is much more complicated when they do respond similarly. There are potentially three possible underlying scenarios. First, the phyto and zooplankton communities may share the same environmental requirements, thereby generating a joint distribution over gradients such as temperature and nutrient availability. Second, the abiotic environment could drive the distribution of the phytoplankton community, which would then propagate up and influence the distribution of the zooplankton community. Alternatively, the abiotic environment could constrain the distribution of the zooplankton, which could then affect the one of phytoplankton. In addition to all of these factors, St-Gelais et al also consider that dispersal may limit the distribution, well aware of previous studies documenting stronger dispersal limitations for zooplankton communities. 

Unfortunately, there is not a single statistical approach that could be taken from the shelf and used to elucidate drivers of co-distribution. Joint species distribution was once envisioned as a major step forward in this direction (Warton et al. 2015), but there are several limits preventing the direct interpretation that co-occurrence is linked to interactions (Blanchet et al. 2020). Rather, St-Gelais used a variety of multivariate statistics to reveal the structure in their observational data. First, using a Procrustes analysis (a method testing if the spatial variation of one community is correlated to the structure of another community), they found a significant correlation between phytoplankton and zooplankton communities, indicating a taxonomic coupling between the groups. Interestingly, this observation was maintained for functional composition only when interaction-related traits were considered. At this point, these results strongly suggest that interactions are involved in the correlation, but it's hard to decipher between bottom-up and top-down perspectives. A complementary analysis performed with a constrained ordination, per trophic level, provided complementary pieces of information. First observation was that only functional variation was found to be related to the different environmental variables, not taxonomic variation. Despite that trophic levels responded to water quality variables, spatial autocorrelation was more important for zooplankton communities and the two layers appear to respond to different variables. 

It is impossible with those results to formulate a strong conclusion about whether grazing influence the co-distribution of phytoplankton and zooplankton communities. That's the mere nature of observational data. While there is a strong spatial association between them, there are also diverging responses to the different environmental variables considered. But the contrast between taxonomic and functional composition is nonetheless informative and it seems that beyond the idiosyncrasies of species composition, trait distribution may be more informative and general. Perhaps the most original contribution of this study is the hierarchical approach to analyze the data, combined with the simultaneous analysis of taxonomic and functional distributions. Having access to a vast catalog of multivariate statistical techniques, a careful selection of analyses helps revealing key features in the data, rejecting some hypotheses and accepting others. Hopefully, we will see more and more of such multi-trophic approaches to distribution because it is now clear that the factors driving distribution are much more complicated than anticipated in more traditional analyses of community data. Biodiversity is more than a species list, it is also all of the interactions between them, influencing their distribution and abundance (Jordano 2016).


Blanchet FG, Cazelles K, Gravel D (2020) Co-occurrence is not evidence of ecological interactions. Ecology Letters, 23, 1050–1063.

Godsoe W, Jankowski J, Holt RD, Gravel D (2017) Integrating Biogeography with Contemporary Niche Theory. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 32, 488–499.

Jordano P (2016) Chasing Ecological Interactions. PLOS Biology, 14, e1002559.

Kissling WD, Dormann CF, Groeneveld J, Hickler T, Kühn I, McInerny GJ, Montoya JM, Römermann C, Schiffers K, Schurr FM, Singer A, Svenning J-C, Zimmermann NE, O’Hara RB (2012) Towards novel approaches to modelling biotic interactions in multispecies assemblages at large spatial extents. Journal of Biogeography, 39, 2163–2178.

St-Gelais NF, Vogt RJ, Giorgio PA del, Beisner BE (2021) The taxonomic and functional biogeographies of phytoplankton and zooplankton communities across boreal lakes. bioRxiv, 373332, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer community in Ecology.

Warton DI, Blanchet FG, O’Hara RB, Ovaskainen O, Taskinen S, Walker SC, Hui FKC (2015) So Many Variables: Joint Modeling in Community Ecology. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 30, 766–779.

Wisz MS, Pottier J, Kissling WD, Pellissier L, Lenoir J, Damgaard CF, Dormann CF, Forchhammer MC, Grytnes J-A, Guisan A, Heikkinen RK, Høye TT, Kühn I, Luoto M, Maiorano L, Nilsson M-C, Normand S, Öckinger E, Schmidt NM, Termansen M, Timmermann A, Wardle DA, Aastrup P, Svenning J-C (2013) The role of biotic interactions in shaping distributions and realised assemblages of species: implications for species distribution modelling. Biological Reviews, 88, 15–30.

The taxonomic and functional biogeographies of phytoplankton and zooplankton communities across boreal lakesNicolas F St-Gelais, Richard J Vogt, Paul A del Giorgio, Beatrix E Beisner<p>Strong trophic interactions link primary producers (phytoplankton) and consumers (zooplankton) in lakes. However, the influence of such interactions on the biogeographical distribution of the &nbsp;taxa and functional traits of planktonic organ...Biogeography, Community ecology, Species distributionsDominique Gravel2018-07-24 15:01:51 View
18 Apr 2024
article picture

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
10 Oct 2018
article picture

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