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29 Nov 2019
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Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersal

Investigate fine scale sex dispersal with spatial and genetic analyses

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Sylvine Durand and 1 anonymous reviewer

The preregistration "Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersal" [1] presents the analysis plan that will be used to genetically and spatially investigate sex-biased dispersal in great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus).
Several hypotheses implying mating systems, intrasexual competition or sex-related handicaps have been proposed to explain the diversity of dispersal patterns between or within species according to their ecological requirements, environmental factors such as seasonality [2], or individual characteristics such as age [3] or sex [4].
In birds, females are classically the dispersing sex, while males remain close to the place they were hatched [5], with potential benefits that males derive from knowing the local environment to establish territories [6].
In great-tailed grackles the males hold territories and the females choose which territory to place their nest in [7]. In this context, the main hypothesis is that females are the dispersing sex in this species. The authors of this preregistration plan to investigate this hypothesis and its 3 alternatives ((i) the males are the dispersing sex, (ii) both sexes disperse or (iii) neither of the two sexes disperse), investigating the spatial distribution of genetic relatives.
The authors plan to measure the genetic relatedness (using SNP markers) and geographic distances among all female dyads and among all male dyads in the fine geographic scale (Tempe campus, Arizona). If females disperse away from relatives, the females will be less likely to be found geographically close to genetic relatives.
This pre-registration shows that the authors are well aware of the possible limitations of their study, particularly in relation to their population of 57 individuals, on a small scale. But they will use methods that should be able to detect a signal. They were very good at incorporating the reviewers' comments and suggestions, which enabled them to produce a satisfactory and interesting version of the manuscript presenting their hypotheses, limitations and the methods they plan to use. Another point I would like to stress is that this pre-registration practice is a very good one that makes it possible to anticipate the challenges and the type of analyses to be carried out, in particular by setting out the working hypotheses and confronting them (as well as the methods envisaged) with peers from this stage. I therefore recommend this manuscript and thank all the contributors (authors and reviewers) for their work. I look forward to seeing the outcomes of this study.


[1] Sevchik A., Logan C. J., Folsom M., Bergeron L., Blackwell A., Rowney C., and Lukas D. (2019). Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersal. In principle recommendation by Peer Community In Ecology.
[2] Fies, M. L., Puckett, K. M., and Larson-Brogdon, B. (2002). Breeding season movements and dispersal of Northern Bobwhites in fragmented habitats of Virginia. Vol. 5 , Article 35. Available at:
[3] Marvá, M., and San Segundo, F. (2018). Age-structure density-dependent fertility and individuals dispersal in a population model. Mathematical biosciences, 300, 157-167. doi: 10.1016/j.mbs.2018.03.029
[4] Trochet, A., Courtois, E. A., Stevens, V. M., Baguette, M., Chaine, A., Schmeller, D. S., Clobert, J., and Wiens, J. J. (2016). Evolution of sex-biased dispersal. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 91(3), 297-320. doi: 10.1086/688097
[5] Greenwood, P. J., and Harvey, P. H. (1982). The natal and breeding dispersal of birds. Annual review of ecology and systematics, 13(1), 1-21. doi: 10.1146/
[6] Greenwood, P. J. (1980). Mating systems, philopatry and dispersal in birds and mammals. Animal behaviour, 28(4), 1140-1162. doi: 10.1016/S0003-3472(80)80103-5
[7] Johnson, K., DuVal, E., Kielt, M., and Hughes, C. (2000). Male mating strategies and the mating system of great-tailed grackles. Behavioral Ecology, 11(2), 132-141. doi: 10.1093/beheco/11.2.132

Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersalAugust Sevchik, Corina Logan, Melissa Folsom, Luisa Bergeron, Aaron Blackwell, Carolyn Rowney, Dieter LukasIn most bird species, females disperse prior to their first breeding attempt, while males remain close to the place they were hatched for their entire lives (Greenwood and Harvey (1982)). Explanations for such female bias in natal dispersal have f...Behaviour & Ethology, Life history, Preregistrations, Social structure, ZoologySophie Beltran-Bech2019-07-24 12:47:07 View
01 Feb 2020
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Evidence of tool use in a seabird?

Touchy matter: the delicate balance between Morgan’s canon and open-minded description of advanced cognitive skills in the animal

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Valérie Dufour and Alex Taylor

In a recent paper published in PNAS, Fayet et al. [1] reported scarce field observations of two Atlantic puffins (four years apart) apparently scratching their bodies using sticks, which was interpreted by the authors as evidence of tool use in this species. In a short response, Benjamin Farrar [2] raises serious concerns about this interpretation and proposes simpler, more parsimonious, mechanisms explaining the observed behaviour: a textbook case of Morgan's canon.
In virtually all introductory lectures on animal behaviour, students are advised to exercise caution when interpreting empirical data and weighting alternative explanations. We are sometimes prisoner of our assumptions: our desire of beliefs in advanced cognitive skills in non-human species make us more receptive to facts confirming our preconceptions than to simpler, less exciting, interpretations (a phenomenon known as "confirmation bias" in psychology). We must resist the temptation to accept appealing explanations without enough critical thinking. Our students are thus taught to apply the Lloyd Morgan's canon, a variant of one of the most important heuristics in Science, the principle of parsimony or Occam's razor, rephrased by Morgan [3, page 53] in the context of animal behaviour: "In no case may we interpret an action as the outcome of a higher psychical faculty, if it can be interpreted as the outcome of the exercise of one that stands lower in the psychological scale". In absence of evidence to the contrary, one should postulate the simplest cognitive skill consistent with the observed behaviour. While sometimes criticized from an epistemological point of view [4-6], it remains an essential and largely accepted framework of animal cognition. It has repeatedly proved to be a useful guide in the minefield of comparative psychology. Classical ethology questions related to the existence of, for instance, meta-cognition [7], intentionality or problem solving [8] have been convincingly investigated using this principle.
Yet, there is a downside to this conservative approach. Blind reference to Morgan's canon may narrow our theoretical thinking about animal cognition [7,9]. It could be counter-productive to systematically deny advanced cognitive skills in animals. On the contrary, keeping our mind open to unplanned observations, unexpected discoveries, or serendipity [10], and being prepared to accept new hypotheses, sometimes fairly remote from the dominant paradigm, may be a fruitful research strategy. To quote Darwin's famous letter to Alfred Wallace: "I am a firm believer, that without speculation there is no good and original observation" [11]. Brief notes in specialized scientific journals, or even in grey literature (by enthusiast amateur ornithologists, ichthyologists, or entomologists), constitutes a rich array of anecdotal observations. For instance, Sol et al. [12] convincingly compared the innovation propensity across bird species by screening ornithology literature using keywords like 'never reported', 'not seen before', 'first report', 'unusual' or 'novel'. Even if "the plural of anecdote is not data" as the saying goes, such descriptions of novel behaviours, even single-subject observations, are indisputably precious: taxonomic ubiquity of a behaviour is a powerful argument in favour of evolutionary convergence. Of course, a race to the bottom, amplified by the inevitable media hypes around scientific articles questioning human exceptionalism, is another possible scientific trap for behavioural biologists in search of skills characteristic of so-called advanced species, but never described so far in supposedly cognitively simpler organisms. As stated by Franz de Waal [9]: "I have nothing against anecdotes, especially if they have been caught on camera or come from reputable observers who know their animals; but I do view them as a starting point of research, never an end point".
In the case of the two video observations of puffins apparently using sticks as scratching tool, it must be considered as a mere anecdote unless scientists systematically investigate this behaviour. In his constructive criticism of Fayet et al.'s paper, Benjamin Farrar [2] proposes interesting directions of research and testable predictions. A correlation between the background rate of stick picking and the rate of stick preening would indicate that this behaviour was more likely explained by fluke than genuine innovation in this species.


[1] Fayet, A. L., Hansen, E. S., and Biro, D. (2020). Evidence of tool use in a seabird. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 117(3), 1277–1279. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1918060117
[2] Farrar, B. G. (2020). Evidence of tool use in a seabird? PsyArXiv, 463hk, ver. 5 recommended and peer-reviewed by Peer Community In Ecology. doi: 10.31234/
[3] Morgan, C. L. (1894). An introduction to comparative psychology. London, UK: Walter Scott, Ltd. Retrieved from
[4] Meketa, I. (2014). A critique of the principle of cognitive simplicity in comparative cognition. Biology and Philosophy, 29(5), 731–745. doi: 10.1007/s10539-014-9429-z
[5] Fitzpatrick, S. (2017). Against Morgan's Canon. In K. Andrews and J. Beck (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of philosophy of animal minds (pp. 437–447). London, UK: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group. doi: 10.4324/9781315742250.ch42
[6] Starzak, T. (2017). Interpretations without justification: a general argument against Morgan's Canon. Synthese, 194(5), 1681–1701. doi: 10.1007/s11229-016-1013-4
[7] Arbilly, M., and Lotem, A. (2017). Constructive anthropomorphism: a functional evolutionary approach to the study of human-like cognitive mechanisms in animals. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284(1865), 20171616. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1616
[8] Taylor, A. H., Knaebe, B., and Gray, R. D. (2012). An end to insight? New Caledonian crows can spontaneously solve problems without planning their actions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 279(1749), 4977–4981. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1998
[9] de Waal, F. (2016). Are we smart enough to know how smart animals are? New-York, USA: W. W. Norton and Company.
[10] Scheffer, M. (2014). The forgotten half of scientific thinking. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(17), 6119–6119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1404649111
[11] Darwin, C. R. (1857). Letter to A. R. Wallace, 22 December 1857. Retrieved 30 January 2020, from
[12] Sol, D., Lefebvre, L., and Rodríguez-Teijeiro, J. D. (2005). Brain size, innovative propensity and migratory behaviour in temperate Palaearctic birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 272(1571), 1433–1441. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2005.3099

Evidence of tool use in a seabird?Benjamin G. FarrarFayet, Hansen and Biro (1) provide two observations of Atlantic puffins, *Fratercula arctica*, performing self-directed actions while holding a stick in their beaks. The authors interpret this as evidence of tool use as they suggest that the stick...Behaviour & EthologyFrancois-Xavier Dechaume-Moncharmont2020-01-22 11:55:27 View
13 May 2023
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Symbiotic nutrient cycling enables the long-term survival of Aiptasia in the absence of heterotrophic food sources

Constraining the importance of heterotrophic vs autotrophic feeding in photosymbiotic cnidarians

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

The symbiosis with autotrophic dinoflagellate algae has enabled heterotrophic Cnidaria to thrive in nutrient-poor tropical waters (Muscatine and Porter 1977; Stanley 2006). In particular, mixotrophy, i.e. the ability to acquire nutrients through both autotrophy and heterotrophy, confers a competitive edge in oligotrophic waters, allowing photosymbiotic Cnidaria to outcompete benthic organisms limited to a single diet (e.g., McCook 2001). However, the relative importance of autotrophy vs heterotrophy in sustaining symbiotic cnidarian’s nutrition is still the subject of intense research. In fact, figuring out the cellular mechanisms by which symbiotic Cnidaria acquire a balanced diet for their metabolism and growth is relevant to our understanding of their physiology under varying environmental conditions and in response to anthropogenic perturbations.

In this study's long-term starvation experiment, Radecker & Meibom (2023) investigated the survival of the photosymbiotic sea anemone Aiptasia in the absence of heterotrophic feeding. After one year of heterotrophic starvation, Apitasia anemones remained fully viable but showed an 85 % reduction in biomass. Using 13C-bicarbonate and 15N-ammonium labeling, electron microscopy and NanoSIMS imaging, the authors could clearly show that the contribution of algal-derived nutrients to the host metabolism remained unaffected as a result of increased algal photosynthesis and more efficient carbon translocation. At the same time, the absence of heterotrophic feeding caused severe nitrogen limitation in the starved Apitasia anemones.

Overall, this study provides valuable insights into nutrient exchange within the symbiosis between Cnidaria and dinoflagellate algae at the cellular level and sheds new light on the importance of heterotrophic feeding as a nitrogen acquisition strategy for holobiont growth in oligotrophic waters.


McCook L (2001) Competition between corals and algal turfs along a gradient of terrestrial influence in the nearshore central Great Barrier Reef. Coral Reefs 19:419–425.

Muscatine L, Porter JW (1977) Reef corals: mutualistic symbioses adapted to nutrient-poor environments. Bioscience 27:454–460.

Radecker N, Meibom A (2023) Symbiotic nutrient cycling enables the long-term survival of Aiptasia in the absence of heterotrophic food sources. bioRxiv, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

Stanley GD Jr (2006) Photosymbiosis and the evolution of modern coral reefs. Science 312:857–858.

Symbiotic nutrient cycling enables the long-term survival of Aiptasia in the absence of heterotrophic food sourcesNils Radecker, Anders Meibom<p style="text-align: justify;">Phototrophic Cnidaria are mixotrophic organisms that can complement their heterotrophic diet with nutrients assimilated by their algal endosymbionts. Metabolic models suggest that the translocation of photosynthates...Eco-evolutionary dynamics, Microbial ecology & microbiology, SymbiosisUlisse Cardini2022-12-12 10:50:55 View
26 Mar 2019
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Is behavioral flexibility manipulatable and, if so, does it improve flexibility and problem solving in a new context?

Can context changes improve behavioral flexibility? Towards a better understanding of species adaptability to environmental changes

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Maxime Dahirel and Andrea Griffin

Behavioral flexibility is a key for species adaptation to new environments. Predicting species responses to new contexts hence requires knowledge on the amount to and conditions in which behavior can be flexible. This is what Logan and collaborators propose to assess in a series of experiments on the great-tailed grackles, in a context of rapid range expansion. This pre-registration is integrated into this large research project and concerns more specifically the manipulability of the cognitive aspects of behavioral flexibility. Logan and collaborators will use reversal learning tests to test whether (i) behavioral flexibility is manipulatable, (ii) manipulating flexibility improves flexibility and problem solving in a new context, (iii) flexibility is repeatable within individuals, (iv) individuals are faster at problem solving as they progress through serial reversals. The pre-registration carefully details the hypotheses, their associated predictions and alternatives, and the plan of statistical analyses, including power tests. The ambitious program presented in this pre-registration has the potential to provide important pieces to better understand the mechanisms of species adaptability to new environments.

Is behavioral flexibility manipulatable and, if so, does it improve flexibility and problem solving in a new context?Corina Logan, Carolyn Rowney, Luisa Bergeron, Benjamin Seitz, Aaron Blaisdell, Zoe Johnson-Ulrich, Kelsey McCuneThis is one of the first studies planned for our long-term research on the role of behavioral flexibility in rapid geographic range expansions. Behavioral flexibility, the ability to adapt behavior to new circumstances, is thought to play an impor...Behaviour & Ethology, Preregistrations, ZoologyAurélie Coulon2018-07-03 13:23:10 View
11 Mar 2022
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Comment on “Information arms race explains plant-herbivore chemical communication in ecological communities”

Does information theory inform chemical arms race communication?

Recommended by based on reviews by Claudio Ramirez and 2 anonymous reviewers

One of the long-standing questions in evolutionary ecology is on the mechanisms involved in arms race coevolution. One way to address this question is to understand the conditions under which one species evolves traits in response to the presence of a second species and so on. However, specialized pairwise interactions are by far less common in nature than interactions involving a higher number of interacting species (Bascompte, Jordano 2013). While interactions between large sets of species are the norm rather than the exception in mutualistic (pollination, seed dispersal), and antagonist (herbivory, parasitism) relationships, few is known on the way species identify, process, and respond to information provided by other interacting species under field conditions (Schaefer, Ruxton 2011). 

Zu et al. (2020) addressed this general question by developing an interesting information theory-based approach that hypothesized conditional entropy in chemical communication plays a role as proxy of fitness in plant-herbivore communities. More specifically, plant fitness was assumed to be related to the efficiency to code signals by plant species, and herbivore fitness to the capacity to decode plant signals. In this way, from the plant perspective, the elaboration of plant signals that elude decoding by herbivores is expected to be favored, as herbivores are expected to attack plants with simple chemical signals. The empirical observation upon which the model was tested was the redundancy in volatile organic compounds (VOC) found across plant species in a plant-herbivore community. Interestingly, Zu et al.’s model predicted successfully that VOC redundancy in the plant community associates with increased conditional entropy, which conveys herbivore confusion and plant protection against herbivory. In this way, plant species that evolve VOCs already present in the community might be benefitted, ultimately leading to the patterns of VOC redundancy commonly observed in nature.

Bass & Kessler performed a series of interesting observations on Zu et al. (2020), that can be organized along three lines of reasoning. First, from an evolutionary perspective, Bass & Kessler note the important point that accepting that conditional information entropy, estimated from the contribution of every plant species to volatile redundancy implies that average plant fitness seems to depend on community-level properties (i.e., what the other species in the community are doing) rather than on population-level characteristics (I.e., what the individuals belonging a population are doing). While the level at which selection acts upon is a longstanding debate (e.g., Goodnight, 1990; Williams, 1992), the model seems to contradict one of the basic tenets of Darwinian evolution. The extent to which this important observation invalidates the contribution of Zu et al. (2020) is open to scrutiny. However, one can indulge the evolutionary criticism by arguing that every theoretical model performs a number of assumptions to preserve the simplicity of analyses. Furthermore, even accepting the criticism, the overall information-based framework is valuable as it provides a fresh perspective to the way coding and decoding chemical information in plant-herbivore interactions may result in arm race coevolution. The question to be assessed by members of the scientific community is how strong the evolutionary assumptions are to be acceptable. A second line of reasoning involves consideration of additional routes of chemical information transfer. If chemical volatiles are involved in another ecological function unrelated to arm race (as they are) such as toxicity, crypsis, aposematism, etc., the conditional information indices considered as proxy to plant and herbivore fitness may be only secondarily related to arms race. This is an interesting observation, which suggests that VOC production may have more than one ecological function, as it often happens in “pleiotropic” traits (Strauss, Irwin 2004). This is an exciting avenue for future research. Finally, a third category of comments involves the relationship between conditional information entropy and plant and herbivore fitness. Bass & Kessler developed a Bayesian treatment of the community-level information developed by Zu et al. (2020) that permitted to estimate fitness on a species rather than community level. Their results revealed that community conditional entropies fail to align with species-level indices, suggesting that conclusions of Strauss & Irwin (2004) are not commensurate with fitness at the species level, where the analysis seems to be pertinent. In general, I strongly recommend Bass & Kessler’s contribution as it provides a series of observations and new perspectives to Zu et al. (2020). Rather than restricting their manuscript to blind criticisms, Bass & Kessler provides new interesting perspectives, which is always welcome as it improves the value and scope of the original work.


Bascompte J, Jordano P (2013) Mutualistic Networks. Princeton University Press.

Bass E, Kessler A (2022) Comment on “Information arms race explains plant-herbivore chemical communication in ecological communities.” EcoEvoRxiv, ver. 8 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

Goodnight CJ (1990) Experimental Studies of Community Evolution I: The Response to Selection at the Community Level. Evolution, 44, 1614–1624.

Schaefer HM, Ruxton GD (2011) Plant-Animal Communication. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Strauss SY, Irwin RE (2004) Ecological and Evolutionary Consequences of Multispecies Plant-Animal Interactions. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 35, 435–466.

Williams GC (1992) Natural Selection: Domains, Levels, and Challenges. Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York.

Zu P, Boege K, del-Val E, Schuman MC, Stevenson PC, Zaldivar-Riverón A, Saavedra S (2020) Information arms race explains plant-herbivore chemical communication in ecological communities. Science, 368, 1377–1381.

Comment on “Information arms race explains plant-herbivore chemical communication in ecological communities”Ethan Bass, André Kessler<p style="text-align: justify;">Zu et al (Science, 19 Jun 2020, p. 1377) propose that an ‘information arms-race’ between plants and herbivores explains plant-herbivore communication at the community level. However, the analysis presented here show...Chemical ecology, Community ecology, Eco-evolutionary dynamics, Evolutionary ecology, Herbivory, Interaction networks, Theoretical ecologyRodrigo Medel2021-10-02 06:06:07 View
20 Oct 2021
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Eco-evolutionary dynamics further weakens mutualistic interaction and coexistence under population decline

Doomed by your partner: when mutualistic interactions are like an evolutionary millstone around a species’ neck

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Mutualistic interactions are the weird uncles of population and community ecology. They are everywhere, from the microbes aiding digestion in animals’ guts to animal-pollination services in ecosystems; They increase productivity through facilitation; They fascinate us when small birds pick the teeth of a big-mouthed crocodile. Yet, mutualistic interactions are far less studied and understood than competition or predation. Possibly because we are naively convinced that there is no mystery here: isn’t it obvious that mutualistic interactions necessarily facilitate species coexistence? Since mutualistic species benefit from one another, if one species evolves, the other should just follow, isn’t that so?

It is not as simple as that, for several reasons. First, because simple mutualistic Lotka-Volterra models showed that most of the time mutualistic systems should drift to infinity and be unstable (e.g. Goh 1979). This is not what happens in natural populations, so something is missing in simple models. At a larger scale, that of communities, this is even worse, since we are still far from understanding the link between the topology of mutualistic networks and the stability of a community. Second, interactions are context-dependent: mutualistic species exchange resources, and thus from the point of view of one species the interaction is either beneficial or not, depending on the net gain of energy (e.g. Holland and DeAngelis 2010). In other words, considering interactions as mutualistic per se is too caricatural. Third, since evolution is blind, the evolutionary response of a species to an environmental change can have any effect on its mutualistic partner, and not necessarily a neutral or positive effect. This latter reason is particularly highlighted by the paper by A. Weinbach et al. (2021).

Weinbach et al. considered a simple two-species mutualistic Lotka-Volterra model and analyzed the evolutionary dynamics of a trait controlling for the rate of interaction between the two species by using the classical Adaptive Dynamics framework. They showed that, depending on the form of the trade-off between this interaction trait and its effect on the intrinsic growth rate, several situations can occur at evolutionary equilibrium: species can stably coexist and maintain their interaction, or the interaction traits can evolve to zero where species can coexist without any interactions.

Weinbach et al. then investigated the fate of the two-species system if a partner species is strongly affected by environmental change, for instance, a large decrease of its growth rate. Because of the supposed trade-off between the interaction trait and the growth rate, the interaction trait in the focal species tends to decrease as an evolutionary response to the decline of the partner species. If environmental change is too large, the interaction trait can evolve to zero and can lead the partner species to extinction. An “evolutionary murder”.

Even though Weinbach et al. interpreted the results of their model through the lens of plant-pollinators systems, their model is not specific to this case. On the contrary, it is very general, which has advantages and caveats. By its generality, the model is informative because it is a proof of concept that the evolution of mutualistic interactions can have unexpected effects on any category of mutualistic systems. Yet, since the model lacks many specificities of plant-pollinator interactions, it is hard to evaluate how their result would apply to plant-pollinators communities.

I wanted to recommend this paper as a reminder that it is certainly worth studying the evolution of mutualistic interactions, because i) some unexpected phenomenons can occur, ii) we are certainly too naive about the evolution and ecology of mutualistic interactions, and iii) one can wonder to what extent we will be able to explain the stability of mutualistic communities without accounting for the co-evolutionary dynamics of mutualistic species.


Goh BS (1979) Stability in Models of Mutualism. The American Naturalist, 113, 261–275.

Holland JN, DeAngelis DL (2010) A consumer–resource approach to the density-dependent population dynamics of mutualism. Ecology, 91, 1286–1295.

Weinbach A, Loeuille N, Rohr RP (2021) Eco-evolutionary dynamics further weakens mutualistic interaction and coexistence under population decline. bioRxiv, 570580, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

Eco-evolutionary dynamics further weakens mutualistic interaction and coexistence under population declineAvril Weinbach, Nicolas Loeuille, Rudolf P. Rohr<p style="text-align: justify;">With current environmental changes, evolution can rescue declining populations, but what happens to their interacting species? Mutualistic interactions can help species sustain each other when their environment wors...Coexistence, Eco-evolutionary dynamics, Evolutionary ecology, Interaction networks, Pollination, Theoretical ecologySylvain Billiard2019-09-05 11:29:45 View
20 Sep 2018
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When higher carrying capacities lead to faster propagation

When the dispersal of the many outruns the dispersal of the few

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Yuval Zelnik and 1 anonymous reviewer

Are biological invasions driven by a few pioneers, running ahead of their conspecifics? Or are these pioneers constantly being caught up by, and folded into, the larger flux of propagules from the established populations behind them?
In ecology and beyond, these two scenarios are known as "pulled" and "pushed" fronts, and they come with different expectations. In a pushed front, invasion speed is not just a matter of how good individuals are at dispersing and settling new locations. It becomes a collective, density-dependent property of population fluxes. And in particular, it can depend on the equilibrium abundance of the established populations inside the range, i.e. the species’ carrying capacity K, factoring in its abiotic environment and biotic interactions.
This realization is especially important because it can flip around our expectations about which species expand fast, and how to manage them. We tend to think of initial colonization and long-term abundance as two independent axes of variation among species or indeed as two ends of a spectrum, in the classic competition-colonization tradeoff [1]. When both play into invasion speed, good dispersers might not outrun good competitors. This is useful knowledge, whether we want to contain an invasion or secure a reintroduction.
In their study "When higher carrying capacities lead to faster propagation", Haond et al [2] combine mathematical analysis, Individual-Based simulations and experiments to show that various mechanisms can cause pushed fronts, whose speed increases with the carrying capacity K of the species. Rather than focus on one particular angle, the authors endeavor to demonstrate that this qualitative effect appears again and again in a variety of settings.
It is perhaps surprising that this notable and general connection between K and invasion speed has managed to garner so little fame in ecology. A large fraction of the literature employs the venerable Fisher-KPP reaction-diffusion model, which combines local logistic growth with linear diffusion in space. This model has prompted both considerable mathematical developments [3] and many applications to modelling real invasions [4]. But it only allows pulled fronts, driven by the small populations at the edge of a species range, with a speed that depends only on their initial growth rate r.
This classic setup is, however, singular in many ways. Haond et al [2] use it as a null model, and introduce three mechanisms or factors that each ensure a role of K in invasion speed, while giving less importance to the pioneers at the border.
Two factors, the Allee effect and demographic stochasticity, make small edge populations slower to grow or less likely to survive. These two factors are studied theoretically, and to make their claims stronger, the authors stack the deck against K. When generalizing equations or simulations beyond the null case, it is easy to obtain functional forms where the parameter K does not only play the role of equilibrium carrying capacity, but also affects dynamical properties such as the maximum or mean growth rate. In that case, it can trivially change the propagation speed, without it meaning anything about the role of established populations behind the front. Haond et al [2] avoid this pitfall by disentangling these effects, at the cost of slightly more peculiar expressions, and show that varying essentially nothing but the carrying capacity can still impact the speed of the invasion front.
The third factor, density-dependent dispersal, makes small populations less prone to disperse. It is well established empirically and theoretically that various biological mechanisms, from collective organization to behavioral switches, can prompt organisms in denser populations to disperse more, e.g. in such a way as to escape competition [5]. The authors demonstrate how this effect induces a link between carrying capacity and invasion speed, both theoretically and in a dispersal experiment on the parasitoid wasp, Trichogramma chilonis.
Overall, this study carries a simple and clear message, supported by valuable contributions from different angles. Although some sections are clearly written for the theoretical ecology crowd, this article has something for everyone, from the stray physicist to the open-minded manager. The collaboration between theoreticians and experimentalists, while not central, is worthy of note. Because the narrative of this study is the variety of mechanisms that can lead to the same qualitative effect, the inclusion of various approaches is not a gimmick, but helps drive home its main message. The work is fairly self-contained, although one could always wish for further developments, especially in the direction of more quantitative testing of these mechanisms.
In conclusion, Haond et al [2] effectively convey the widely relevant message that, for some species, invading is not just about the destination, it is about the many offspring one makes along the way.


[1] Levins, R., & Culver, D. (1971). Regional Coexistence of Species and Competition between Rare Species. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 68(6), 1246–1248. doi: 10.1073/pnas.68.6.1246
[2] Haond, M., Morel-Journel, T., Lombaert, E., Vercken, E., Mailleret, L., & Roques, L. (2018). When higher carrying capacities lead to faster propagation. BioRxiv, 307322. doi: 10.1101/307322
[3] Crooks, E. C. M., Dancer, E. N., Hilhorst, D., Mimura, M., & Ninomiya, H. (2004). Spatial segregation limit of a competition-diffusion system with Dirichlet boundary conditions. Nonlinear Analysis: Real World Applications, 5(4), 645–665. doi: 10.1016/j.nonrwa.2004.01.004
[4] Shigesada, N., & Kawasaki, K. (1997). Biological Invasions: Theory and Practice. Oxford University Press, UK.
[5] Matthysen, E. (2005). Density-dependent dispersal in birds and mammals. Ecography, 28(3), 403–416. doi: 10.1111/j.0906-7590.2005.04073.x

When higher carrying capacities lead to faster propagationMarjorie Haond, Thibaut Morel-Journel, Eric Lombaert, Elodie Vercken, Ludovic Mailleret & Lionel Roques<p>This preprint has been reviewed and recommended by Peer Community In Ecology ( Finding general patterns in the expansion of natural populations is a major challenge in ecology and invasion biology...Biological invasions, Colonization, Dispersal & Migration, Experimental ecology, Population ecology, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & Metapopulations, Theoretical ecologyMatthieu Barbier Yuval Zelnik2018-04-25 10:18:48 View
15 Jun 2020
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Investigating the rare behavior of male parental care in great-tailed grackles

Studying a rare behavior in a polygamous bird: male parental care in great-tailed grackles

Recommended by based on reviews by Matthieu Paquet and André C Ferreira

The Great-tailed grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) is a polygamous bird species that is originating from Central America and rapidly expanding its geographic range toward the North, and in which females were long thought to be the sole nest builders and caretakers of the young. In their pre-registration [1], Folsom and collaborators report repeated occurrences of male parental care and develop hypotheses aiming at better understanding the occurrence and the fitness consequences of this very rarely observed male behavior. They propose to assess if male parental care correlates with the circulating levels of several relevant hormones, increases offspring survival, is a local adaptation, and is a mating strategy, in surveying three populations located in Arizona (middle of the geographic range expansion), California (northern edge of the geographic range), and in Central America (core of the range). This study is part of a 5-year bigger project.
Both reviewers and I strongly value Folsom and collaborators’ commitment to program a study, in natural field conditions, of a rare, yet likely evolutionary-important behavior, namely parental care by males of the great-tailed grackle. Yet, we all also recognized that it is a risky endeavor, and as a consequence, we wondered about the authors’ ability to reach a sufficient sample size to statistically test (all) hypotheses and predictions with enough confidence (e.g. risk of type I errors, also known as false positives).
Folsom and collaborators acknowledged these limitations in their pre-registration. (i) They made the exploratory nature of their research work clear to readers. (ii) They adapted their analysis plan in running prior power analyses and in focusing on effect sizes (estimates and confidence intervals). (iii) Last and not least, Folsom and collaborators clearly exposed a priori hypotheses, their associated predictions and alternatives, and ranked the latter based on their plausibility according to knowledge in the current and other study systems. Developing theory about male parental care behavior more generally with regard to a polygamous species that is rapidly expanding its geographic range and that is considered not to provide male parental care is without any doubt an added value to this study.
In summary, while this study will likely be insufficient to fully understand male parental care behavior of great-tailed grackles, it is much needed because it will definitely allow rejecting some predictions (e.g., if this behavior is present in all the studied populations, it would be common across range against expectation; finding only one male providing care to an unrelated offspring would lead to reject the prediction that males only care for their own offspring) and thus it will help laying the foundation of future research directions.
I strongly support the pre-registration system and thank all the contributors for producing a fruitful discussion throughout the review process, which in fine improved the clarity and logic of this pre-registration. Given the positive and encouraging reviews, the detailed and thorough answers to all comments by Folsom and collaborators, and their satisfactory and interesting revisions, I am happy to recommend this pre-registration and I look forward to seeing its outcomes.


[1] Folsom MA, MacPherson M, Lukas D, McCune KB, Bergeron L, Bond A, Blackwell A, Rowney C, Logan CJ. 2020. Investigating the rare behavior of male parental care in great-tailed grackles. In principle acceptance by PCI Ecology of the version on 15 June 2020 corinalogan/grackles/blob/master/Files/Preregistrations/gmalecare.Rmd.

Investigating the rare behavior of male parental care in great-tailed gracklesFolsom MA, MacPherson M, Lukas D, McCune KB, Bergeron L, Bond A, Blackwell A, Rowney C, Logan CJThis is a PREREGISTRATION submitted for pre-study peer review. Our planned data collection START DATE is May 2020, therefore it would be ideal if the peer review process could be completed before then. Abstract: Great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus...Behaviour & Ethology, Biological invasions, Preregistrations, ZoologyMarie-Jeanne Holveck2019-12-05 17:38:47 View
16 Nov 2020
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Intraspecific diversity loss in a predator species alters prey community structure and ecosystem functions

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

Recommended by based on reviews by Andrew Barnes and Jes Hines

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


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

Intraspecific diversity loss in a predator species alters prey community structure and ecosystem functionsAllan Raffard, Julien Cucherousset, José M. Montoya, Murielle Richard, Samson Acoca-Pidolle, Camille Poésy, Alexandre Garreau, Frédéric Santoul & Simon Blanchet.<p>Loss in intraspecific diversity can alter ecosystem functions, but the underlying mechanisms are still elusive, and intraspecific biodiversity-ecosystem function relationships (iBEF) have been restrained to primary producers. Here, we manipulat...Community ecology, Ecosystem functioning, Experimental ecology, Food webs, Freshwater ecologyFrederik De Laender Andrew Barnes2020-06-15 09:04:53 View
13 Mar 2021
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Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersal

Dispersal: from “neutral” to a state- and context-dependent view

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Traditionally, dispersal has often been seen as “random” or “neutral” as Lowe & McPeek (2014) have put it. This simplistic view is likely due to dispersal being intrinsically difficult to measure empirically as well as “random” dispersal being a convenient simplifying assumption in theoretical work. Clobert et al. (2009), and many others, have highlighted how misleading this assumption is. Rather, dispersal seems to be usually a complex reaction norm, depending both on internal as well as external factors. One such internal factor is the sex of the dispersing individual. A recent review of the theoretical literature (Li & Kokko 2019) shows that while ideas explaining sex-biased dispersal go back over 40 years this state-dependency of dispersal is far from comprehensively understood.

Sevchik et al. (2021) tackle this challenge empirically in a bird species, the great-tailed grackle. In contrast to most bird species, where females disperse more than males, the authors report genetic evidence indicating male-biased dispersal. The authors argue that this difference can be explained by the great-tailed grackle’s social and mating-system.

Dispersal is a central life-history trait (Bonte & Dahirel 2017) with major consequences for ecological and evolutionary processes and patterns. Therefore, studies like Sevchik et al. (2021) are valuable contributions for advancing our understanding of spatial ecology and evolution. Importantly, Sevchik et al. also lead to way to a more open and reproducible science of ecology and evolution. The authors are among the pioneers of preregistering research in their field and their way of doing research should serve as a model for others.


Bonte, D. & Dahirel, M. (2017) Dispersal: a central and independent trait in life history. Oikos 126: 472-479. doi:

Clobert, J., Le Galliard, J. F., Cote, J., Meylan, S. & Massot, M. (2009) Informed dispersal, heterogeneity in animal dispersal syndromes and the dynamics of spatially structured populations. Ecol. Lett.: 12, 197-209. doi:

Li, X.-Y. & Kokko, H. (2019) Sex-biased dispersal: a review of the theory. Biol. Rev. 94: 721-736. doi:

Lowe, W. H. & McPeek, M. A. (2014) Is dispersal neutral? Trends Ecol. Evol. 29: 444-450. doi:

Sevchik, A., Logan, C. J., McCune, K. B., Blackwell, A., Rowney, C. & Lukas, D. (2021) Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersal. EcoEvoRxiv,, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer community in Ecology. doi:

Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersalSevchik, A., Logan, C. J., McCune, K. B., Blackwell, A., Rowney, C. and Lukas, D<p>In most bird species, females disperse prior to their first breeding attempt, while males remain closer to the place they hatched for their entire lives. Explanations for such female bias in natal dispersal have focused on the resource-defense ...Behaviour & Ethology, Dispersal & Migration, ZoologyEmanuel A. Fronhofer2020-08-24 17:53:06 View