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12 Aug 2021
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A study on the role of social information sharing leading to range expansion in songbirds with large vocal repertoires: Enhancing our understanding of the Great-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) alarm call

Does the active vocabulary in Great-tailed Grackles supports their range expansion? New study will find out

Recommended by Jan Oliver Engler based on reviews by Guillermo Fandos and 2 anonymous reviewers

Alarm calls are an important acoustic signal that can decide the life or death of an individual. Many birds are able to vary their alarm calls to provide more accurate information on e.g. urgency or even the type of a threatening predator. According to the acoustic adaptation hypothesis, the habitat plays an important role too in how acoustic patterns get transmitted. This is of particular interest for range-expanding species that will face new environmental conditions along the leading edge. One could hypothesize that the alarm call repertoire of a species could increase in newly founded ranges to incorporate new habitats and threats individuals might face. Hence selection for a larger active vocabulary might be beneficial for new colonizers. Using the Great-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) as a model species, Samantha Bowser from Arizona State University and Maggie MacPherson from Louisiana State University want to find out exactly that. 

The Great-Tailed Grackle is an appropriate species given its high vocal diversity. Also, the species consists of different subspecies that show range expansions along the northern range edge yet to a varying degree. Using vocal experiments and field recordings the researchers have a high potential to understand more about the acoustic adaptation hypothesis within a range dynamic process. 

Over the course of this assessment, the authors incorporated the comments made by two reviewers into a strong revision of their research plans. With that being said, the few additional comments made by one of the initial reviewers round up the current stage this interesting research project is in. 

To this end, I can only fully recommend the revised research plan and am much looking forward to the outcomes from the author’s experiments, modeling, and field data. With the suggestions being made at such an early stage I firmly believe that the final outcome will be highly interesting not only to an ornithological readership but to every ecologist and biogeographer interested in drivers of range dynamic processes.


Bowser, S., MacPherson, M. (2021). A study on the role of social information sharing leading to range expansion in songbirds with large vocal repertoires: Enhancing our understanding of the Great-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) alarm call. In principle recommendation by PCI Ecology. Version 3

A study on the role of social information sharing leading to range expansion in songbirds with large vocal repertoires: Enhancing our understanding of the Great-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus) alarm call Samantha Bowser, Maggie MacPherson<p>The acoustic adaptation hypothesis posits that animal sounds are influenced by the habitat properties that shape acoustic constraints (Ey and Fischer 2009, Morton 2015, Sueur and Farina 2015).Alarm calls are expected to signal important habitat...Biogeography, Biological invasions, Coexistence, Dispersal & Migration, Habitat selection, Landscape ecologyNone Darius Stiels, Anonymous2020-12-01 18:11:02 View
06 Sep 2019
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Assessing metacommunity processes through signatures in spatiotemporal turnover of community composition

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

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

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


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

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

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

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

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

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


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

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

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

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

Riparian forest restoration as sources of biodiversity and ecosystem functions in anthropogenic landscapesYasmine Antonini, Marina Vale Beirao, Fernanda Vieira Costa, Cristiano Schetini Azevedo, Maria Wojakowski, Alessandra Kozovits, Maria Rita Silverio Pires, Hildeberto Caldas Sousa, Maria Cristina Teixeira Braga Messias, Maria Augusta Goncalves Fuja...<ol> <li style="text-align: justify;">Restoration of tropical riparian forests is challenging, since these ecosystems are the most diverse, dynamic, and complex physical and biological terrestrial habitats. This study tested whether biodiversity ...Biodiversity, Community ecology, Ecological successions, Ecosystem functioning, Terrestrial ecologyWerner Ulrich2021-09-10 10:51:23 View
27 Jan 2023
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Spatial heterogeneity of interaction strength has contrasting effects on synchrony and stability in trophic metacommunities

How does spatial heterogeneity affect stability of trophic metacommunities?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spatial heterogeneity of interaction strength has contrasting effects on synchrony and stability in trophic metacommunitiesPierre Quévreux, Bart Haegeman and Michel Loreau<p>&nbsp;Spatial heterogeneity is a fundamental feature of ecosystems, and ecologists have identified it as a factor promoting the stability of population dynamics. In particular, differences in interaction strengths and resource supply between pa...Dispersal & Migration, Food webs, Interaction networks, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & Metapopulations, Theoretical ecologyWerner Ulrich2022-10-26 13:38:34 View
23 Oct 2023
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The Moa the Merrier: Resolving When the Dinornithiformes Went Extinct

Are Moas ancient Lazarus species?

Recommended by based on reviews by Tim Coulson and Richard Holdaway

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

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

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


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

The Moa the Merrier: Resolving When the Dinornithiformes Went ExtinctFloe Foxon<p style="text-align: justify;">The Moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes) are an extinct group of the ratite clade from New Zealand. The overkill hypothesis asserts that the first New Zealand settlers hunted the Moa to extinction by 1450 CE, whereas the st...Conservation biology, Human impact, Statistical ecology, ZoologyWerner Ulrich Tim Coulson, Richard Holdaway2023-08-08 17:14:30 View
28 Mar 2019
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Direct and transgenerational effects of an experimental heat wave on early life stages in a freshwater snail

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

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

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


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

Direct and transgenerational effects of an experimental heat wave on early life stages in a freshwater snailKatja Leicht, Otto Seppälä<p>Global climate change imposes a serious threat to natural populations of many species. Estimates of the effects of climate change‐mediated environmental stresses are, however, often based only on their direct effects on organisms, and neglect t...Climate changevincent calcagno2018-10-22 22:19:22 View
19 Dec 2020
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Hough transform implementation to evaluate the morphological variability of the moon jellyfish (Aurelia spp.)

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

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

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

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


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

Hough transform implementation to evaluate the morphological variability of the moon jellyfish (Aurelia spp.)Céline Lacaux, Agnès Desolneux, Justine Gadreaud, Bertrand Martin-Garin and Alain Thiéry<p>Variations of the animal body plan morphology and morphometry can be used as prognostic tools of their habitat quality. The potential of the moon jellyfish (Aurelia spp.) as a new model organism has been poorly tested. However, as a tetramerous...MorphometricsVincent Bonhomme2020-03-18 17:40:51 View
11 Oct 2023
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Identification of microbial exopolymer producers in sandy and muddy intertidal sediments by compound-specific isotope analysis

Disentangling microbial exopolymer dynamics in intertidal sediments

Recommended by and based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

The secretion of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) enables microorganisms to shape and interact with their environment [1]. EPS support cell adhesion and motility, offer protection from unfavorable conditions, and facilitate nutrient acquisition and transfer between microorganisms [2]. EPS production and consumption thus control the formation and structural organization of biofilms [3]. However, in marine environments, our understanding of the sources and composition of EPS is limited.
In this study, Hubas et al. [4] compare the carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in EPS with the carbon isotope ratios of fatty acid biomarkers to identify the main EPS producers in intertidal sediments. The authors find pronounced differences in the diversity, composition, isotope signatures, and production/consumption dynamics of EPS between muddy and sandy environments. While the contribution of diatoms was highest in the bound fraction of EPS in muddy environments, diatom contribution was highest in the colloidal fraction of EPS in sandy environments. These differences between sites likely reflect the functional differences in EPS dynamics of epipelic and episammic sediment communities.
Taken together, the innovative approach of the authors provides insights into the diversity and origin of EPS in microphytobenthic communities and highlights the importance of different microbial groups in EPS production. These findings are vital for understanding EPS dynamics in microbial interactions and their role in the functioning of coastal ecosystems.


  1. Flemming, H.-C. (2016) EPS-then and now. Microorganisms 4, 41
  2. Wolfaardt, G.M. et al. (1999) Function of EPS. In Microbial Extracellular Polymeric Substances, pp. 171–200, Springer Berlin Heidelberg
  3. Flemming, H.-C. et al. (2007) The EPS matrix: the “house of biofilm cells.” J. Bacteriol. 189, 7945–7947
  4. Hubas, C. et al. (2022) Identification of microbial exopolymer producers in sandy and muddy intertidal sediments by compound-specific isotope analysis. bioRxiv, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.
Identification of microbial exopolymer producers in sandy and muddy intertidal sediments by compound-specific isotope analysisCédric Hubas, Julie Gaubert-Boussarie, An-Sofie D’Hondt, Bruno Jesus, Dominique Lamy, Vona Meleder, Antoine Prins, Philippe Rosa, Willem Stock, Koen Sabbe<p style="text-align: justify;">Extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) refer to a wide variety of high molecular weight molecules secreted outside the cell membrane by biofilm microorganisms. In the present study, EPS from marine microphytobenth...Biodiversity, Ecological stoichiometry, Ecosystem functioning, Food webs, Marine ecology, Microbial ecology & microbiology, Soil ecologyUte Risse-Buhl2022-12-06 14:13:11 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 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
16 Jun 2020
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Environmental perturbations and transitions between ecological and evolutionary equilibria: an eco-evolutionary feedback framework

Stasis and the phenotypic gambit

Recommended by based on reviews by Jacob Johansson, Katja Räsänen and 1 anonymous reviewer

The preprint "Environmental perturbations and transitions between ecological and evolutionary equilibria: an eco-evolutionary feedback framework" by Coulson (2020) presents a general framework for evolutionary ecology, useful to interpret patterns of selection and evolutionary responses to environmental transitions. The paper is written in an accessible and intuitive manner. It reviews important concepts which are at the heart of evolutionary ecology. Together, they serve as a worldview which you can carry with you to interpret patterns in data or observations in nature. I very much appreciate it that Coulson (2020) presents his personal intuition laid bare, the framework he uses for his research and how several strong concepts from theoretical ecology fit in there. Overviews as presented in this paper are important to understand how we as researchers put the pieces together.
A main message of the paper is that resource detection and acquisition traits, broadly called "resource accrual traits" are at the core of evolutionary dynamics. These traits and the processes they are involved in often urge some degree of individual specialization. Not all traits are resource accrual traits all the time. Guppies are cited as an example, which have traits in high predation environments that make foraging easier for them, such as being less conspicuous to predators. In the absence of predators, these same traits might be neutral. Their colour pattern might then contribute much less to the odds of obtaining resources.
"Resource accrual" reminds me of discussions of resource holding potential (Parker 1974), which can be for example the capacity to remain on a bird feeder without being dislodged. However, the idea is much broader and aggression does not need to be important for the acquisition of resources. Evolutionary success is reserved for those steadily obtaining resources. This recalls the pessimization principle of Metz et al. (2008), which applies in a restricted set of situations and where the strategy which persists at the lowest resource levels systematically wins evolutionary contests. If this principle would apply universally, the world then inherently become the worst possible. Resources determine energy budgets and different life history strategies allocate these differently to maximize fitness. The fine grain of environments and the filtration by individual histories generate a lot of variation in outcomes. However, constraint-centered approaches (Kempes et al. 2019, Kooijman 2010) are mentioned but are not at the core of this preprint. Evolution is rather seen as dynamic programming optimization with interactions within and between species. Coulson thus extends life history studies such as for example Tonnabel et al. (2012) with eco-evolutionary feedbacks. Examples used are guppies, algae-rotifer interactions and others. Altogether, this makes for an optimistic paper pushing back the pessimization principle.
Populations are expected to spend most of the time in quasi-equilibrium states where the long run stochastic growth rate is close to zero for all genotypes, alleles or other chosen classes. In the preprint, attention is given to reproductive value calculus, another strong tool in evolutionary dynamics (Grafen 2006, Engen et al. 2009), which tells us how classes within a population contribute to population composition in the distant future. The expected asymptotic fitness of an individual is equated to its expected reproductive value, but this might require particular ways of calculating reproductive values (Coulson 2020). Life history strategies can also be described by per generation measures such as R0 (currently on everyone's radar due to the coronavirus pandemic), generation time etc. Here I might disagree because I believe that this focus in per generation measures can lead to an incomplete characterization of plastic and other strategies involved in strategies such as bet-hedging. A property at quasi-equilibrium states is precise enough to serve as a null hypothesis which can be falsified: all types must in the long run leave equal numbers of descendants. If there is any property in evolutionary ecology which is useful it is this one and it rightfully merits attention.
However, at quasi-equilibrium states, directional selection has been observed, often without the expected evolutionary response. The preprint aims to explain this and puts forward the presence of non-additive gene action as a mechanism. I don't believe that it is the absence of clonal inheritance which matters very much in itself (Van Dooren 2006) unless genes with major effect are present in protected polymorphisms. The preprint remains a bit unclear on how additive gene action is broken, and here I add from the sphere in which I operate. Non-additive gene action can be linked to non-linear genotype-phenotype maps (Van Dooren 2000, Gilchrist and Nijhout 2001) and if these maps are non-linear enough to create constraints on phenotype determination, by means of maximum or minimum phenotypes which cannot be surpassed for any combination of the underlying traits, then they create additional evolutionary quasi-equilibrium states, with directional selection on a phenotype such as body size. I believe Coulson hints at this option (Coulson et al. 2006), but also at a different one: if body size is mostly determined by variation in resource accrual traits, then the resource accrual traits can be under stabilizing selection while body size is not. This requires that all resource accrual traits affect other phenotypic or demographic properties next to body size. In both cases, microevolutionary outcomes cannot be inferred from inspecting body sizes alone, either resource accrual traits need to be included explicitly, or non-linearities, or both when the map between resource accrual and body size is non-linear (Van Dooren 2000).
The discussion of the phenotypic gambit (Grafen 1984) leads to another long-standing issue in evolutionary biology. Can predictions of adaptation be made by inspecting and modelling individual phenotypes alone? I agree that with strongly non-linear genotype-phenotype maps they cannot and for multivariate sets of traits, genetic and phenotypic correlations can be very different (Hadfield et al. 2007). However, has the phenotypic gambit ever claimed to be valid globally or should it rather be used locally for relatively small amounts of variation? Grafen (1984) already contained caveats which are repeated here. As a first approximation, additivity might produce quite correct predictions and thus make the gambit operational in many instances. When important individual traits are omitted, it may just be misspecified. I am interested to see cases where the framework Coulson (2020) proposes is used for very large numbers of phenotypic and genotypic attributes. In the end, these highly dimensional trait distributions might basically collapse to a few major axes of variation due to constraints on resource accrual.
I highly recommend reading this preprint and I am looking forward to the discussion it will generate.


[1] Coulson, T. (2020) Environmental perturbations and transitions between ecological and evolutionary equilibria: an eco-evolutionary feedback framework. bioRxiv, 509067, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/509067
[2] Coulson, T., Benton, T. G., Lundberg, P., Dall, S. R. X., and Kendall, B. E. (2006). Putting evolutionary biology back in the ecological theatre: a demographic framework mapping genes to communities. Evolutionary Ecology Research, 8(7), 1155-1171.
[3] Engen, S., Lande, R., Sæther, B. E. and Dobson, F. S. (2009) Reproductive value and the stochastic demography of age-structured populations. The American Naturalist 174: 795-804. doi: 10.1086/647930
[4] Gilchrist, M. A. and Nijhout, H. F. (2001). Nonlinear developmental processes as sources of dominance. Genetics, 159(1), 423-432.
[5] Grafen, A. (1984) Natural selection, kin selection and group selection. In: Behavioural Ecology: An Evolutionary Approach,2nd edn (JR Krebs & NB Davies eds), pp. 62–84. Blackwell Scientific, Oxford.
[6] Grafen, A. (2006). A theory of Fisher's reproductive value. Journal of mathematical biology, 53(1), 15-60. doi: 10.1007/s00285-006-0376-4
[7] Hadfield, J. D., Nutall, A., Osorio, D. and Owens, I. P. F. (2007). Testing the phenotypic gambit: phenotypic, genetic and environmental correlations of colour. Journal of evolutionary biology, 20(2), 549-557. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2006.01262.x
[8] Kempes, C. P., West, G. B., and Koehl, M. (2019). The scales that limit: the physical boundaries of evolution. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 7, 242. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2019.00242
[9] Kooijman, S. A. L. M. (2010) Dynamic Energy Budget theory for metabolic organisation. University Press, third edition.
[10] Metz, J. A. J., Mylius, S.D. and Diekman, O. (2008) When does evolution optimize?. Evolutionary Ecology Research 10: 629-654.
[11] Parker, G. A. (1974). Assessment strategy and the evolution of fighting behaviour. Journal of theoretical Biology, 47(1), 223-243. doi: 10.1016/0022-5193(74)90111-8
[12] Tonnabel, J., Van Dooren, T. J. M., Midgley, J., Haccou, P., Mignot, A., Ronce, O., and Olivieri, I. (2012). Optimal resource allocation in a serotinous non‐resprouting plant species under different fire regimes. Journal of Ecology, 100(6), 1464-1474. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2012.02023.x
[13] Van Dooren, T. J. M. (2000). The evolutionary dynamics of direct phenotypic overdominance: emergence possible, loss probable. Evolution, 54(6), 1899-1914. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2000.tb01236.x
[14] Van Dooren, T. J. M. (2006). Protected polymorphism and evolutionary stability in pleiotropic models with trait‐specific dominance. Evolution, 60(10), 1991-2003. doi: 10.1111/j.0014-3820.2006.tb01837.x

Environmental perturbations and transitions between ecological and evolutionary equilibria: an eco-evolutionary feedback frameworkTim Coulson<p>I provide a general framework for linking ecology and evolution. I start from the fact that individuals require energy, trace molecules, water, and mates to survive and reproduce, and that phenotypic resource accrual traits determine an individ...Eco-evolutionary dynamics, Evolutionary ecologyTom Van Dooren2019-01-03 10:05:16 View