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03 Jan 2024
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Efficient sampling designs to assess biodiversity spatial autocorrelation : should we go fractal?

Spatial patterns and autocorrelation challenges in ecological conservation

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Nigel Yoccoz and Charles J Marsh

Pattern, like beauty, is to some extent in the eye of the beholder” (Grant 1977 in Wiens, 1989)

Ecologists are immersed in unraveling the complex spatial patterns that govern species diversity, driven by both practical and theoretical imperatives (Rahbek, 2005; Wang et al., 2019). This dual focus necessitates a practical imperative for strategic biodiversity conservation, requiring a nuanced understanding of locations with peak species richness and dynamic shifts in species assemblages (Chase et al., 2020). Simultaneously, there is a theoretical interest in using diversity patterns as empirical testing grounds for theories explaining factors influencing diversity disparities and the associated increase in species turnover correlated with inter-site distance (Condit et al., 2002).
McGill (2010), in his paper "Matters of Scale", highlights the scale-dependent nature of ecology, aligning with the recognition that spatial autocorrelation is inherent in biogeographical data and often correlated with sample size (Rahbek, 2005). Spatial autocorrelation, often underestimated in ecological studies (Dormann, 2007), occurs when proximate locations exhibit similarities in ecological attributes (Tobler, 1970; Getis, 2010), introducing a latent bias that compromises the robustness of ecological findings (Dormann, 2007; Dormann et al., 2007). This phenomenon serves as both an asset, providing valuable information for inferring processes from patterns (Palma et al. 1999), and a challenge, imposing limitations on hypothesis testing and prediction (Dormann et al., 2007 and references therein). Various factors contribute to spatial autocorrelation, with three primary contributors (Dormann et al., 2007; Legendre, 1993; Legendre and Fortin, 1989; Legendre and Legendre, 2012): (i) distance-related effects in biological processes, (ii) misrepresentation of non-linear relationships between the environment and species as linear and (iii) the oversight of a crucial spatially structured environmental determinant in the statistical model, leading to spatial structuring in the response (Dormann et al., 2007).
Recognising the pivotal role of spatial heterogeneity in ecological theories (Wang et al., 2019), it becomes imperative to discern and address the limitations introduced by spatial autocorrelation (Legendre, 1993). McGill (2011) emphasises that the ultimate goal of biodiversity pattern studies should be to develop a quantitative predictive theory useful for conservation. The spatial dimension's importance in study planning, determining the system's scale, appropriate quadrat size, and spacing between sampling stations, is paramount (Fortin, 1999a,b). Responses to these considerations are intricately linked with study objectives and insights from pre-sampling campaigns, underscoring the need for a nuanced and rigorous approach (Delmelle, 2021).
Understanding statistical techniques and nested sampling designs is crucial to answering fundamental ecological questions (Dormann et al., 2007; McDonald, 2012). In addressing spatial autocorrelation challenges, ecologists must recognize the limitations of many standard statistical methods in ecological studies (Dale and Fortin, 2002; Legendre and Fortin, 1989; Steel et al., 2013). In the initial phases of description or hypothesis generation, ecologists should proactively acknowledge the spatial structure in their data and conduct tests for spatial autocorrelation (for a comprehensive description, see Legendre and Fortin, 1989): various tools, including correlograms, spectral analysis, the Mantel test, and clustering methods, facilitate the assessment and description of spatial structures. The partial Mantel test enables the study of causal models with space as an explanatory variable. Techniques for mapping ecological variables, such as interpolation, trend surface analysis, and constrained clustering, yield maps providing valuable insights into the spatial dynamics of ecological systems.
This refined consideration of spatial autocorrelation emerges as an imperative in ecological research, fostering a deeper and more precise understanding of the intricate interplay between species diversity, spatial patterns, and the inherent limitations imposed by spatial autocorrelation (Legendre et al., 2002). This not only contributes significantly to the scientific discourse in ecology but also aligns with McGill's vision of developing predictive theories for effective conservation (Bacaro et al., 2016; McGill, 2011).
In this study by Fabien Laroche (2023), titled “Efficient sampling designs to assess biodiversity spatial autocorrelation: should we go fractal?” the primary focus was on addressing the challenges associated with estimating the autocorrelation range of species distribution across spatial scales. The study aimed to explore alternative sampling designs, with a particular focus on the application of fractal designs—self-similar designs with well-identified scales. The overarching goal was to evaluate whether fractal designs could offer a more efficient compromise compared to traditional hybrid designs, which involve mixing random sampling points with a systematic grid.
Virtual ecology provides a way to test whether sampling designs can accurately detect or quantify effects of interest before implementing them in the field. Beyond the question of assessing the power of empirical designs, a virtual ecology analysis contributes to clearly formulating the set of questions associated with a design. However, only a few virtual studies have focused on efficient designs to accurately estimate the autocorrelation range of biodiversity variables. In this study, the statistical framework of optimal design of experiments was employed—a methodology often used in building and comparing designs of temporal or spatiotemporal biodiversity surveys but rarely applied to the specific problem of quantifying spatial autocorrelation.
Key findings from the study shed light on optimal sampling strategies, with a notable dependence on the feasible grid mesh size over the study area in relation to expected autocorrelation range values. The results demonstrated that the efficiency of designs varied based on the specific effect under study. Fractal designs, however, exhibited superior performance, particularly when assessing the effect of a monotonic environmental gradient across space.
In conclusion, the study provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of incorporating fractal designs in biodiversity studies, offering a nuanced and efficient approach to estimate spatial autocorrelation. These findings contribute significantly to the ongoing scientific discourse in ecology, providing practical considerations for improving sampling designs in biodiversity assessments.
Bacaro, G., Altobelli, A., Cameletti, M., Ciccarelli, D., Martellos, S., Palmer, M.W., Ricotta, C., Rocchini, D., Scheiner, S.M., Tordoni, E., Chiarucci, A., 2016. Incorporating spatial autocorrelation in rarefaction methods: Implications for ecologists and conservation biologists. Ecological Indicators 69, 233-238.
Chase, J.M., Jeliazkov, A., Ladouceur, E., Viana, D.S., 2020. Biodiversity conservation through the lens of metacommunity ecology. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1469, 86-104.
Condit, R., Pitman, N., Leigh, E.G., Chave, J., Terborgh, J., Foster, R.B., Núñez, P., Aguilar, S., Valencia, R., Villa, G., Muller-Landau, H.C., Losos, E., Hubbell, S.P., 2002. Beta-Diversity in Tropical Forest Trees. Science 295, 666-669.
Dale, M.R.T., Fortin, M.-J., 2002. Spatial autocorrelation and statistical tests in ecology. Écoscience 9, 162-167.
Delmelle, E.M., 2021. Spatial Sampling, in: Fischer, M.M., Nijkamp, P. (Eds.), Handbook of Regional Science. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, Berlin, Heidelberg, pp. 1829-1844.
Dormann, C.F., 2007. Effects of incorporating spatial autocorrelation into the analysis of species distribution data. Global Ecology & Biogeography 16, 129-128.
Dormann, C.F., McPherson, J.M., Araújo, M.B., Bivand, R., Bolliger, J., Carl, G., Davies, R.G., Hirzel, A., Jetz, W., Kissling, W.D., Kühn, I., Ohlemüler, R., Peres-Neto, P.R., Reineking, B., Schröder, B., Schurr, F.M., Wilson, R., 2007. Methods to account for spatial autocorrelation in the analysis of species distributional data: a review. Ecography 33, 609-628.
Fortin, M.-J., 1999a. Effects of quadrat size and data measurement on the detection of boundaries. Journal of Vegetation Science 10, 43-50.
Fortin, M.-J., 1999b. Effects of sampling unit resolution on the estimation of spatial autocorrelation. Écoscience 6, 636-641.
Getis, A., 2010. Spatial Autocorrelation, in: Fischer, M.M., Getis, A. (Eds.), Handbook of Applied Spatial Analysis: Software Tools, Methods and Applications. Springer Berlin Heidelberg, Berlin, Heidelberg, pp. 255-278.
Laroche, F., 2023. Efficient sampling designs to assess biodiversity spatial autocorrelation: should we go fractal? bioRxiv, 2022.07.29.501974, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.
Legendre, P., 1993. Spatial Autocorrelation: Trouble or New Paradigm? Ecology 74, 1659-1673.
Legendre, P., Dale, M.R.T., Fortin, M.-J., Gurevitch, J., Hohn, M., Myers, D., 2002. The consequences of spatial structure for the design and analysis of ecological field surveys. Ecography 25, 601-615.
Legendre, P., Fortin, M.J., 1989. Spatial pattern and ecological analysis. Vegetatio 80, 107-138.
Legendre, P., Legendre, L., 2012. Numerical Ecology, Third Edition ed. Elsevier, The Netherlands.
McDonald, T., 2012. Spatial sampling designs for long-term ecological monitoring, in: Cooper, A.B., Gitzen, R.A., Licht, D.S., Millspaugh, J.J. (Eds.), Design and Analysis of Long-term Ecological Monitoring Studies. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 101-125.
McGill, B.J., 2010. Matters of Scale. Science 328, 575-576.
McGill, B.J., 2011. Linking biodiversity patterns by autocorrelated random sampling. American Journal of Botany 98, 481-502.
Rahbek, C., 2005. The role of spatial scale and the perception of large-scale species-richness patterns. Ecology Letters 8, 224-239.
Steel, E.A., Kennedy, M.C., Cunningham, P.G., Stanovick, J.S., 2013. Applied statistics in ecology: common pitfalls and simple solutions. Ecosphere 4, art115.
Tobler, W.R., 1970. A Computer Movie Simulating Urban Growth in the Detroit Region. Economic Geography 46, 234-240.
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Wiens, J.A., 1989. The ecology of bird communities. Cambridge University Press.
Efficient sampling designs to assess biodiversity spatial autocorrelation : should we go fractal?Fabien Laroche<p>Quantifying the autocorrelation range of species distribution in space is necessary for applied ecological questions, like implementing protected area networks or monitoring programs. However, the power of spatial sampling designs to estimate t...Biodiversity, Landscape ecology, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & Metapopulations, Statistical ecologyEric Goberville2023-04-21 10:54:29 View
31 Jan 2019
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Do the more flexible individuals rely more on causal cognition? Observation versus intervention in causal inference in great-tailed grackles

From cognition to range dynamics: advancing our understanding of macroecological patterns

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Understanding the distribution of species on earth is one of the fundamental challenges in ecology and evolution. For a long time, this challenge has mainly been addressed from a correlative point of view with a focus on abiotic factors determining a species abiotic niche (classical bioenvelope models; [1]). It is only recently that researchers have realized that behaviour and especially plasticity in behaviour may play a central role in determining species ranges and their dynamics [e.g., 2-5]. Blaisdell et al. propose to take this even one step further and to analyse how behavioural flexibility and possibly associated causal cognition impacts range dynamics.
The current preregistration is integrated in an ambitious long-term research plan that aims at addressing the above outlined question and focuses specifically on investigating whether more behaviourally flexible individuals are better at deriving causal inferences. The model system the authors plan on using are Great-tailed Grackles which have expanded their range into North America during the last century. The preregistration by Blaisdell et al. is a great example of the future of scientific research: it includes conceptual models, alternative hypotheses and testable predictions along with a sound sampling and analysis plan and embraces the principles of Open Science. Overall, the research the authors propose is fascinating and of highest relevance, as it aims at bridging scales from the microscopic mechanisms that underlie animal behaviour to macroscopic, macroecological consequences (see also [3]). I am very much looking forward to the results the authors will report.

[1] Elith, J. & Leathwick, J. R. 2009. Species distribution models: ecological explanation and prediction across space and time. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 40: 677-697. doi: 10.1146/annurev.ecolsys.110308.120159
[2] Kubisch, A.; Degen, T.; Hovestadt, T. & Poethke, H. J. (2013) Predicting range shifts under global change: the balance between local adaptation and dispersal. Ecography 36: 873-882. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.2012.00062.x
[3] Keith, S. A. & Bull, J. W. (2017) Animal culture impacts species' capacity to realise climate-driven range shifts. Ecography, 40: 296-304. doi: 10.1111/ecog.02481
[4] Sullivan, L. L.; Li, B.; Miller, T. E.; Neubert, M. G. & Shaw, A. K. (2017) Density dependence in demography and dispersal generates fluctuating invasion speeds. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 114: 5053-5058. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1618744114
[5] Fronhofer, E. A.; Nitsche, N. & Altermatt, F. (2017) Information use shapes the dynamics of range expansions into environmental gradients. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 26: 400-411. doi: 10.1111/geb.12547

Do the more flexible individuals rely more on causal cognition? Observation versus intervention in causal inference in great-tailed gracklesAaron Blaisdell, Zoe Johnson-Ulrich, Luisa Bergeron, Carolyn Rowney, Benjamin Seitz, Kelsey McCune, Corina LoganThis PREREGISTRATION has undergone one round of peer reviews. We have now revised the preregistration and addressed reviewer comments. The DOI was issued by OSF and refers to the whole GitHub repository, which contains multiple files. The specific...Behaviour & Ethology, Preregistrations, ZoologyEmanuel A. Fronhofer2018-08-20 11:09:48 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
30 Mar 2021
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Do the more flexible individuals rely more on causal cognition? Observation versus intervention in causal inference in great-tailed grackles

From cognition to range dynamics – and from preregistration to peer-reviewed preprint

Recommended by based on reviews by Laure Cauchard and 1 anonymous reviewer

In 2018 Blaisdell and colleagues set out to study how causal cognition may impact large scale macroecological patterns, more specifically range dynamics, in the great-tailed grackle (Fronhofer 2019). This line of research is at the forefront of current thought in macroecology, a field that has started to recognize the importance of animal behaviour more generally (see e.g. Keith and Bull (2017)). Importantly, the authors were pioneering the use of preregistrations in ecology and evolution with the aim of improving the quality of academic research.

Now, nearly 3 years later, it is thanks to their endeavour of making research better that we learn that the authors are “[...] unable to speculate about the potential role of causal cognition in a species that is rapidly expanding its geographic range.” (Blaisdell et al. 2021; page 2). Is this a success or a failure? Every reader will have to find an answer to this question individually and there will certainly be variation in these answers as becomes clear from the referees’ comments. In my opinion, this is a success story of a more stringent and transparent approach to doing research which will help us move forward, both methodologically and conceptually.


Fronhofer (2019) From cognition to range dynamics: advancing our understanding of macroe-
cological patterns. Peer Community in Ecology, 100014. doi:

Keith, S. A. and Bull, J. W. (2017) Animal culture impacts species' capacity to realise climate-driven range shifts. Ecography, 40: 296-304. doi:

Blaisdell, A., Seitz, B., Rowney, C., Folsom, M., MacPherson, M., Deffner, D., and Logan, C. J. (2021) Do the more flexible individuals rely more on causal cognition? Observation versus intervention in causal inference in great-tailed grackles. PsyArXiv, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer community in Ecology. doi:

Do the more flexible individuals rely more on causal cognition? Observation versus intervention in causal inference in great-tailed gracklesBlaisdell A, Seitz B, Rowney C, Folsom M, MacPherson M, Deffner D, Logan CJ<p>Behavioral flexibility, the ability to change behavior when circumstances change based on learning from previous experience, is thought to play an important role in a species’ ability to successfully adapt to new environments and expand its geo...PreregistrationsEmanuel A. Fronhofer2020-11-27 09:49:55 View
26 May 2021
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Spatial distribution of local patch extinctions drives recovery dynamics in metacommunities

Unity makes strength: clustered extinctions have stronger, longer-lasting effects on metacommunities dynamics

Recommended by based on reviews by David Murray-Stoker and Frederik De Laender

In this article, Saade et al. (2021) investigate how the rate of local extinctions and their spatial distribution affect recolonization dynamics in metacommunities. They use an elegant combination of microcosm experiments with metacommunities of freshwater ciliates and mathematical modelling mirroring their experimental system. Their main findings are (i) that local patch extinctions increase both local (α-) and inter-patch (β-) diversity in a transient way during the recolonization process, (ii) that these effects depend more on the spatial distribution of extinctions (dispersed or clustered) than on their amount, and (iii) that they may spread regionally.
Microcosm experiments are already quite cool just by themselves and have contributed largely to conceptual advances in community ecology (see Fraser and Keddy 1997, or Jessup et al. 2004 for reviews on this topic), but they are here exploited to a whole further level by the fitting of a metapopulation dynamics model. The model allows both to identify the underlying mechanisms most likely to generate the patterns observed (here, competitive interactions) and to assess the robustness of these patterns when considering larger spatial or temporal scales. This release of experimental limitations allows here for the analysis of quantitative metrics of spatial structure, like the distance to the closest patch, which gives an interesting insight into the functional basis of the effect of the spatial distribution of extinctions.

A major strength of this study is that it highlights the importance of considering the spatial structure explicitly. Recent work on ecological networks has shown repeatedly that network structure affects the propagation of pathogens (Badham and Stocker 2010), invaders (Morel-Journel et al. 2019), or perturbation events (Gilarranz et al. 2017). Here, the spatial structure of the metacommunity is a regular grid of patches, but the distribution of extinction events may be either regularly dispersed (i.e., extinct patches are distributed evenly over the grid and are all surrounded by non-extinct patches only) or clustered (all extinct patches are neighbours). This has a direct effect on the neighbourhood of perturbed patches, and because perturbations have mostly local effects, their recovery dynamics are dominated by the composition of this immediate neighbourhood. In landscapes with dispersed extinctions, the neighbourhood of a perturbed patch is not affected by the amount of extinctions, and neither is its recovery time. In contrast, in landscapes with clustered extinctions, the amount of extinctions affects the depth of the perturbed area, which takes longer to recover when it is larger. Interestingly, the spatial distribution of extinctions here is functionally equivalent to differences in connectivity between perturbed and unperturbed patches, which results in contrasted “rescue recovery” and “mixing recovery” regimes as described by Zelnick et al. (2019).
Furthermore, this study focuses on local dynamics of competition and short-term, transient patterns that may have been overlooked by more classical, equilibrium-based approaches of dynamical systems of metacommunities. Indeed, in a metacommunity composed of several competitors, early theoretical work demonstrated that species coexistence is possible at the regional scale only, provided that spatial heterogeneity creates spatial variance in fitness or precludes the superior competitor from accessing certain habitat patches (Skellam 1951, Levins 1969). In the spatially homogeneous experimental system of Saade et al., one of the three ciliate species ends up dominating the community at equilibrium. However, following local, one-time extinction events, the community endures a recolonization process in which differences in dispersal may provide temporary spatial niches for inferior competitors. These transient patterns might prove essential to understand and anticipate the resilience of natural systems that are under increasing pressure, and enduring ever more frequent and intense perturbations (IPBES 2019). Spatial autocorrelation in extinction events was previously identified as a risk for stability and persistence of metacommunities (Ruokolainen 2013, Kahilainen et al. 2018). These new results show that autocorrelated perturbations also have longer-lasting effects, which is likely to increase their overall impact on metacommunity dynamics. As spatial and temporal autocorrelation of temperature and extreme climatic events are expected to increase (Di Cecco and Gouthier 2018), studies that investigate how metacommunities respond to the structure of the distribution of perturbations are more necessary than ever.

Badham J, Stocker R (2010) The impact of network clustering and assortativity on epidemic behaviour. Theoretical Population Biology, 77, 71–75.
Di Cecco GJ, Gouhier TC (2018) Increased spatial and temporal autocorrelation of temperature under climate change. Scientific Reports, 8, 14850.
Fraser LH, Keddy P (1997) The role of experimental microcosms in ecological research. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 12, 478–481.
Gilarranz LJ, Rayfield B, Liñán-Cembrano G, Bascompte J, Gonzalez A (2017) Effects of network modularity on the spread of perturbation impact in experimental metapopulations. Science, 357, 199–201.
IPBES (2019) Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. S. Díaz, J. Settele, E. S. Brondízio E.S., H. T. Ngo, M. Guèze, J. Agard, A. Arneth, P. Balvanera, K. A. Brauman, S. H. M. Butchart, K. M. A. Chan, L. A. Garibaldi, K. Ichii, J. Liu, S. M. Subramanian, G. F. Midgley, P. Miloslavich, Z. Molnár, D. Obura, A. Pfaff, S. Polasky, A. Purvis, J. Razzaque, B. Reyers, R. Roy Chowdhury, Y. J. Shin, I. J. Visseren-Hamakers, K. J. Willis, and C. N. Zayas (eds.). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany. 56 pages. 
Jessup CM, Kassen R, Forde SE, Kerr B, Buckling A, Rainey PB, Bohannan BJM (2004) Big questions, small worlds: microbial model systems in ecology. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 19, 189–197.
Kahilainen A, van Nouhuys S, Schulz T, Saastamoinen M (2018) Metapopulation dynamics in a changing climate: Increasing spatial synchrony in weather conditions drives metapopulation synchrony of a butterfly inhabiting a fragmented landscape. Global Change Biology, 24, 4316–4329.

Levins R (1969) Some Demographic and Genetic Consequences of Environmental Heterogeneity for Biological Control1. Bulletin of the Entomological Society of America, 15, 237–240.
Morel-Journel T, Assa CR, Mailleret L, Vercken E (2019) Its all about connections: hubs and invasion in habitat networks. Ecology Letters, 22, 313–321.

Ruokolainen L (2013) Spatio-Temporal Environmental Correlation and Population Variability in Simple Metacommunities. PLOS ONE, 8, e72325.

Saade C, Kefi S, Gougat-Barbera C, Rosenbaum B, Fronhofer EA (2021) Spatial distribution of local patch extinctions drives recovery dynamics in metacommunities. bioRxiv, 2020.12.03.409524, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.
Skellam JG (1951) Random Dispersal in Theoretical Populations. Biometrika, 38, 196–218.
Zelnik YR, Arnoldi J-F, Loreau M (2019) The three regimes of spatial recovery. Ecology, 100, e02586.

Spatial distribution of local patch extinctions drives recovery dynamics in metacommunitiesCamille Saade, Sonia Kéfi, Claire Gougat-Barbera, Benjamin Rosenbaum, and Emanuel A. Fronhofer<p style="text-align: justify;">Human activities lead more and more to the disturbance of plant and animal communities with local extinctions as a consequence. While these negative effects are clearly visible at a local scale, it is less clear how...Biodiversity, Coexistence, Colonization, Community ecology, Competition, Dispersal & Migration, Experimental ecology, Landscape ecology, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & MetapopulationsElodie Vercken2020-12-08 15:55:20 View
06 May 2022
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Effects of climate warming on the pine processionary moth at the southern edge of its range: a retrospective analysis on egg survival in Tunisia

Even the current climate change winners could end up being losers

Recommended by based on reviews by Matt Hill, Philippe Louapre, José Hodar and Corentin Iltis

Climate change is accelerating (IPCC 2022), and so applies ever stronger selective pressures on biodiversity (Segan et al. 2016). Possible responses include range shifts or adaptations to new climatic conditions (Bellard et al. 2012), but there is still much uncertainty about the extent of most species' adaptive capacities and the impact of extreme climatic events.
The pine processionary is a major pest of pine trees in the Mediterranean area. It is notably one of the few species for which a clear link between recent climate change and its northward expansion has been established (Battisti et al. 2005), and as such is often considered as globally benefitting from climate change. However, recent results show a retraction of its range at the southern limit (Bourougaaoui et al. 2021), exposed to high warming (+1.4°C in Tunisia since 1901 as opposed to +1.12°C on average in the Northern hemisphere) and extreme summer temperature events (Verner et al. 2013). Thus, it is possible that the species' adaptive abilities are being challenged at the southern limit of its native range by the magnitude of observed climate change.
In this work, Bourougaaoui et al. (2022) investigate how climate change over the last 30 years has impacted the reproductive success of the pine processionary moth in Tunisia. A major methodological interest of this study is that they used data both from historical collections and from recent samplings, which raised a challenge for running a longitudinal analysis as sampling locations differed between the two periods. By applying a grouping method to local climatic data, the authors were able to define several large climatic clusters within the country, and analyze long-term data from different sites within the same clusters. They find that both fecundity and hatching rate decreased over the period, while at the same time both the average temperature increased and climate variability increased. One of the main conclusions is that recurrent episodes of extreme heat during summer might have a larger impact than the long-term increase of average temperature, which strongly echoes how the intensification of weather extremes is currently proving one of the most important dimensions of climate change.
However, a most interesting hypothesis also arises from the analysis of the differences between climatic clusters: preexisting adaptations to heat, for instance, phenological shifts that allow the most sensitive stages to develop earlier in the season before the extreme heat events are most likely to occur, might actually reduce impacts in the historically warmest areas. Thus the greatest climate vulnerability might not always stand where one expects it.

Battisti A, Stastny M, Netherer S, Robinet C, Schopf A, Roques A, Larsson S (2005) Expansion of Geographic Range in the Pine Processionary Moth Caused by Increased Winter Temperatures. Ecological Applications, 15, 2084–2096.

Bellard C, Bertelsmeier C, Leadley P, Thuiller W, Courchamp F (2012) Impacts of climate change on the future of biodiversity. Ecology Letters, 15, 365–377.

Bourougaaoui A, Ben Jamâa ML, Robinet C (2021) Has North Africa turned too warm for a Mediterranean forest pest because of climate change? Climatic Change, 165, 46.

Bourougaaoui A, Robinet C, Jamaa MLB, Laparie M (2022) Effects of climate warming on the pine processionary moth at the southern edge of its range: a retrospective analysis on egg survival in Tunisia. bioRxiv, 2021.08.17.456665, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

IPCC. 2022. Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, M. Tignor, E.S. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Craig, S. Langsdorf, S. Löschke, V. Möller, A. Okem, B. Rama (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press.

Segan DB, Murray KA, Watson JEM (2016) A global assessment of current and future biodiversity vulnerability to habitat loss–climate change interactions. Global Ecology and Conservation, 5, 12–21.

Verner D (2013) Tunisia in a Changing Climate : Assessment and Actions for Increased Resilience and Development. World Bank, Washington, DC.  

Effects of climate warming on the pine processionary moth at the southern edge of its range: a retrospective analysis on egg survival in TunisiaAsma Bourougaaoui, Christelle Robinet, Mohamed Lahbib Ben Jamâa, Mathieu Laparie<p style="text-align: justify;">In recent years, ectotherm species have largely been impacted by extreme climate events, essentially heatwaves. In Tunisia, the pine processionary moth (PPM), <em>Thaumetopoea pityocampa</em>, is a highly damaging p...Climate change, Dispersal & Migration, Life history, Phenotypic plasticity, Species distributions, Terrestrial ecology, Thermal ecology, ZoologyElodie Vercken2021-08-19 11:03:13 View
14 Jun 2024
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Hierarchizing multi-scale environmental effects on agricultural pest population dynamics: a case study on the annual onset of Bactrocera dorsalis population growth in Senegalese orchards

Uncovering the ecology in big-data by hierarchizing multi-scale environmental effects

Recommended by based on reviews by Kévin Tougeron and Jianqiang Sun

Along with the generalization of open-access practices, large, heterogeneous datasets are becoming increasingly available to ecologists (Farley et al. 2018). While such data offer exciting opportunities for unveiling original patterns and trends, they also raise new challenges regarding how to extract relevant information and actually improve our knowledge of complex ecological systems, beyond purely descriptive correlations (Dietze 2017, Farley et al. 2018).

In this work, Caumette et al. (2024) develop an original ecoinformatics approach to relate multi-scale environmental factors to the temporal dynamics of a major pest in mango orchards. Their method relies on the recent tree-boosting method GPBoost (Sigrist 2022) to hierarchize the influence of environmental factors of heterogeneous nature (e.g., orchard composition and management; landscape structure; climate) on the emergence date of the oriental fruit fly, Bactrocera dorsalis. As boosting methods allows the analysis of high-dimensional data, they are particularly adapted to the exploration of such datasets, to uncover unexpected, potentially complex dependencies between ecological dynamics and multiple environmental factors (Farley et al. 2018). In this article, Caumette et al. (2024) make a special effort to guide the reader step by step through their complex analysis pipeline to make it broadly understandable to the average ecologist, which is no small feat. I particularly welcome this commitment, as making new, cutting-edge analytical methods accessible to a large community of science practitioners with varying degrees of statistical or programming expertise is a major challenge for the future of quantitative ecology. 

The main result of Caumette et al. (2024) is that temperature and humidity conditions both at the local and regional scales are the main predictors of B. dorsalis emergence date, while orchard management practices seem to have relatively little influence. This suggests that favourable climatic conditions may allow the persistence of small populations of B. dorsalis over the dry season, which may then act as a propagule source for early re-infestations. However, as the authors explain, the resulting regression model is not designed for predictive purposes and should not at this stage be used for decision-making in pest management. Its main interest rather resides in identifying potential key factors favoring early infestations of B. dorsalis, and help focusing future experimental field studies on the most relevant levers for integrated pest management in mango orchards.

In a wider perspective, this work also provides a convincing proof-of-concept for the use of boosting methods to identify the most influential factors in large, multivariate datasets in a variety of ecological systems. It is also crucial to keep in mind that the current exponential growth in high-throughput environmental data (Lucivero 2020) could quickly come into conflict with the need to reduce the environmental footprint of research (Mariette et al. 2022). In this context, robust and accessible methods for extracting and exploiting all the information available in already existing datasets might prove essential to a sustainable pursuit of science.

Caumette C, Diatta P, Piry S, Chapuis M-P, Faye E, Sigrist F, Martin O, Papaïx J, Brévault T, Berthier K. 2024. Hierarchizing multi-scale environmental effects on agricultural pest population dynamics: a case study on the annual onset of Bactrocera dorsalis population growth in Senegalese orchards. bioRxiv 2023.11.10.566583, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

Dietze MC. 2017. Ecological Forecasting. Princeton University Press
Farley SS, Dawson A, Goring SJ, Williams JW. 2018. Situating Ecology as a Big-Data Science: Current Advances, Challenges, and Solutions. BioScience, 68, 563–576,
Lucivero F. 2020. Big Data, Big Waste? A Reflection on the Environmental Sustainability of Big Data Initiatives. Science and Engineering Ethics 26, 1009–1030.

Mariette J, Blanchard O, Berné O, Aumont O, Carrey J, Ligozat A-L, Lellouch E, Roche P-E, Guennebaud G, Thanwerdas J, Bardou P, Salin G, Maigne E, Servan S, Ben-Ari T 2022. An open-source tool to assess the carbon footprint of research. Environmental Research: Infrastructure and Sustainability, 2022.
Sigrist F. 2022. Gaussian process boosting. The Journal of Machine Learning Research, 23, 10565-10610.

Hierarchizing multi-scale environmental effects on agricultural pest population dynamics: a case study on the annual onset of *Bactrocera dorsalis* population growth in Senegalese orchardsCécile Caumette, Paterne Diatta, Sylvain Piry, Marie-Pierre Chapuis, Emile Faye, Fabio Sigrist, Olivier Martin, Julien Papaïx, Thierry Brévault, Karine Berthier<p>Implementing integrated pest management programs to limit agricultural pest damage requires an understanding of the interactions between the environmental variability and population demographic processes. However, identifying key environmental ...Demography, Landscape ecology, Statistical ecologyElodie Vercken2023-12-11 17:02:08 View
29 Jan 2020
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Stoichiometric constraints modulate the effects of temperature and nutrients on biomass distribution and community stability

On the importance of stoichiometric constraints for understanding global change effects on food web dynamics

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

The constraints associated with the mass balance of chemical elements (i.e. stoichiometric constraints) are critical to our understanding of ecological interactions, as outlined by the ecological stoichiometry theory [1]. Species in ecosystems differ in their elemental composition as well as in their level of elemental homeostasis [2], which can determine the outcome of interactions such as herbivory or decomposition on species coexistence and ecosystem functioning [3, 4].
Despite their importance, stoichiometric constraints are still often ignored in theoretical studies exploring the consequences of environmental perturbations on food web stability. Meanwhile, drivers of global change strongly alter biochemical cycles and the balance of chemical elements in ecosystems [5]. An important challenge is thus to understand how stoichiometric constraints affect food web responses to global changes.
The study of Sentis et al. [6] makes a step in that direction. This article investigates how stoichiometric constraints affect the response of consumer-resource dynamics to increasing temperature and nutrient inputs. It shows that the stoichiometric flexibility of the resource, coupled with lower consumer assimilation efficiency when stoichiometric unbalance between the resource and the consumer is higher, dampens the destabilizing effects of nutrient enrichment on species dynamics but reduces consumer persistence at extreme temperatures. Interestingly, these effects of stoichiometric constraints arise not only from changes in species assimilation efficiencies and carrying capacities but also from stoichiometric negative feedback loops on resource and consumer populations.
The results of this study are a call to further include stoichiometric constraints into food web models to better understand and predict the consequences of global changes on ecological communities. Many perspectives exist on that issue. For instance, it would be interesting to assess the effects of other stoichiometric mechanisms (e.g. changes in the element limiting growth [3]) on food web stability and its response to nutrient enrichment, as well as the effects of other global change drivers associated with altered biochemical cycles (e.g. carbon dioxide increase).


[1] Sterner, R. W. and Elser, J. J. (2017). Ecological Stoichiometry, The Biology of Elements from Molecules to the Biosphere. doi: 10.1515/9781400885695
[2] Elser, J. J., Sterner, R. W., Gorokhova, E., Fagan, W. F., Markow, T. A., Cotner, J. B., Harrison, J.F., Hobbie, S.E., Odell, G.M., Weider, L. W. (2000). Biological stoichiometry from genes to ecosystems. Ecology Letters, 3(6), 540–550. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2000.00185.x
[3] Daufresne, T., and Loreau, M. (2001). Plant–herbivore interactions and ecological stoichiometry: when do herbivores determine plant nutrient limitation? Ecology Letters, 4(3), 196–206. doi: 10.1046/j.1461-0248.2001.00210.x
[4] Zou, K., Thébault, E., Lacroix, G., and Barot, S. (2016). Interactions between the green and brown food web determine ecosystem functioning. Functional Ecology, 30(8), 1454–1465. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12626
[5] Peñuelas, J., Poulter, B., Sardans, J., Ciais, P., van der Velde, M., Bopp, L., Boucher, O., Godderis, Y., Hinsinger, P., Llusia, J., Nardin, E., Vicca, S., Obersteiner, M., Janssens, I. A. (2013). Human-induced nitrogen–phosphorus imbalances alter natural and managed ecosystems across the globe. Nature Communications, 4(1), 1–10. doi: 10.1038/ncomms3934
[6] Sentis, A., Haegeman, B. & Montoya, J.M. (2020). Stoichiometric constraints modulate the effects of temperature and nutrients on biomass distribution and community stability. bioRxiv, 589895, ver. 7 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/589895

Stoichiometric constraints modulate the effects of temperature and nutrients on biomass distribution and community stability Arnaud Sentis, Bart Haegeman, and José M. Montoya<p>Temperature and nutrients are two of the most important drivers of global change. Both can modify the elemental composition (i.e. stoichiometry) of primary producers and consumers. Yet their combined effect on the stoichiometry, dynamics, and s...Climate change, Community ecology, Food webs, Theoretical ecology, Thermal ecologyElisa Thebault2019-08-08 12:20:08 View
21 Oct 2020
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Why scaling up uncertain predictions to higher levels of organisation will underestimate change

Uncertain predictions of species responses to perturbations lead to underestimate changes at ecosystem level in diverse systems

Recommended by based on reviews by Carlos Melian and 1 anonymous reviewer

Different sources of uncertainty are known to affect our ability to predict ecological dynamics (Petchey et al. 2015). However, the consequences of uncertainty on prediction biases have been less investigated, especially when predictions are scaled up to higher levels of organisation as is commonly done in ecology for instance. The study of Orr et al. (2020) addresses this issue. It shows that, in complex systems, the uncertainty of unbiased predictions at a lower level of organisation (e.g. species level) leads to a bias towards underestimation of change at higher level of organisation (e.g. ecosystem level). This bias is strengthened by larger uncertainty and by higher dimensionality of the system.
This general result has large implications for many fields of science, from economics to energy supply or demography. In ecology, as discussed in this study, these results imply that the uncertainty of predictions of species’ change increases the probability of underestimation of changes of diversity and stability at community and ecosystem levels, especially when species richness is high. The uncertainty of predictions of species’ change also increases the probability of underestimation of change when multiple ecosystem functions are considered at once, or when the combined effect of multiple stressors is considered.
The consequences of species diversity on ecosystem functions and stability have received considerable attention during the last decades (e.g. Cardinale et al. 2012, Kéfi et al. 2019). However, since the bias towards underestimation of change increases with species diversity, future studies will need to investigate how the general statistical effect outlined by Orr et al. might affect our understanding of the well-known relationships between species diversity and ecosystem functioning and stability in response to perturbations.


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.
Kéfi S, Domínguez‐García V, Donohue I, Fontaine C, Thébault E, Dakos V (2019) Advancing our understanding of ecological stability. Ecology Letters, 22, 1349–1356.
Orr JA, Piggott JJ, Jackson A, Arnoldi J-F (2020) Why scaling up uncertain predictions to higher levels of organisation will underestimate change. bioRxiv, 2020.05.26.117200.
Petchey OL, Pontarp M, Massie TM, Kéfi S, Ozgul A, Weilenmann M, Palamara GM, Altermatt F, Matthews B, Levine JM, Childs DZ, McGill BJ, Schaepman ME, Schmid B, Spaak P, Beckerman AP, Pennekamp F, Pearse IS (2015) The ecological forecast horizon, and examples of its uses and determinants. Ecology Letters, 18, 597–611.

Why scaling up uncertain predictions to higher levels of organisation will underestimate changeJames Orr, Jeremy Piggott, Andrew Jackson, Jean-François Arnoldi<p>Uncertainty is an irreducible part of predictive science, causing us to over- or underestimate the magnitude of change that a system of interest will face. In a reductionist approach, we may use predictions at the level of individual system com...Community ecology, Ecosystem functioning, Theoretical ecologyElisa ThebaultAnonymous2020-06-02 15:41:12 View
10 Oct 2018
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Detecting within-host interactions using genotype combination prevalence data

Combining epidemiological models with statistical inference can detect parasite interactions

Recommended by based on reviews by Samuel Díaz Muñoz, Erick Gagne and 1 anonymous reviewer

There are several important topics in the study of infectious diseases that have not been well explored due to technical difficulties. One such topic is pursued by Alizon et al. in “Modelling coinfections to detect within-host interactions from genotype combination prevalences” [1]. Both theory and several important examples have demonstrated that interactions among co-infecting strains can have outsized impacts on disease outcomes, transmission dynamics, and epidemiology. Unfortunately, empirical data on pathogen interactions and their outcomes is often correlational making results difficult to decipher.
The analytical framework developed by Alizon et al. [1] infers the presence and strength of pathogen interactions through their impact on transmission dynamics using a novel application of Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC)-regression to epidemiological data. Traditional analytic approaches identify pathogen interactions when the observed distribution of pathogens among hosts differ from ‘neutral’ expectations. However, deviations from this expectation are not only a result of inter-strain interactions but can be caused by many ecological interactions, such as heterogeneity in host contact networks. To overcome this difficulty, Alizon et al [1] develop an analytical framework that incorporates explicit epidemiological models to allow inference of interactions among strains of Human Papillomaviruses (HPV) even with other ecological interactions that impact the distribution of strains among hosts. Alizon et al also demonstrate that using more of the available data, including the specific combination of strains present in hosts and knowledge of the connectivity of the hosts (i.e., super-spreaders), leads to more accurate inferences of the strength and direction of within-host interactions among coinfecting strains. This method successfully identified data generated from models with high and moderate inter-strain interaction intensity when the host population was homogeneous and was only slightly less successful when the host population was heterogeneous (super-spreaders present). By comparison, some previously published analytical methods could identify only some inter-strain interactions in datasets generated from models with homogeneous host populations, but host heterogeneity obscured these interactions.
This manuscript makes seamless connections between basic viral biology and its epidemiological consequences by tying them together with realistic models, illustrating the fundamental utility of biological modeling. This analytical framework provides crucial tools for experimentalists, facilitating collaborations with theoreticians to better understand the epidemiological consequences of co-infections. In addition, the method is simple enough to be applied by a broad base of experimentalists to the many pathogens where co-infections are common. Thus, this paper has the potential to impact several research fields and public health practice. Those attempting to apply this method should note the potential limitations noted by the authors. For example, it is not designed to detect the mechanisms of inter-strain interactions (there is no within host component of the models) but to identify the existence of interactions through patterns indicative of these interactions while ruling out other sources that could cause the pattern. This approach is likely to be most accurate when strain identification within hosts is precise and unbiased - which is unlikely in many systems where samples are taken only from symptomatic cases and strain detection is not sufficiently sensitive – and when host contact networks can be reasonably estimated. Importantly, a priori knowledge of the set of possible epidemiological models is needed for accurate parameter estimates, which may be true for several prominent pathogens, but not be so for many other pathogens and symbionts. We look forward to future extensions of this framework where this restriction is relaxed. Alizon et al. [1] have provided a framework that will facilitate theoretical and empirical work on the impact of coinfections on infectious disease and should shape future public health data collection standards.


[1] Alizon, S., Murall, C.L., Saulnier, E., & Sofonea, M.T. (2018). Detecting within-host interactions using genotype combination prevalence data. bioRxiv, 256586, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/256586

Detecting within-host interactions using genotype combination prevalence dataSamuel Alizon, Carmen Lía Murall, Emma Saulnier, Mircea T Sofonea<p>Parasite genetic diversity can provide information on disease transmission dynamics but most methods ignore the exact combinations of genotypes in infections. We introduce and validate a new method that combines explicit epidemiological modelli...Eco-immunology & Immunity, Epidemiology, Host-parasite interactions, Statistical ecologyDustin Brisson Samuel Díaz Muñoz, Erick Gagne2018-02-01 09:23:26 View