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07 Oct 2019
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Deer slow down litter decomposition by reducing litter quality in a temperate forest

Disentangling effects of large herbivores on litter decomposition

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Aboveground – belowground interactions is a fascinating field that has developed in ecology since about 20 years [1]. This field has been very fruitful as measured by the numerous articles published but also by the particular role it has played in the development of soil ecology. While soil ecology has for a long time developed partially independently from “general ecology” [2], the field of aboveground – belowground interactions has shown that all ecological interactions occurring within the soil are likely to impact plant growth and plant physiology because they have their roots within the soil. In turns, this should impact the aerial system of plants (higher or lower biomasses, changes in leaf quality…), which should cascade on the aboveground food web. Conversely, all ecological interactions occurring aboveground likely impact plant growth, which should cascade to their root systems, and thus to the soil functioning and the soil food web (through changes in the emission of exudates or inputs of dead roots…). Basically, plants are linking the belowground and aboveground worlds because, as terrestrial primary producers, they need to have (1) leaves to capture CO2 and exploit light and (2) roots to absorb water and mineral nutrients. The article I presently recommend [3] tackles this general issue through the prism of the impact of large herbivores on the decomposition of leaf litter.
This issue is a relatively old one [4, 5] but still deserves efforts because there have been relatively few studies on the subject and because the issue is relatively complex due to the diversity of mechanisms involved and the difficulty to disentangle them. I recommend this article because the authors have cleverly taken advantage of a ‘‘natural’’ long-term experiment, i.e. three islands with contrasted deer densities, to test whether these large mammals are able to impact leaf litter decomposition and whether they are able to do so through changes in litter quality (because they browse the vegetation) or through changes in soil characteristics (either physical or chemical characteristics or the composition of the decomposer community). They have found that deer decrease litter decomposition, mainly through a decrease in litter quality (increase in its C:N ratio). I particularly appreciate the combination of statistics achieved to test the different hypotheses and the fair and in-depth discussion of the results.
I have to confess that I have two small regrets with this work. First, all replications are implemented within the same three islands, so that it cannot be fully excluded that measured effects should not be attributed to any other possible difference between the three islands. I am fairly sure this is not the case (at least because the three islands have the same environments) but I hope that future studies or meta-analyses will be able analyse independent deer density treatments. Second, as a soil ecologist, I am eager to see results on the decomposer communities, both microorganisms and macrofauna, of the three islands.


[1] Hooper, D. U., Bignell, D. E., Brown, V. K., Brussard, L., Dangerfield, J. M., Wall, D. H. and Wolters, V. (2000). Interactions between Aboveground and Belowground Biodiversity in Terrestrial Ecosystems: Patterns, Mechanisms, and Feedbacks. BioScience, 50(12), 1049-1061. doi: 10.1641/0006-3568(2000)050[1049:ibaabb];2
[2] Barot, S., Blouin, M., Fontaine, S., Jouquet, P., Lata, J.-C., and Mathieu, J. (2007). A Tale of Four Stories: Soil Ecology, Theory, Evolution and the Publication System. PLOS ONE, 2(11), e1248. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001248
[3] Chollet S., Maillard M., Schörghuber J., Grayston S. and Martin J.-L. (2019). Deer slow down litter decomposition by reducing litter quality in a temperate forest. bioRxiv, 690032, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/690032
[4] Wardle, D. A., Barker, G. M., Yeates, G. W., Bonner, K. I., and Ghani, A. (2001). Introduced browsing mammals in New Zealand natural forests: aboveground and belowground consequences. Ecological Monographs, 71(4), 587-614. doi: 10.1890/0012-9615(2001)071[0587:ibminz];2
[5] Bardgett, R. D., and Wardle, D. A. (2003). Herbivore-mediated linkages between aboveground and belowground communities. Ecology, 84(9), 2258-2268. doi: 10.1890/02-0274

Deer slow down litter decomposition by reducing litter quality in a temperate forest Simon Chollet, Morgane Maillard, Juliane Schorghuber, Sue Grayston, Jean-Louis Martin<p>In temperate forest ecosystems, the role of deer in litter decomposition, a key nutrient cycling process, remains debated. Deer may modify the decomposition process by affecting plant cover and thus modifying litter abundance. They can also alt...Community ecology, Ecosystem functioning, Herbivory, Soil ecologySébastien Barot2019-07-04 14:30:19 View
14 Dec 2022
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The contrasted impacts of grasshoppers on soil microbial activities in function of primary production and herbivore diet

Complex interactions between ecosystem productivity and herbivore diets lead to non-predicted effects on nutrient cycling

Recommended by based on reviews by Manuel Blouin and Tord Ranheim Sveen

The authors present a study typical of the field of belowground-aboveground interactions [1]. This framework has been extremely fruitful since the beginning of 2000s [2]. It has also contributed to bridge the gap between soil ecology and the rest of ecology [3]. The study also pertains to the rich field on the impacts of herbivores on soil functioning [4].

The study more precisely tested during two years the effect on nutrient cycling of the interaction between the type of grassland (along a gradient of biomass productivity) and the diet of the community of insect herbivores (5 treatments manipulating the grasshopper community on 1 m2 plots, with a gradient from no grasshopper to grasshoppers either specialized on forbs or grasses). What seems extremely interesting is that the study is based on a rigorous hypothesis-testing approach. They compare the predictions of two frameworks: (1) The “productivity model” predicts that in productive ecosystems herbivores consume a high percentage of the net primary production thus accelerating nutrient cycling. (2) The “diet model” distinguishes herbivores consuming exploitative plants from those eating conservative plants. The former (later) type of herbivores favours conservative (exploitative) plants therefore decelerating (accelerating) nutrient cycling. Interestingly, the two frameworks have similar predictions (and symmetrically opposite predictions) in two cases out of four combinations between ecosystem productivities and types of diet (see Table 1). An other merit of the study is to combine in a rather comprehensive way all the necessary measurements to test these frameworks in combination: grasshopper diet, soil properties, characteristics of the soil microbial community, plant traits, vegetation survey and plant biomass.

The results were in contradiction with the ‘‘diet model’’: microbial properties and nitrogen cycling did not depend on grasshopper diet. The productivity of the grasslands did impact nutrient cycling but not in the direction predicted by the “productivity model”: productive grasslands hosted exploitative plants that depleted N resources in the soil and microbes producing few extracellular enzymes, which led to a lower potential N mineralization and a deceleration of nutrient cycling. Because, the authors stuck to their original hypotheses (that were not confirmed), they were able to discuss in a very relevant way their results and to propose some interpretations, at least partially based on the time scales involved by the productivity and diet models.

Beyond all the merits of this article, I think that two issues remain largely open in relation with the dynamics of the studied systems, and would deserve future research efforts. First, on the ‘‘short’’ term (up to several decades), can we predict how the communities of plants, soil microbes, and herbivores interact to drive the dynamics of the ecosystems? Second, at the evolutionary time scale, can we understand and predict the interactions between the evolution of plant, microbe and herbivore strategies and the consequences for the functioning of the grasslands? The two issues are difficult because of the multiple feedbacks involved. One way to go further would be to complement the empirical approach with models along existing research avenues [5, 6]. 


[1] Ibanez S, Foulquier A, Brun C, Colace M-P, Piton G, Bernard L, Gallet C, Clément J-C (2022) The contrasted impacts of grasshoppers on soil microbial activities in function of primary production and herbivore diet. bioRxiv, 2022.07.04.497718, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

[2] Hooper, D. U., Bignell, D. E., Brown, V. K., Brussaard, L., Dangerfield, J. M., Wall, D. H., Wardle, D. A., Coleman, D. C., Giller, K. E., Lavelle, P., Van der Putten, W. H., De Ruiter, P. C., et al. 2000. Interactions between aboveground and belowground biodiversity in terretrial ecosystems: patterns, mechanisms, and feedbacks. BioScience, 50, 1049-1061.[1049:IBAABB]2.0.CO;2

[3] Barot, S., Blouin, M., Fontaine, S., Jouquet, P., Lata, J.-C., and Mathieu, J. 2007. A tale of four stories: soil ecology, theory, evolution and the publication system. PLoS ONE, 2, e1248.

[4] Bardgett, R. D., and Wardle, D. A. 2003. Herbivore-mediated linkages between aboveground and belowground communities. Ecology, 84, 2258-2268.

[5] Barot, S., Bornhofen, S., Loeuille, N., Perveen, N., Shahzad, T., and Fontaine, S. 2014. Nutrient enrichment and local competition influence the evolution of plant mineralization strategy, a modelling approach. J. Ecol., 102, 357-366.

[6] Schweitzer, J. A., Juric, I., van de Voorde, T. F. J., Clay, K., van der Putten, W. H., Bailey, J. K., and Fox, C. 2014. Are there evolutionary consequences of plant-soil feedbacks along soil gradients? Func. Ecol., 28, 55-64.


The contrasted impacts of grasshoppers on soil microbial activities in function of primary production and herbivore dietSébastien Ibanez, Arnaud Foulquier, Charles Brun, Marie-Pascale Colace, Gabin Piton, Lionel Bernard, Christiane Gallet, Jean-Christophe Clément<p style="text-align: justify;">Herbivory can have contrasted impacts on soil microbes and nutrient cycling, which has stimulated the development of conceptual frameworks exploring the links between below- and aboveground processes. The "productiv...Ecosystem functioning, Herbivory, Soil ecology, Terrestrial ecologySébastien Barot2022-07-14 09:06:13 View
23 Mar 2020
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Intraspecific difference among herbivore lineages and their host-plant specialization drive the strength of trophic cascades

Tell me what you’ve eaten, I’ll tell you how much you’ll eat (and be eaten)

Recommended by and based on reviews by Bastien Castagneyrol and 1 anonymous reviewer

Tritrophic interactions have a central role in ecological theory and applications [1-3]. Particularly, systems comprised of plants, herbivores and predators have historically received wide attention given their ubiquity and economic importance [4]. Although ecologists have long aimed to understand the forces that govern alternating ecological effects at successive trophic levels [5], several key open questions remain (at least partially) unanswered [6]. In particular, the analysis of complex food webs has questioned whether ecosystems can be viewed as a series of trophic chains [7,8]. Moreover, whether systems are mostly controlled by top-down (trophic cascades) or bottom-up processes remains an open question [6].
Traditionally, studies have addressed how species diversity at different food chain compartments affect the strength and direction of trophic cascades [9]. For example, many studies have tested whether biological control was more efficient with more than one species of natural enemies [10-12]. Much less attention has been given to the role of within-species variation in shaping trophic cascades [13]. In particular, whereas the impact of trait variation within species of plants or predators on successive trophic levels has been recently addressed [14,15], the impact of intraspecific herbivore variation is in its infancy (but see [16]). This is at odds with the resurgent acknowledgment of the importance of individual variation for several ecological processes operating at higher levels of biological organization [17].
Sources of variation within species can come in many flavours. In herbivores, striking ecological variation can be found among populations occurring on different host plants, which become genetically differentiated, thus forming host races [18,19]. Curiously, the impact of variation across host races on the strength of trophic cascades has, to date, not been explored. This is the gap that the manuscript by Sentis and colleagues [20] fills. They experimentally studied a curious tri-trophic system where the primary consumer, pea aphids, specializes in different plant hosts, creating intraspecific variation across biotypes. Interestingly, there is also ecological variation across lineages from the same biotype. The authors set up experimental food chains, where pea aphids from different lineages and biotypes were placed in their universal legume host (broad bean plants) and then exposed to a voracious but charming predator, ladybugs. The full factorial design of this experiment allowed the authors to measure vertical effects of intraspecific variation in herbivores on both plant productivity (top-down) and predator individual growth (bottom-up).
The results nicely uncover the mechanisms by which intraspecific differences in herbivores precipitates vertical modulation in food chains. Herbivore lineage and host-plant specialization shaped the strength of trophic cascades, but curiously these effects were not modulated by density-dependence. Further, ladybugs consuming pea aphids from different lineages and biotypes grew at distinct rates, revealing bottom-up effects of intraspecific variation in herbivores.
These findings are novel and exciting for several reasons. First, they show how intraspecific variation in intermediate food chain compartments can simultaneously reverberate both top-down and bottom-up effects. Second, they bring an evolutionary facet to the understanding of trophic cascades, providing valuable insights on how genetically differentiated populations play particular ecological roles in food webs. Finally, Sentis and colleagues’ findings [20] have critical implications well beyond their study systems. From an applied perspective, they provide an evident instance on how consumers’ evolutionary specialization matters for their role in ecosystems processes (e.g. plant biomass production, predator conversion rate), which has key consequences for biological control initiatives and invasive species management. From a conceptual standpoint, their results ignite the still neglected value of intraspecific variation (driven by evolution) in modulating the functioning of food webs, which is a promising avenue for future theoretical and empirical studies.


[1] Price, P. W., Bouton, C. E., Gross, P., McPheron, B. A., Thompson, J. N., & Weis, A. E. (1980). Interactions among three trophic levels: influence of plants on interactions between insect herbivores and natural enemies. Annual review of Ecology and Systematics, 11(1), 41-65. doi: 10.1146/
[2] Olff, H., Brown, V.K. & Drent, R.H. (1999). Herbivores: between plants and predators. Blackwell Science, Oxford.
[3] Tscharntke, T. & Hawkins, B.A. (2002). Multitrophic level interactions. Cambridge University Press. doi: 10.1017/CBO9780511542190
[4] Agrawal, A. A. (2000). Mechanisms, ecological consequences and agricultural implications of tri-trophic interactions. Current opinion in plant biology, 3(4), 329-335. doi: 10.1016/S1369-5266(00)00089-3
[5] Pace, M. L., Cole, J. J., Carpenter, S. R., & Kitchell, J. F. (1999). Trophic cascades revealed in diverse ecosystems. Trends in ecology & evolution, 14(12), 483-488. doi: 10.1016/S0169-5347(99)01723-1
[6] Abdala‐Roberts, L., Puentes, A., Finke, D. L., Marquis, R. J., Montserrat, M., Poelman, E. H., ... & Mooney, K. (2019). Tri‐trophic interactions: bridging species, communities and ecosystems. Ecology letters, 22(12), 2151-2167. doi: 10.1111/ele.13392
[7] Polis, G.A. & Winemiller, K.O. (1996). Food webs. Integration of patterns and dynamics. Chapmann & Hall, New York. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-7007-3
[8] Torres‐Campos, I., Magalhães, S., Moya‐Laraño, J., & Montserrat, M. (2020). The return of the trophic chain: Fundamental vs. realized interactions in a simple arthropod food web. Functional Ecology, 34(2), 521-533. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.13470
[9] Polis, G. A., Sears, A. L., Huxel, G. R., Strong, D. R., & Maron, J. (2000). When is a trophic cascade a trophic cascade?. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 15(11), 473-475. doi: 10.1016/S0169-5347(00)01971-6
[10] Sih, A., Englund, G., & Wooster, D. (1998). Emergent impacts of multiple predators on prey. Trends in ecology & evolution, 13(9), 350-355. doi: 10.1016/S0169-5347(98)01437-2
[11] Diehl, E., Sereda, E., Wolters, V., & Birkhofer, K. (2013). Effects of predator specialization, host plant and climate on biological control of aphids by natural enemies: a meta‐analysis. Journal of Applied Ecology, 50(1), 262-270. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12032
[12] Snyder, W. E. (2019). Give predators a complement: conserving natural enemy biodiversity to improve biocontrol. Biological control, 135, 73-82. doi: 10.1016/j.biocontrol.2019.04.017
[13] Des Roches, S., Post, D. M., Turley, N. E., Bailey, J. K., Hendry, A. P., Kinnison, M. T., ... & Palkovacs, E. P. (2018). The ecological importance of intraspecific variation. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 2(1), 57-64. doi: 10.1038/s41559-017-0402-5
[14] Bustos‐Segura, C., Poelman, E. H., Reichelt, M., Gershenzon, J., & Gols, R. (2017). Intraspecific chemical diversity among neighbouring plants correlates positively with plant size and herbivore load but negatively with herbivore damage. Ecology Letters, 20(1), 87-97. doi: 10.1111/ele.12713
[15] Start, D., & Gilbert, B. (2017). Predator personality structures prey communities and trophic cascades. Ecology letters, 20(3), 366-374. doi: 10.1111/ele.12735
[16] Turcotte, M. M., Reznick, D. N., & Daniel Hare, J. (2013). Experimental test of an eco-evolutionary dynamic feedback loop between evolution and population density in the green peach aphid. The American Naturalist, 181(S1), S46-S57. doi: 10.1086/668078
[17] Bolnick, D. I., Amarasekare, P., Araújo, M. S., Bürger, R., Levine, J. M., Novak, M., ... & Vasseur, D. A. (2011). Why intraspecific trait variation matters in community ecology. Trends in ecology & evolution, 26(4), 183-192. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2011.01.009
[18] Drès, M., & Mallet, J. (2002). Host races in plant–feeding insects and their importance in sympatric speciation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 357(1420), 471-492. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2002.1059
[19] Magalhães, S., Forbes, M. R., Skoracka, A., Osakabe, M., Chevillon, C., & McCoy, K. D. (2007). Host race formation in the Acari. Experimental and Applied Acarology, 42(4), 225-238. doi: 10.1007/s10493-007-9091-0
[20] Sentis, A., Bertram, R., Dardenne, N., Simon, J.-C., Magro, A., Pujol, B., Danchin, E. and J.-L. Hemptinne (2020) Intraspecific difference among herbivore lineages and their host-plant specialization drive the strength of trophic cascades. bioRxiv, 722140, ver. 4 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/722140

Intraspecific difference among herbivore lineages and their host-plant specialization drive the strength of trophic cascadesArnaud Sentis, Raphaël Bertram, Nathalie Dardenne, Jean-Christophe Simon, Alexandra Magro, Benoit Pujol, Etienne Danchin and Jean-Louis Hemptinne<p>Trophic cascades, the indirect effect of predators on non-adjacent lower trophic levels, are important drivers of the structure and dynamics of ecological communities. However, the influence of intraspecific trait variation on the strength of t...Community ecology, Eco-evolutionary dynamics, Food webs, Population ecologySara Magalhães2019-08-02 09:11:03 View
22 Mar 2021
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Host-mediated, cross-generational intraspecific competition in a herbivore species

Plants preserve the ghost of competition past for herbivores, but mothers don’t care

Recommended by based on reviews by Inês Fragata and Raul Costa-Pereira

Some biological hypotheses are widely popular, so much so that we tend to forget their original lack of success. This is particularly true for hypotheses with catchy names. The ‘Ghost of competition past’ is part of the title of a paper by the great ecologist, JH Connell, one of the many losses of 2020 (Connell 1980). The hypothesis states that, even though we may not detect competition in current populations, their traits and distributions may be shaped by past competition events. Although this hypothesis has known a great success in the ecological literature, the original paper actually ends with “I will no longer be persuaded by such invoking of "the Ghost of Competition Past"”. Similarly, the hypothesis that mothers of herbivores choose host plants where their offspring will have a higher fitness was proposed by John Jaenike in 1978 (Jaenike 1978), and later coined the ‘mother knows best’ hypothesis. The hypothesis was readily questioned or dismissed: “Mother doesn't know best” (Courtney and Kibota 1990), or “Does mother know best?” (Valladares and Lawton 1991), but remains widely popular. It thus seems that catchy names (and the intuitive ideas behind them) have a heuristic value that is independent from the original persuasion in these ideas and the accumulation of evidence that followed it.

The paper by Castagneryol et al. (2021) analyses the preference-performance relationship in the box tree moth (BTM) Cydalima perspectalis, after defoliation of their host plant, the box tree, by conspecifics. It thus has bearings on the two previously mentioned hypotheses. Specifically, they created an artificial population of potted box trees in a greenhouse, in which 60 trees were infested with BTM third instar larvae, whereas 61 were left uninfested. One week later, these larvae were removed and another three weeks later, they released adult BTM females and recorded their host choice by counting egg clutches laid by these females on the plants. Finally, they evaluated the effect of previously infested vs uninfested plants on BTM performance by measuring the weight of third instar larvae that had emerged from those eggs.  

This experimental design was adopted because BTM is a multivoltine species. When the second generation of BTM arrives, plants have been defoliated by the first generation and did not fully recover. Indeed, Castagneryol et al. (2021) found that larvae that developed on previously infested plants were much smaller than those developing on uninfested plants, and the same was true for the chrysalis that emerged from those larvae. This provides unequivocal evidence for the existence of a ghost of competition past in this system. However, the existence of this ghost still does not result in a change in the distribution of BTM, precisely because mothers do not know best: they lay as many eggs on plants previously infested than on uninfested plants. 

The demonstration that the previous presence of a competitor affects the performance of this herbivore species confirms that ghosts exist. However, whether this entails that previous (interspecific) competition shapes species distributions, as originally meant, remains an open question. Species phenology may play an important role in exposing organisms to the ghost, as this time-lagged competition may have been often overlooked. It is also relevant to try to understand why mothers don’t care in this, and other systems. One possibility is that they will have few opportunities to effectively choose in the real world, due to limited dispersal or to all plants being previously infested. 


Castagneyrol, B., Halder, I. van, Kadiri, Y., Schillé, L. and Jactel, H. (2021) Host-mediated, cross-generational intraspecific competition in a herbivore species. bioRxiv, 2020.07.30.228544, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi:

Connell, J. H. (1980). Diversity and the coevolution of competitors, or the ghost of competition past. Oikos, 131-138. doi:

Courtney, S. P. and Kibota, T. T. (1990) in Insect-plant interactions (ed. Bernays, E.A.) 285-330.

Jaenike, J. (1978). On optimal oviposition behavior in phytophagous insects. Theoretical population biology, 14(3), 350-356. doi:

Valladares, G., and Lawton, J. H. (1991). Host-plant selection in the holly leaf-miner: does mother know best?. The Journal of Animal Ecology, 227-240. doi:


Host-mediated, cross-generational intraspecific competition in a herbivore speciesBastien Castagneyrol, Inge van Halder, Yasmine Kadiri, Laura Schillé, Hervé Jactel<p>Conspecific insect herbivores co-occurring on the same host plant interact both directly through interference competition and indirectly through exploitative competition, plant-mediated interactions and enemy-mediated interactions. However, the...Competition, Herbivory, ZoologySara Magalhães2020-08-03 15:50:23 View
20 Feb 2023
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Best organic farming deployment scenarios for pest control: a modeling approach

Towards model-guided organic farming expansion for crop pest management

Recommended by based on reviews by Julia Astegiano, Lionel Hertzog and Sylvain Bart

Reduce the impact the intensification of human activities has on the environmental is the challenge the humanity faces today, a major challenge that could be compared to climbing Everest without an oxygen supply. Indeed, over-population, pollution, burning fossil fuels, and deforestation are all evils which have had hugely detrimental effects on the environment such as climate change, soil erosion, poor air quality, and scarcity of drinking water to name but a few. In response to the ever-growing consumer demand, agriculture has intensified massively along with a drastic increase in the use of chemicals to ensure an adequate food supply while controlling crop pests. In this context, to address the disastrous effects of the intensive usage of pesticides on both human health and biodiversity, organic farming (OF) revealed as a miracle remedy with multiple benefits. Delattre et al. (2023) present a powerful modelling approach to decipher the crossed effects of the landscape structure and the OF expansion scenario on the pest abundance, both in organic and conventional (CF) crop fields. To this end, the authors ingeniously combined a grid-based landscape model with a spatially explicit predator-pest model. Based on an extensive in silico simulation process, they explore a diversity of landscape structures differing in their amount of semi-natural habitats (SHN) and in their fragmentation, to finally propose a ranking of various expansion scenarios according to the pest control methods in organic farming as well as to the pest and predators’ dissemination capacities. In total, 9 landscape structures (3 proportions of SHN x 3 fragmentation levels) were crossed with 3 expansion scenarios (RD = a random distribution of OF and CF in the grid; IP = isolated CF are converted; GP = CF within aggregates are converted), 4 pest management practices, 3 initial densities and 36 biological parameter combinations driving the predator’ and pest’s population dynamics. This exhaustive exploration of possible combinations of landscape and farming practices highlighted the main drivers of the various OF expansion scenarios, such as increased spillover of predators in isolated OF/CF fields, increased pest management efficiency in large patches of CF and the importance of the distance between OF and CF. In the end, this study brings to light the crucial role that landscape planning plays when OF practices have limited efficiency on pests. It also provides convincing arguments to the fact that converting to organic isolated CF as a priority seems to be the most promising scenario to limit pest densities in CF crops while improving predator to pest ratios (considered as a proxy of conservation biological control) in OF ones without increasing pest densities. Once further completed with model calibration validation based on observed life history traits data for both predators and pests, this work should be very helpful in sustaining policy makers to convince farmers of engaging in organic farming.


Delattre T, Memah M-M, Franck P, Valsesia P, Lavigne C (2023) Best organic farming deployment scenarios for pest control: a modeling approach. bioRxiv, 2022.05.31.494006, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

Best organic farming deployment scenarios for pest control: a modeling approachThomas Delattre, Mohamed-Mahmoud Memah, Pierre Franck, Pierre Valsesia, Claire Lavigne<p style="text-align: justify;">Organic Farming (OF) has been expanding recently around the world in response to growing consumer demand and as a response to environmental concerns. Its share of agricultural landscapes is expected to increase in t...Agroecology, Biological control, Landscape ecologySandrine Charles2022-06-03 11:41:14 View
31 May 2023
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Conservation networks do not match the ecological requirements of amphibians

Amphibians under scrutiny - When human-dominated landscape mosaics are not in full compliance with their ecological requirements

Recommended by based on reviews by Peter Vermeiren and 1 anonymous reviewer

Among vertebrates, amphibians are one of the most diverse groups with more than 7,000 known species. Amphibians occupy various ecosystems, including forests, wetlands, and freshwater habitats. Amphibians are known to be highly sensitive to changes in their environment, particularly to water quality and habitat degradation, so that monitoring abundance of amphibian populations can provide early warning signs of ecosystem disturbances that may also affect other organisms including humans (Bishop et al., 2012). Accordingly, efforts in habitat preservation and sustainable land and water management are necessary to safeguard amphibian populations.

In this context, Matutini et al. (2023) compared ecological requirements of amphibian species with the quality of agricultural landscape mosaics. Doing so, they identified critical gaps in existing conservation tools that include protected areas, green infrastructures, and inventoried sites. Matutini et al. (2023) focused on nine amphibian species in the Pays-de-la-Loire region where the landscape has been fashioned over the years by human activities. Three of the chosen amphibian species are living in a dense hedgerow mosaic landscape, while five others are more generalists.

Matutini et al. (2023) established multi-species habitat suitability maps, together with their levels of confidence, by combining single species maps with a probabilistic stacking method at 500-m resolution. From these maps, habitats were classified in five categories, from not suitable to highly suitable. Then, the circuit theory was used to map the potential connections between each highly suitable patch at the regional scale. Finally, comparing suitability maps with existing conservation tools, Matutini et al. (2023) were able to assess their coverage and efficiency.

Whatever their species status (endangered or not), Matutini et al. (2023) highlighted some discrepancies between the ecological requirements of amphibians in terms of habitat quality and the conservation tools of the landscape mosaic within which they are evolving. More specifically, Matutini et al. (2023) found that protected areas and inventoried sites covered only a small proportion of highly suitable habitats, while green infrastructures covered around 50% of the potential habitat for amphibian species. Such a lack of coverage and efficiency of protected areas brings to light that geographical sites with amphibian conservation challenges are known but not protected. Regarding the landscape fragmentation, Matutini et al. (2023) found that generalist amphibian species have a more homogeneous distribution of suitable habitats at the regional scale. They also identified two bottlenecks between two areas of suitable habitats, a situation that could prove critical to amphibian movements if amphibians were forced to change habitats to global change.

In conclusion, Matutini et al. (2023) bring convincing arguments in support of land-use species-conservation planning based on a better consideration of human-dominated landscape mosaics in full compliance with ecological requirements of the species that inhabit the regions concerned.


Bishop, P.J., Angulo, A., Lewis, J.P., Moore, R.D., Rabb, G.B., Moreno, G., 2012. The Amphibian Extinction Crisis - what will it take to put the action into the Amphibian Conservation Action Plan? Sapiens - Surveys and Perspectives Integrating Environment and Society 5, 1–16.

Matutini, F., Baudry, J., Fortin, M.-J., Pain, G., Pithon, J., 2023. Conservation networks do not match ecological requirements of amphibians. bioRxiv, ver. 3 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

Conservation networks do not match the ecological requirements of amphibiansMatutini Florence, Jacques Baudry, Marie-Josée Fortin, Guillaume Pain, Joséphine Pithon<p style="text-align: justify;">1. Amphibians are among the most threatened taxa as they are highly sensitive to habitat degradation and fragmentation. They are considered as model species to evaluate habitats quality in agricultural landscapes. I...Biodiversity, Biogeography, Human impact, Landscape ecology, Macroecology, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & Metapopulations, Species distributions, Terrestrial ecologySandrine Charles2022-09-20 14:40:03 View
06 Mar 2020
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Interplay between the paradox of enrichment and nutrient cycling in food webs

New insights into the role of nutrient cycling in food web dynamics

Recommended by based on reviews by Jean-François Arnoldi, Wojciech Uszko and 1 anonymous reviewer

Understanding the factors that govern the relationship between structure, stability and functioning of food webs has been a central problem in ecology for many decades. Historically, apart from microbial and soil food webs, the role of nutrient cycling has largely been ignored in theoretical and empirical food web studies. A prime example of this is the widespread use of Lotka-Volterra type models in theoretical studies; these models per se are not designed to capture the effect of nutrients being released back into the system by interacting populations. Thus overall, we still lack a general understanding of how nutrient cycling affects food web dynamics.
A new study by Quévreux, Barot and Thébault [1] tackles this problem by building a new food web model. This model features some important biological details: trophic interactions and vital rates constrained by species' body masses (using Ecological Metabolic Theory), adaptive foraging, and stoichiometric rules to ensure meaningful conversion between carbon and nutrient flows. The authors analyze the model through detailed simulations combined with thorough sensitivity analyses of model assumptions and parametrizations (including of allometric scaling relationships). I am happy to recommend this preprint because of the novelty of the work and it's technical quality.
The study yields interesting and novel findings. Overall, nutrient cycling does have a strong effect on community dynamics. Nutrient recycling is driven mostly by consumers at low mineral nutrient inputs, and by primary producers at high inputs. The extra nutrients made available through recycling increases species' persistence at low nutrient input levels, but decreases persistence at higher input levels by increasing population oscillations (a new, nuanced perspective on the classical "paradox of enrichment"). Also, for the same level of nutrient input, food webs with nutrient recycling show more fluctuations in primary producer biomass (and less at higher trophic levels) than those without recycling, with this effect weakening in more complex food webs.
Overall, these results provide new insights, suggesting that nutrient cycling may enhance the positive effects of species richness on ecosystem stability, and point at interesting new directions for future theoretical and empirical studies.


[1] Quévreux, P., Barot, S. and E. Thébault (2020) Interplay between the paradox of enrichment and nutrient cycling in food webs. bioRxiv, 276592, ver. 7 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/276592

Interplay between the paradox of enrichment and nutrient cycling in food websPierre Quévreux, Sébastien Barot and Élisa Thébault<p>Nutrient cycling is fundamental to ecosystem functioning. Despite recent major advances in the understanding of complex food web dynamics, food web models have so far generally ignored nutrient cycling. However, nutrient cycling is expected to ...Biodiversity, Community ecology, Ecosystem functioning, Food webs, Interaction networks, Theoretical ecologySamraat Pawar2018-11-03 21:47:37 View
03 Apr 2020
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A macro-ecological approach to predators' functional response

A meta-analysis to infer generic predator functional response

Recommended by based on reviews by Ludek Berec and gyorgy barabas

Species interactions are classically derived from the law of mass action: the probability that, for example, a predation event occurs is proportional to the product of the density of the prey and predator species. In order to describe how predator and prey species populations grow, is then necessary to introduce functional response, describing the intake rate of a consumer as a function of food (e.g. prey) density.
Linear functional responses shapes are typically introduced in the ecological modeling of population dynamics for both predator-prey and mutualistic systems [1,2]. Recently some works have proposed alternatives to the classic approach for mutualistic systems [3,4], both because cooperative interactions also model effect not directly related to mass action [3] and for analytical tractability [4,5].
In this work [6] the authors challenge the classic modeling of functional response also for predator-prey systems. In particular, they use a meta-analysis of several observational studies of predator-prey ecosystems to infer a generic predator functional response, fitting a phenomenological generalization of the mass-action law. Using advanced statistical analysis, they show that the functional response obtained from data is clearly different from the mass-action assumption. In fact, they found that it scales sub-linearly as the square root of the ratio between predator and prey biomass. They further argue that, from a macro-ecological point of view, using such a phenomenological relationship might be more valuable than relying on various mechanistic functional response formulations.
The manuscript thus provides an interesting different perspective on how to approach predator-prey modelling and for this reason, I have recommended the work for PCI Ecology.


[1] Volterra, V. (1928). Variations and Fluctuations of the Number of Individuals in Animal Species living together. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 3(1), 3–51. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/3.1.3
[2] Bastolla, U., Fortuna, M. A., Pascual-García, A., Ferrera, A., Luque, B., and Bascompte, J. (2009). The architecture of mutualistic networks minimizes competition and increases biodiversity. Nature, 458(7241), 1018–1020. doi: 10.1038/nature07950
[3] Tu, C., Suweis, S., Grilli, J., Formentin, M., and Maritan, A. (2019). Reconciling cooperation, biodiversity and stability in complex ecological communities. Scientific Reports, 9(1), 1–10. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-41614-2
[4] García-Algarra, J., Galeano, J., Pastor, J. M., Iriondo, J. M., and Ramasco, J. J. (2014). Rethinking the logistic approach for population dynamics of mutualistic interactions. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 363, 332–343. doi: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2014.08.039
[5] Suweis, S., Simini, F., Banavar, J. R., and Maritan, A. (2013). Emergence of structural and dynamical properties of ecological mutualistic networks. Nature, 500(7463), 449–452. doi: 10.1038/nature12438
[6] Barbier, M., Wojcik, L., and Loreau, M. (2020). A macro-ecological approach to predators’ functional response. BioRxiv, 832220, ver. 4 recommended and peer-reviewed by Peer Community in Ecology. doi: 10.1101/832220

A macro-ecological approach to predators' functional responseMatthieu Barbier, Laurie Wojcik, Michel Loreau<p>Predation often deviates from the law of mass action: many micro- and meso-scale experiments have shown that consumption saturates with resource abundance, and decreases due to interference between consumers. But does this observation hold at m...Community ecology, Food webs, Meta-analyses, Theoretical ecologySamir Simon Suweis2019-11-08 15:42:16 View
12 Oct 2020
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Insect herbivory on urban trees: Complementary effects of tree neighbours and predation

Tree diversity is associated with reduced herbivory in urban forest

Recommended by and based on reviews by Ian Pearse and Freerk Molleman

Urban ecology, the study of ecological systems in our increasingly urbanized world, is crucial to planning and redesigning cities to enhance ecosystem services (Kremer et al. 2016), human health and well-being and further conservation goals (Dallimer et al. 2012). Urban trees are a crucial component of urban streets and parks that provide shade and cooling through evapotranspiration (Fung and Jim 2019), improve air quality (Lai and Kontokosta 2019), help control storm water (Johnson and Handel 2016), and conserve wildlife (Herrmann et al. 2012; de Andrade et al. 2020).
Ideally, management of urban forests strikes a balance between maintaining the health of urban trees while retaining those organisms, such as herbivores, that connect a tree to the urban ecosystem. Herbivory by arthropods can substantially affect tree growth and reproduction (Whittaker and Warrington 1985), and so understanding factors that influence herbivory in urban forests is important to effective management. At the same time, herbivorous arthropods are important as key components of urban bird diets (Airola and Greco 2019) and provide a backyard glimpse at forest ecosystems in an increasingly built environment (Pearse 2019). Maintenance of arthropod predators may be one way to retain arthropods in urban forests while keeping detrimental outbreaks of herbivores in check. In “Insect herbivory on urban trees: Complementary effects of tree neighbors and predation” Stemmelen and colleagues (Stemmelen et al. 2020) use a clever sampling design to show that insect herbivory decreases as the diversity of neighboring trees increased. By placing artificial larvae out on trees, they provide evidence that increased predation in higher diversity urban forest patches might drive patterns in herbivory. The paper also demonstrates the importance of tree species identity in determining leaf herbivory.
The implications of this research for urban foresters is that deliberately planting diverse urban forests will help manage insect herbivores and should thus improve tree health. Potential knock-on effects could be seen for the ecosystem services provided by urban forests. While it might be tempting to simply plant more of the species that are subject to low current rates of herbivory, other research on the long-term vulnerability of monocultures to attack by specialist pathogens and herbivores (Tooker and Frank 2012) cautions against such an approach. Furthermore, the importance of urban forest insects to birds, including migrating birds, argues for managing urban forests more holistically (Greco and Airola 2018).
Stemmelen et al. (2020) used an observational approach focused on urban forests in Montreal, Canada in their research. Their findings suggest follow-up research focused on a broader cross-section of urban forests across latitudes, as well as experimental research. Experiments could, for example, exclude avian predators with netting (e.g. (Marquis and Whelan 1994)) to evaluate the relative importance of birds to managing urban insects on trees, as well as the flip side of that equation, the important to birds of insects on urban trees.
In summary, Stemmelen and colleague’s manuscript illustrates clever sampling and use of observational data to infer broader ecological patterns. It is worth reading to better understand the role of diversity in driving plant-insect community interactions and given the implications of the findings for sustainable long-term management of urban forests.


Airola, D. and Greco, S. (2019). Birds and oaks in California’s urban forest. Int. Oaks, 30, 109–116.
de Andrade, A.C., Medeiros, S. and Chiarello, A.G. (2020). City sloths and marmosets in Atlantic forest fragments with contrasting levels of anthropogenic disturbance. Mammal Res., 65, 481–491. doi:
Dallimer, M., Irvine, K.N., Skinner, A.M.J., Davies, Z.G., Rouquette, J.R., Maltby, L.L., et al. (2012). Biodiversity and the Feel-Good Factor: Understanding Associations between Self-Reported Human Well-being and Species Richness. Bioscience, 62, 47–55. doi:
Fung, C.K.W. and Jim, C.Y. (2019). Microclimatic resilience of subtropical woodlands and urban-forest benefits. Urban For. Urban Green., 42, 100–112. doi:
Greco, S.E. and Airola, D.A. (2018). The importance of native valley oaks (Quercus lobata) as stopover habitat for migratory songbirds in urban Sacramento, California, USA. Urban For. Urban Green., 29, 303–311. doi:
Herrmann, D.L., Pearse, I.S. and Baty, J.H. (2012). Drivers of specialist herbivore diversity across 10 cities. Landsc. Urban Plan., 108, 123–130. doi:
Johnson, L.R. and Handel, S.N. (2016). Restoration treatments in urban park forests drive long-term changes in vegetation trajectories. Ecol. Appl., 26, 940–956. doi:
Kremer, P., Hamstead, Z., Haase, D., McPhearson, T., Frantzeskaki, N., Andersson, E., et al. (2016). Key insights for the future of urban ecosystem services research. Ecol. Soc., 21: 29. doi:
Lai, Y. and Kontokosta, C.E. (2019). The impact of urban street tree species on air quality and respiratory illness: A spatial analysis of large-scale, high-resolution urban data. Heal. Place, 56, 80–87. doi:
Marquis, R.J. and Whelan, C.J. (1994). Insectivorous birds increase growth of white oak through consumption of leaf-chewing insects. Ecology, 75, 2007–2014. doi:
Pearse, I.S. (2019). Insect herbivores on urban native oak trees. Int. Oaks, 30, 101–108.
Stemmelen, A., Paquette, A., Benot, M.-L., Kadiri, Y., Jactel, H. and Castagneyrol, B. (2020) Insect herbivory on urban trees: Complementary effects of tree neighbours and predation. bioRxiv, 2020.04.15.042317, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi:
Tooker, J. F., and Frank, S. D. (2012). Genotypically diverse cultivar mixtures for insect pest management and increased crop yields. J. Appl. Ecol., 49(5), 974-985. doi:
Whittaker, J.B. and Warrington, S. (1985). An experimental field study of different levels of insect herbivory induced By Formica rufa predation on Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) III. Effects on Tree Growth. J. Appl. Ecol., 22, 797. doi:

Insect herbivory on urban trees: Complementary effects of tree neighbours and predationAlex Stemmelen, Alain Paquette, Marie-Lise Benot, Yasmine Kadiri, Hervé Jactel, Bastien Castagneyrol<p>Insect herbivory is an important component of forest ecosystems functioning and can affect tree growth and survival. Tree diversity is known to influence insect herbivory in natural forest, with most studies reporting a decrease in herbivory wi...Biodiversity, Biological control, Community ecology, Ecosystem functioning, HerbivoryRuth Arabelle Hufbauer2020-04-20 13:49:36 View
30 Mar 2020
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Environmental variables determining the distribution of an avian parasite: the case of the Philornis torquans complex (Diptera: Muscidae) in South America

Catching the fly in dystopian times

Recommended by based on reviews by 4 anonymous reviewers

Host-parasite interactions are ubiquitous on Earth. They are present in almost every conceivable ecosystem and often result from a long history of antagonist coevolution [1,2]. Recent studies on climate change have revealed, however, that modification of abiotic variables are often accompanied by shifts in the distributional range of parasites to habitats far beyond their original geographical distribution, creating new interactions in novel habitats with unpredictable consequences for host community structure and organization [3,4]. This situation may be especially critical for endangered host species having small population abundance and restricted distribution range. The infestation of bird species with larvae of the muscid fly genus Philornis is a case in point. At least 250 bird species inhabiting mostly Central and South America are infected by Philornis flies [5,6]. Fly larval development occurs in bird faeces, nesting material, or inside nestlings, affecting the development and nestling survival.
Recent reports indicate significant reduction of bird numbers associated with recent Philornis infection, the most conspicuous being Galapagos finches [7,8]. One way to prevent this potential effect consists in to examine the expected geographical shift of Philornis fly species under future climate change scenarios so that anticipatory conservation practices become implemented for endangered bird species. In this regard, Ecological Niche Modeling (ENM) techniques have been increasingly used as a useful tool to predict disease transmission as well as the species becoming infected under different climate change scenarios [9-11]. The paper of Cuervo et al. [12] is an important advance in this regard. By identifying for the first time the macro-environmental variables influencing the abiotic niche of species of the Philornis torquans complex in southern South America, the authors perform a geographical projection model that permits identification of the areas susceptible to be colonized by Philornis species in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, including habitats where the parasitic fly is still largely absent at present. Their results are promissory for conservation studies and contribute to the still underdeveloped issue of the way climate change impacts on antagonistic ecological relationships.


[1] Thompson JN (1994) The Coevolutionary Process. University of Chicago Press.
[2] Poulin R (2007) Evolutionary Ecology of Parasites: (Second Edition). Princeton University Press. doi: 10.2307/j.ctt7sn0x
[3] Pickles RSA, Thornton D, Feldman R, Marques A, Murray DL (2013) Predicting shifts in parasite distribution with climate change: a multitrophic level approach. Global Change Biology, 19, 2645–2654. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12255
[4] Marcogliese DJ (2016) The distribution and abundance of parasites in aquatic ecosystems in a changing climate: More than just temperature. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 56, 611–619. doi: 10.1093/icb/icw036
[5] Dudaniec RY, Kleindorfer S (2006) Effects of the parasitic flies of the genus Philornis (Diptera: Muscidae) on birds. Emu - Austral Ornithology, 106, 13–20. doi: 10.1071/MU04040
[6] Antoniazzi LR, Manzoli DE, Rohrmann D, Saravia MJ, Silvestri L, Beldomenico PM (2011) Climate variability affects the impact of parasitic flies on Argentinean forest birds. Journal of Zoology, 283, 126–134. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2010.00753.x
[7] Fessl B, Sinclair BJ, Kleindorfer S (2006) The life-cycle of Philornis downsi (Diptera: Muscidae) parasitizing Darwin’s finches and its impacts on nestling survival. Parasitology, 133, 739–747. doi: 10.1017/S0031182006001089
[8] Kleindorfer S, Peters KJ, Custance G, Dudaniec RY, O’Connor JA (2014) Changes in Philornis infestation behavior threaten Darwin’s finch survival. Current Zoology, 60, 542–550. doi: 10.1093/czoolo/60.4.542
[9] Johnson EE, Escobar LE, Zambrana-Torrelio C (2019) An ecological framework for modeling the geography of disease transmission. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 34, 655–668. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2019.03.004
[10] Carvalho BM, Rangel EF, Ready PD, Vale MM (2015) Ecological niche modelling predicts southward expansion of Lutzomyia (Nyssomyia) flaviscutellata (Diptera: Psychodidae: Phlebotominae), vector of Leishmania (Leishmania) amazonensis in South America, under climate change. PLOS ONE, 10, e0143282. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143282
[11] Garrido R, Bacigalupo A, Peña-Gómez F, Bustamante RO, Cattan PE, Gorla DE, Botto-Mahan C (2019) Potential impact of climate change on the geographical distribution of two wild vectors of Chagas disease in Chile: Mepraia spinolai and Mepraia gajardoi. Parasites and Vectors, 12, 478. doi: 10.1186/s13071-019-3744-9
[12] Cuervo PF, Percara A, Monje L, Beldomenico PM, Quiroga MA (2020) Environmental variables determining the distribution of an avian parasite: the case of the Philornis torquans complex (Diptera: Muscidae) in South America. bioRxiv, 839589, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology. doi: 10.1101/839589

Environmental variables determining the distribution of an avian parasite: the case of the Philornis torquans complex (Diptera: Muscidae) in South AmericaPablo F. Cuervo, Alejandro Percara, Lucas Monje, Pablo M. Beldomenico, Martín A. Quiroga<p>*Philornis* flies are the major cause of myasis in altricial nestlings of neotropical birds. Its impact ranges from subtle to lethal, being of major concern in endangered bird species with geographically-restricted, fragmented and small-sized p...Biogeography, Macroecology, Parasitology, Species distributionsRodrigo Medel2019-11-26 21:31:33 View