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29 Jun 2024
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Reassessment of French breeding bird population sizes using citizen science and accounting for species detectability

Reassessment of French breeding bird population sizes: from citizen science observations to nationwide estimates

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

Estimating populations size of widespread, common species in a relatively large and heterogeneous country like France is difficult for several reasons, from having a sample covering well the diverse ecological gradients to accounting for detectability, the fact that absence of a species may represent a false negative, the species being present but not detected. Bird communities have been the focus of a very large number of studies, with some countries like the UK having long traditions of monitoring both common and rare species. Nabias et al. use a large, structured citizen science project to provide new estimates of common bird species, accounting for detectability and using different habitat and climate covariates to extrapolate abundance to non-sampled areas. About 2/3 of the species had estimates higher than what would have been expected using a previous attempt at estimating population size based in part on expert knowledge and projected using estimates of trends to the period covered by the citizen science sampling. Some species showed large differences between the two estimates, which could be in part explained by accounting for detectability.

This paper uses what is called model-based inference (as opposed to design-based inference, that uses the design to make inferences about the whole population; Buckland et al. 2000), both in terms of detectability and habitat suitability. The estimates obtained depend on how well the model components approximate the underlying processes, which in a complex dataset like this one is not easy to assess. But it clearly shows that detectability may have substantial implications for the population size estimates. This is of course not new but has rarely been done at this scale and using a large sample obtained on many species. Interesting further work could focus on testing the robustness of the model-based approach by for example sampling new plots and compare the expected values to the observed values. Such a sampling could be stratified to maximize the discrimination between expected low and high abundances, at least for species where the estimates might be considered as uncertain, or for which estimating population sizes is deemed important.


Buckland, S. T., Goudie, I. B. J., & Borchers, D. L. (2000). Wildlife Population Assessment: Past Developments and Future Directions. Biometrics, 56(1), 1-12.

 Nabias, J., Barbaro, L., Fontaine, B., Dupuy, J., Couzi, L., et al. (2024) Reassessment of French breeding bird population sizes using citizen science and accounting for species detectability. HAL, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Ecology.

Reassessment of French breeding bird population sizes using citizen science and accounting for species detectabilityJean Nabias, Luc Barbaro, Benoit Fontaine, Jérémy Dupuy, Laurent Couzi, Clément Vallé, Romain Lorrillière<p style="text-align: justify;">Higher efficiency in large-scale and long-term biodiversity monitoring can be obtained through the use of Essential Biodiversity Variables, among which species population sizes provide key data for conservation prog...Biogeography, Macroecology, Spatial ecology, Metacommunities & Metapopulations, Species distributions, Statistical ecologyNigel Yoccoz2024-02-26 18:10:27 View
11 Mar 2022
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Comment on “Information arms race explains plant-herbivore chemical communication in ecological communities”

Does information theory inform chemical arms race communication?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment on “Information arms race explains plant-herbivore chemical communication in ecological communities”Ethan Bass, André Kessler<p style="text-align: justify;">Zu et al (Science, 19 Jun 2020, p. 1377) propose that an ‘information arms-race’ between plants and herbivores explains plant-herbivore communication at the community level. However, the analysis presented here show...Chemical ecology, Community ecology, Eco-evolutionary dynamics, Evolutionary ecology, Herbivory, Interaction networks, Theoretical ecologyRodrigo Medel2021-10-02 06:06:07 View
26 Mar 2019
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Is behavioral flexibility manipulatable and, if so, does it improve flexibility and problem solving in a new context?

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

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

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

Is behavioral flexibility manipulatable and, if so, does it improve flexibility and problem solving in a new context?Corina Logan, Carolyn Rowney, Luisa Bergeron, Benjamin Seitz, Aaron Blaisdell, Zoe Johnson-Ulrich, Kelsey McCuneThis is one of the first studies planned for our long-term research on the role of behavioral flexibility in rapid geographic range expansions. Behavioral flexibility, the ability to adapt behavior to new circumstances, is thought to play an impor...Behaviour & Ethology, Preregistrations, ZoologyAurélie Coulon2018-07-03 13:23:10 View
13 May 2023
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Symbiotic nutrient cycling enables the long-term survival of Aiptasia in the absence of heterotrophic food sources

Constraining the importance of heterotrophic vs autotrophic feeding in photosymbiotic cnidarians

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Symbiotic nutrient cycling enables the long-term survival of Aiptasia in the absence of heterotrophic food sourcesNils Radecker, Anders Meibom<p style="text-align: justify;">Phototrophic Cnidaria are mixotrophic organisms that can complement their heterotrophic diet with nutrients assimilated by their algal endosymbionts. Metabolic models suggest that the translocation of photosynthates...Eco-evolutionary dynamics, Microbial ecology & microbiology, SymbiosisUlisse Cardini2022-12-12 10:50:55 View
01 Feb 2020
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Evidence of tool use in a seabird?

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

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

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


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

Evidence of tool use in a seabird?Benjamin G. FarrarFayet, Hansen and Biro (1) provide two observations of Atlantic puffins, *Fratercula arctica*, performing self-directed actions while holding a stick in their beaks. The authors interpret this as evidence of tool use as they suggest that the stick...Behaviour & EthologyFrancois-Xavier Dechaume-Moncharmont2020-01-22 11:55:27 View
29 Nov 2019
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Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersal

Investigate fine scale sex dispersal with spatial and genetic analyses

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

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


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

Investigating sex differences in genetic relatedness in great-tailed grackles in Tempe, Arizona to infer potential sex biases in dispersalAugust Sevchik, Corina Logan, Melissa Folsom, Luisa Bergeron, Aaron Blackwell, Carolyn Rowney, Dieter LukasIn most bird species, females disperse prior to their first breeding attempt, while males remain close to the place they were hatched for their entire lives (Greenwood and Harvey (1982)). Explanations for such female bias in natal dispersal have f...Behaviour & Ethology, Life history, Preregistrations, Social structure, ZoologySophie Beltran-Bech2019-07-24 12:47:07 View
08 Aug 2020
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Trophic cascade driven by behavioural fine-tuning as naïve prey rapidly adjust to a novel predator

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

Recommended by based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

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


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

Trophic cascade driven by behavioural fine-tuning as naïve prey rapidly adjust to a novel predatorChris J Jolly, Adam S Smart, John Moreen, Jonathan K Webb, Graeme R Gillespie and Ben L Phillips<p>The arrival of novel predators can trigger trophic cascades driven by shifts in prey numbers. Predators also elicit behavioural change in prey populations, via phenotypic plasticity and/or rapid evolution, and such changes may also contribute t...Behaviour & Ethology, Biological invasions, Evolutionary ecology, Experimental ecology, Foraging, Herbivory, Population ecology, Terrestrial ecology, Tropical ecologyDenis Réale2019-11-27 21:39:44 View
12 Sep 2023
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Linking intrinsic scales of ecological processes to characteristic scales of biodiversity and functioning patterns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Linking intrinsic scales of ecological processes to characteristic scales of biodiversity and functioning patternsYuval R. Zelnik, Matthieu Barbier, David W. Shanafelt, Michel Loreau, Rachel M. Germain<p style="text-align: justify;">Ecology is a science of scale, which guides our description of both ecological processes and patterns, but we lack a systematic understanding of how process scale and pattern scale are connected. Recent calls for a ...Biodiversity, Community ecology, Dispersal & Migration, Ecosystem functioning, Landscape ecology, Theoretical ecologyDavid Alonso2021-10-13 23:24:45 View
29 May 2023
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Using integrated multispecies occupancy models to map co-occurrence between bottlenose dolphins and fisheries in the Gulf of Lion, French Mediterranean Sea

Mapping co-occurence of human activities and wildlife from multiple data sources

Recommended by based on reviews by Mason Fidino and 1 anonymous reviewer

Two fields of research have grown considerably over the past twenty years: the investigation of human-wildlife conflicts (e.g. see Treves & Santiago-Ávila 2020), and multispecies occupancy modelling (Devarajan et al. 2020). In their recent study, Lauret et al. (2023) combined both in an elegant methodological framework, applied to the study of the co-occurrence of fishing activities and bottlenose dolphins in the French Mediterranean.

A common issue with human-wildlife conflicts (and, in particular, fishery by-catch) is that data is often only available from those conflicts or interactions, limiting the validity of the predictions (Kuiper et al. 2022). Lauret et al. use independent data sources informing the occurrence of fishing vessels and dolphins, combined in a Bayesian multispecies occupancy model where vessels are "the other species". I particularly enjoyed that approach, as integration of human activities in ecological models can be extremely complex, but can also translate in phenomena that can be captured as one would of individuals of a species, as long as the assumptions are made clearly. Here, the model is made more interesting by accounting for environmental factors (seabed depth) borrowing an approach from Generalized Additive Models in the Bayesian framework. While not pretending to provide (yet) practical recommendations to help conserve bottlenose dolphins (and other wildlife conflicts), this study and the associated code are a promising step in that direction.


Devarajan, K., Morelli, T.L. & Tenan, S. (2020), Multi-species occupancy models: review, roadmap, and recommendations. Ecography, 43: 1612-1624.

Kuiper, T., Loveridge, A.J. and Macdonald, D.W. (2022), Robust mapping of human–wildlife conflict: controlling for livestock distribution in carnivore depredation models. Anim. Conserv., 25: 195-207.

Lauret V, Labach H, David L, Authier M, & Gimenez O (2023) Using integrated multispecies occupancy models to map co-occurrence between bottlenose dolphins and fisheries in the Gulf of Lion, French Mediterranean Sea. Ecoevoarxiv, ver. 2 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Ecology.

Treves, A. & Santiago-Ávila, F.J. (2020). Myths and assumptions about human-wildlife conflict and coexistence. Conserv. Biol. 34, 811–818.

Using integrated multispecies occupancy models to map co-occurrence between bottlenose dolphins and fisheries in the Gulf of Lion, French Mediterranean SeaValentin Lauret, Hélène Labach, Léa David, Matthieu Authier, Olivier Gimenez<p style="text-align: justify;">In the Mediterranean Sea, interactions between marine species and human activities are prevalent. The coastal distribution of bottlenose dolphins (<em>Tursiops truncatus</em>) and the predation pressure they put on ...Marine ecology, Population ecology, Species distributionsPaul Caplat2022-10-21 11:13:36 View
05 Jun 2024
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Attracting pollinators vs escaping herbivores: eco-evolutionary dynamics of plants confronted with an ecological trade-off

Plant-herbivore-pollinator ménage-à-trois: tell me how well they match, and I'll tell you if it's made to last

Recommended by ORCID_LOGO based on reviews by Marcos Mendez and Yaroslav Ispolatov

How would a plant trait evolve if it is involved in interacting with both a pollinator and an herbivore species? The answer by Yacine and Loeuille is straightforward: it is not trivial, but it can explain many situations found in natural populations.

Yacine and Loeuille applied the well-known Adaptive Dynamics framework to a system with three interacting protagonists: a herbivore, a pollinator, and a plant. The evolution of a plant trait is followed under the assumption that it regulates the frequency of interaction with the two other species. As one can imagine, that is where problems begin: interacting more with pollinators seems good, but what if at the same time it implies interacting more with herbivores? And that's not a silly idea, as there are many cases where herbivores and pollinators share the same cues to detect plants, such as colors or chemical compounds.

They found that depending on the trade-off between the two types of interactions and their density-dependent effects on plant fitness, the possible joint ecological and evolutionary outcomes are numerous. When herbivory prevails, evolution can make the ménage-à-trois ecologically unstable, as one or even two species can go extinct, leaving the plant alone. Evolution can also make the coexistence of the three species more stable when pollination services prevail, or lead to the appearance of a second plant species through branching diversification of the plant trait when herbivory and pollination are balanced.

Yacine and Loeuille did not only limit themselves to saying "it is possible," but they also did much work evaluating when each evolutionary outcome would occur. They numerically explored in great detail the adaptive landscape of the plant trait for a large range of parameter values. They showed that the global picture is overall robust to parameter variations, strengthening the plausibility that the evolution of a trait involved in antagonistic interactions can explain many of the correlations between plant and animal traits or phylogenies found in nature.

Are we really there yet? Of course not, as some assumptions of the model certainly limit its scope. Are there really cases where plants' traits evolve much faster than herbivores' and pollinators' traits? Certainly not, but the model is so general that it can apply to any analogous system where one species is caught between a mutualistic and a predator species, including potential species that evolve much faster than the two others. And even though this limitation might cast doubt on the generality of the model's predictions, studying a system where a species' trait and a preference trait coevolve is possible, as other models have already been studied (see Fritsch et al. 2021 for a review in the case of evolution in food webs). We can bet this is the next step taken by Yacine and Loeuille in a similar framework with the same fundamental model, promising fascinating results, especially regarding the evolution of complex communities when species can accumulate after evolutionary branchings.

Relaxing another assumption seems more challenging as it would certainly need to change the model itself: interacting species generally do not play fixed roles, as being mutualistic or antagonistic might generally be density-dependent (Holland and DeAngelis 2010). How would the exchange of resources between three interacting species evolve? It is an open question.


Fritsch, C., Billiard, S., & Champagnat, N. (2021). Identifying conversion efficiency as a key mechanism underlying food webs adaptive evolution: a step forward, or backward? Oikos, 130(6), 904-930.
Holland, J. N., & DeAngelis, D. L. (2010). A consumer-resource approach to the density‐dependent population dynamics of mutualism. Ecology, 91(5), 1286-1295.

Yacine, Y., & Loeuille, N. (2024) Attracting pollinators vs escaping herbivores: eco-evolutionary dynamics of plants confronted with an ecological trade-off. bioRxiv 2021.12.02.470900; doi:

Attracting pollinators vs escaping herbivores: eco-evolutionary dynamics of plants confronted with an ecological trade-offYoussef Yacine, Nicolas Loeuille<p style="text-align: justify;">Many plant traits are subject to an ecological trade-off between attracting pollinators and escaping herbivores. The interplay of both plant-animal interaction types determines their evolution. As most studies focus...Eco-evolutionary dynamics, Herbivory, Pollination, Theoretical ecologySylvain Billiard2023-03-21 14:23:12 View