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ISSN: 0029-8549 (1432-1939)
Ecology - Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

Recent articles

1 show abstract

Agricultural land use is a leading cause of habitat degradation, leaving a legacy of ecological impacts long after agriculture has ceased. Yet the mechanisms for legacy effects, such as altered plant community composition, are not well understood. In particular, whether plant community recovery is limited by an inability of populations to establish within post-agricultural areas, owing to altered environmental conditions within these areas, remains poorly known. We evaluated this hypothesis of post-agricultural establishment limitation through a field experiment within longleaf pine woodlands in South Carolina (USA) and a greenhouse experiment using field-collected soils from these sites. In the field, we sowed seeds of 12 understory plant species associated with remnants (no known history of agriculture) into 27 paired remnant and post-agricultural woodlands. We found that post-agricultural woodlands supported higher establishment, resulting in greater species richness of sown species. These results were context dependent, however, with higher establishment in post-agricultural woodlands only when sites were frequently burned, had less leaf litter, or had less sandy soils. In the greenhouse, we found that agricultural history had no impact on plant growth or survival, suggesting that establishment limitation is unlikely driven by differences in soils associated with agricultural history when environmental conditions are not stressful. Rather, the potential for establishment in post-agricultural habitats can be higher than in remnant habitats, with the strength of this effect determined by fire frequency and soil characteristics.
2 show abstract

Human activities are altering patterns of ungulate herbivory and wildfire regimes globally with large potential impacts on plant community succession and ecosystem resilience. Aspen (Populus tremuloides) is a keystone species which co-exists with conifer species across temperate forests in North America. Aspen sucker regeneration which is the foundation of aspen–conifer forests succession is often a targeted food source by multiple ungulate species. Using a region-wide exclosure network across a broad gradient of aspen–conifer overstory abundance, we empirically tested the effects of ungulate herbivory and conifer competition (that increases with fire suppression), on the regeneration and recruitment of aspen forests over a 4-year period. The study results indicate that ungulate herbivory and increasing abundance of overstory conifers dramatically reduced aspen regeneration and recruitment success. The average height of aspen suckers exposed to ungulate herbivory was 72% shorter than aspen suckers in fenced plots and resulted in 24% less recruitment. There was a 9% decrease in aspen recruitment and 12% decrease in average aspen height with every 20% increase in overstory conifer density. Aspen suckers were most vulnerable to herbivory at 70 cm height, with the probability of herbivory decreasing under 50 cm or above 90 cm. Steep slope angles and higher winter precipitation increased aspen regeneration and recruitment success. Reduction in aspen recruitment in response to ungulate herbivory and competition by conifers may result in loss of biodiversity, altered forest function and loss of key ecosystem services because of the important role that aspen plays in facilitating forest succession and biodiversity.
3 show abstract

The assembly of horizontally transmitted endophytic fungi within plant tissues may be affected by “biotic filtering”. In other words, only particular endophytic fungal taxa from the available inoculum pool may be able to colonize a given plant species. We tested that hypothesis in Bromus tectorum, an important invasive species in the arid, western United States. We collected seed from Bromus tectorum and sources of inoculum for endophytic fungi including soil and various kinds of plant litter at a field site in central Utah. We characterized, using Illumina sequencing, the endophytic fungal communities in the various inoculum sources, inoculated Bromus tectorum seedlings under gnotobiotic conditions with the various sources, and then characterized the communities of endophytic fungi that assembled in their roots and leaves. Different inoculum sources containing significantly different endophytic fungal communities produced complex communities of endophytic fungi in leaves and roots of Bromus tectorum. In leaves, the communities assembling from the various inoculum sources were not significantly different from each other and, in roots, they were only slightly different from each other, mainly due to variation in a single fungal OTU, Coprinopsis brunneofibrillosa. Consequently, there was significantly more variation in the structure of the communities of endophytic fungi among the inoculum sources than in the resultant endophytic fungal communities in the leaves and roots of Bromus tectorum. These results are consistent with biotic filtering playing a significant role in endophytic fungal community assembly.
4 show abstract

Animals in temperate northern regions employ a variety of strategies to cope with the energetic demands of winter. Behavioral plasticity may be important, as winter weather conditions are increasingly variable as a result of modern climate change. If behavioral strategies for thermoregulation are no longer effective in a changing environment, animals may experience physiological stress, which can have fitness consequences. We monitored winter roosting behavior of radio–tagged ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus), recorded snow depth and temperature, and assayed droppings for fecal corticosterone metabolites (FCM). Grouse FCM levels increased with declining temperatures. FCM levels were high when snow was shallow, but decreased rapidly as snow depth increased beyond 20 cm. When grouse used snow burrows, there was no effect of temperature on FCM levels. Snow burrowing is an important strategy that appears to allow grouse to mediate the possibly stressful effects of cold temperatures. This is one of the first studies to explore how variable winter weather conditions influence stress in a free–living cold–adapted vertebrate and its ability to mediate this relationship behaviorally. Animals that depend on the snowpack as a winter refuge will likely experience increased stress and possible fitness costs resulting from the loss of snow cover due to climate change.
5 show abstract

Flowering time is a trait that reflects the timing of specific resource requirements by plants. Consequently, several predictions have been made related to how species are assembled within communities according to flowering time. Strong overlap in flowering time among coexisting species may result from clustered abiotic resources, or contribute to improved pollination success. Conversely, low flowering time overlap (asynchrony) among coexisting species may reduce competition for soil, light, or pollinator resources and alleviate interspecific pollen transfer. Here, we present evidence that coexisting species in an old-field community generally overlap less in flowering time than expected under a commonly used and statistically validated null model. Flowering time asynchrony was more pronounced when abundance data were used (compared to presence-absence data), and when analyses focused on species that share bees as pollinators. Control and herbivore-exclusion plots did not differ in flowering time overlap, providing no evidence of the reduction in overlap expected to result from increased competition. Our results varied with the randomization algorithm used, emphasizing that the choice of algorithm can influence the outcome of null models. Our results varied between 2 years, with patterns being less clear in the second year, when both growing season and flowering times were contracted. Finally, we found evidence that further supports a previous finding that higher plot-level flowering time overlap was associated with higher proportions of introduced species. Reduced flowering time overlap among species in our focal community may promote coexistence via temporal niche differentiation and reduced competition for pollinators and other abiotic resources.
6 show abstract

The mismatch between the turnover rates of predators and prey is one of the oldest explanations for the existence of inverted trophic pyramids. To date, the hypotheses regarding trophic pyramids have all been based on consumptive trophic links between predators and prey, and the relative contribution of non-consumptive effects is still unknown. In this study, we investigated if the inversion of pyramids in bromeliad ecosystems is driven by (i) a rapid colonization of organisms having short cohort interval production (CPI), and (ii) the prevalence of consumptive or non-consumptive effects of top predators. We used a manipulative experiment to investigate the patterns of prey colonization and to partition the net effects of the dominant predator (damselfly larvae) on biomass pyramids into consumptive (uncaged damselfly larvae) and non-consumptive effects (caged damselfly larvae). Consumptive effects of damselflies strengthened the inversion of trophic pyramids. Non-consumptive effects, however, did not affect the shape of biomass pyramids. Instead, the rapid colonization of organisms with predominantly short CPI sustained the large biomass of top predators found in natural bromeliad ecosystems. Prey colonized bromeliads rapidly, but this high production was never visible as standing stock because damselflies reduce prey densities by more than a magnitude through direct consumption. Our study adds to the growing evidence that there are a variety of possible ways that biomass can be trophically structured. Moreover, we suggest that the strength of biomass pyramids inversion may change with the time of ecological succession as prey communities become more equitable.
7 show abstract

Alarm calls and predator vocalizations convey information on predator presence and potential risk. Generally, prey employ anti-predator behaviours more in response to alarm calls. However, occasionally prey respond more to the vocalizations of specific predators. A key question is do prey still respond to alarm calls and predator vocalizations when a dangerous predator is absent' Additionally, would the prey species’ response (e.g. vigilance) differ from prey already living with these predators' Using auditory playbacks, we tested whether four herbivore species living with lions responded more to alarm calls than lion vocalizations compared to a black cuckoo control call. Overall, red hartebeest, wildebeest and zebra had greater vigilance in response to the lion roars compared to the alarm calls. The differences in vigilance suggest that, despite the lion roars not being related to hunting, these herbivores perceived the predator vocalizations as a more immediate indicator of risk than the alarm calls. We then tested whether herbivores living with lions increased their vigilance more in response to the calls than conspecifics in a lion-free section. Despite greater overall vigilance in the lion section, gemsbok and zebra in the lion-free section significantly increased their vigilance in response to the lion roars. This indicates that species under the greatest threat from a predator (e.g. preferred prey) may maintain innate anti-predator responses to an absent but dangerous predator longer than less preferred prey. Ultimately, our results indicate that cues from dangerous predators can have greater effects on anti-predator behaviours than alarm calls for some prey species.
8 show abstract

Habitat fragmentation affects landscape connectivity, the extent of which is influenced by the movement capacity of the vectors of seed and pollen dispersal for plants. Negative impacts of reduced connectivity can include reduced fecundity, increased inbreeding, genetic erosion and decreased long-term viability. These are issues for not only old (remnant) populations, but also new (restored) populations. We assessed reproductive and connective functionality within and among remnant and restored populations of a common tree, Banksia menziesii R.Br. (Proteaceae), in a fragmented urban landscape, utilising a genetic and graph theoretical approach. Adult trees and seed cohorts from five remnants and two restored populations were genotyped using microsatellite markers. Genetic variation and pollen dispersal were assessed using direct (paternity assignment) and indirect (pollination graphs and mating system characterisation) methods. Restored populations had greater allelic diversity (Ar = 8.08; 8.34) than remnant populations (Ar range = 6.49–7.41). Genetic differentiation was greater between restored and adjacent remnants (F
ST = 0.03 and 0.10) than all other pairwise comparisons of remnant populations (mean F
ST = 0.01 ± 0.01; n = 16 P = 0.001). All populations displayed low correlated paternity (r
p = 0.06–0.16) with wide-ranging realised pollen dispersal distances (< 1.7 km) and well-connected pollen networks. Here, we demonstrate reproductive and connective functionality of old and new populations of B. menziesii within a fragmented landscape. Due to long-distance pollination events, the physical size of these sites underestimates their effective population size. Thus, they are functionally equivalent to large populations, integrated into a larger landscape matrix.
9 show abstract

An important factor controlling tree species diversity is conspecific density dependence (CDD). Adult trees associated with arbuscular mycorrhiza (AM) and ectomycorrhiza (ECM) can exhibit negative and positive CDD effects on conspecific recruitment, respectively. However, the extent to which these mycorrhizal associations affect spatial distributions of individual trees and their relative abundances within forests through CDD remains uncertain. We analysed changes in spatial correlations between adults and conspecific juveniles at different growth stages of five hardwood species in a 6-ha plot of an old-growth forest using a point pattern analysis. The clump sizes of large individuals were also evaluated using the I
δ index (a measure of individual dispersion) in 24 species. In two AM-associated species, juveniles were distributed at greater distances with increasing size or were always distributed at a distance from adults, resulting in small clumps of adults. In contrast, juveniles of two ECM-associated species were distributed close to adults during early or late growth stage, resulting in large clumps of adults. Juveniles of an ECM-associated species disappeared with increasing size, probably due to shade intolerance. In 24 tree species with large numbers of individuals within a plot, the relative basal area was related to both mycorrhizal type and maximum diameter, suggesting that the relative abundance of a species is largely related to its mycorrhizal associations and maximum plant size. This study strongly demonstrated that mycorrhizal associations play an important role in determining the spatial distribution patterns and community structure of tree species through CDD.
10 show abstract

In the presence of a predator, foraging is a dangerous task. Social individuals can respond to risk by forming groups, benefiting from enhanced collective anti-predator behavior but suffering from increased conspicuousness to predators. Within groups, individuals exhibit variable foraging behavior. One important factor influencing risky foraging behaviour is current energetic state, and individuals must trade off food and safety by deciding when to leave a protected refuge in order to find food. We generated mixed groups of goldfish (Carassius auratus) containing equal numbers of underfed and well-fed individuals and examined individual refuge use and willingness to take risks venturing into risky foraging areas in the presence of an avian predator (little egret—Egretta garzetta). Underfed fish exhibited higher levels of risky behaviour by participating in more foraging outings and emerging from the refuge in frontal group positions, compared with well-fed individuals. As expected, underfed fish benefitted by consuming more food, but surprisingly did not experience higher rates of mortality. This may be due to the fact that the egret predator rarely captured the first fish to emerge from the refuge, preferentially attacked groups of three or more fish, and often captured fish in the chaotic period following a failed initial strike. We demonstrate how differences in energetic condition can influence risk-taking behaviours among social individuals that subsequently influence relative levels of foraging success and group fission–fusion dynamics. Moreover, our results illustrate the risk associated with foraging in larger groups.
11 show abstract

Foraging animals face the difficult task to find resources in complex environments that contain conflicting information. The presence of a non-suitable resource that provides attractive cues can be expected to confuse foraging animals and to reduce their foraging efficiency. We used the parasitoid Cotesia glomerata to study the effect of non-host-infested plants and associative learning on parasitoid foraging efficiency. Inexperienced C. glomerata did not prefer volatiles emitted from host (Pieris brassicae)-infested plants over volatiles from non-host (Mamestra brassicae)-infested plants and parasitoids that had to pass non-host-infested plants needed eight times longer to reach the host-infested plant compared to parasitoids that had to pass undamaged plants. Contrary to our expectations, oviposition experience on a host-infested leaf decreased foraging efficiency due to more frequent visits of non-host-infested plants. Oviposition experience did not only increase the responsiveness of C. glomerata to the host-infested plants, but also the attraction towards herbivore-induced plant volatiles in general. Experience with non-host-infested leaves on the contrary resulted in a reduced attraction towards non-host-infested plants, but did not increase foraging efficiency. Our study shows that HIPVs emitted by non-host-infested plants can confuse foraging parasitoids and reduce their foraging efficiency when non-host-infested plants are abundant. Our results further suggest that the effect of experience on foraging efficiency in the presence of non-host-infested plants depends on the similarity between the rewarding and the non-rewarding cue as well as on the completeness of information that parasitoids have acquired about the rewarding and non-rewarding cues.
12 show abstract

The effects of resource pulses on natural communities are known to vary with the type of pulse. However, less is known about mechanisms that determine the responses of different species to the same pulse. We hypothesized that these differences are related to the size of the species, as increasing size may be correlated with increasing competitive ability and decreasing tolerance to predation. A factorial experiment quantified the magnitude and timing of species’ responses to a resource pulse using the aquatic communities found in the leaves of the carnivorous pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea. We added prey to leaves and followed the abundances of bacteria and bacterivores (protozoa and rotifers) in the presence and absence of a top predator, larvae of the mosquito Wyeomyia smithii. Resource pulses had significant positive effects on species abundances and diversity in this community; however, the magnitude and timing of responses varied among the bacterivore species and was not related to body size. Larger bacterivores were significantly suppressed by predators, while smaller bacterivores were not; predation also significantly reduced bacterivore species diversity. There were no interactions between the effects of the resource pulse and predation on protozoa abundances. Over 67 days, some species returned to pre-pulse abundances quickly, others did not or did so very slowly, resulting in new community states for extended periods of time. This study demonstrates that species-specific differences in responses to resource pulses and predation are complex and may not be related to simple life history trade-offs associated with size.
13 show abstract
Unfortunately, the panels of (f) in Figures 1, 2, and 4.
14 show abstract

Oviposition site choice affects a host of offspring phenotypes and directly impacts maternal fitness. Recent evidence suggests that oviparous reptiles often select nest sites where the landscape has been altered by anthropogenic activity, whereas natural nest sites are less often used. We leverage a long-term study of snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) to identify natural nest sites and anthropogenic nest sites and to compare habitat variables among nest site types. Natural and anthropogenic nest sites did not differ in average canopy closure, distance to nearest water, substrate composition, or aspect. However, anthropogenic nest sites had less ground-level vegetation and greater soil brightness, and were 3.3 °C warmer than natural nests during incubation. We used the Schoolfield model of poikilotherm development to assess differences in development rate between natural and anthropogenic nests. Because of the difference in temperature, embryos in anthropogenic nests were predicted to have undergone nearly twice as much development as embryos in natural nests during incubation. We outline why the evolution of fast embryonic development rate cannot compensate indefinitely for the low temperature incubation regimes that become increasingly prevalent at northern range margins, thereby underlining why maternal nest site choice of relatively warm anthropogenic sites may help oviparous reptiles persist in thermally constrained environments. Future research should aim to quantify both the thermal benefits of anthropogenic nest sites, as well as associated fitness costs (e.g., increased adult mortality) to elucidate whether anthropogenic disturbance of the landscape can be an ecological trap or serve a net benefit to some reptiles in northern environments.
15 show abstract

Climate can affect plant populations through direct effects on physiology and fitness, and through indirect effects on their relationships with pollinating mutualists. We therefore expect that geographic variation in climate might lead to variation in plant mating systems. Biogeographic processes, such as range expansion, can also contribute to geographic patterns in mating system traits. We manipulated pollinator access to plants in eight sites spanning the geographic range of Clarkia pulchella to investigate geographic and climatic drivers of fruit production and seed set in the absence of pollinators (reproductive assurance). We examined how reproductive assurance and fruit production varied with the position of sites within the range of the species and with temperature and precipitation. We found that reproductive assurance in C. pulchella was greatest in populations in the northern part of the species’ range and was not well explained by any of the climate variables that we considered. In the absence of pollinators, some populations of C. pulchella have the capacity to increase fruit production, perhaps through resource reallocation, but this response is climate dependent. Pollinators are important for reproduction in this species, and recruitment is sensitive to seed input. The degree of autonomous self-pollination that is possible in populations of this mixed-mating species may be shaped by historic biogeographic processes or variation in plant and pollinator community composition rather than variation in climate.
16 show abstract

Understanding how biodiversity and its components of alpha, beta, and gamma vary over spatial and temporal scales and across communities is crucial to mitigating stressors of ecosystems. Marine communities present several problems in partitioning diversity over fine spatial scales, such as tidal zones, and temporal scales relating to seasonal occurrences of species and recovery responses to impacts. This study uses an experimental approach to test disturbance effects on beta diversity in algal communities in southern New Zealand. Dominant canopies in mid-shore Hormosira banksii and low-shore Durvillaea poha communities were removed and diversity metrics assessed, including additive partitioning, permutational dispersion, and nestedness and turnover analyses. Over 2 years, 258 species were found. Species richness was greater where canopies remained intact in Hormosira communities compared to removal plots, but, in Durvillaea communities, controls and removals had similar richness. In both communities, β-diversity was 1.5–3.9 times greater than α-diversity, with the temporal component β
t being 1.2–2.4 × greater than the spatial component. Hormosira communities exhibited high nestedness, with species in removal plots being a subset of those in controls. In Durvillaea communities, however, turnover was high and nestedness low, because removal plots had a different species assemblage than controls. Multivariate analyses showed that species occurrences and abundances remained different in controls and removals in both communities over 2 years. Differences in diversity components between communities were related to environmental differences to which they are exposed, including desiccation and wave forces, and the relative importance of facilitation and competition in the different communities.
17 show abstract

Maternal and environmental effects can have profound effects on offspring performance by generating variation in offspring phenotypes, independent of genetic effects. Within avian broods, differential maternal investment of resources across the laying sequence is thought to be an adaptive strategy to modulate competitive hierarchies induced by hatching asynchrony. In this study, we evaluated the relative importance of maternally derived within-clutch variation and the asymmetric post-hatching environment for growth and survival of common tern (Sterna hirundo) siblings. We experimentally manipulated hatching order, resulting in chicks from last-laid eggs hatching first and vice versa. Although both initial age and size asymmetries were larger within experimental than control broods, the early survival of last-hatched chicks was similar between groups. Initial positive effects of egg size disappeared as siblings approached fledging. Ultimately at fledging, both within-brood growth and cumulative survival patterns were similar between experimental and control broods, suggesting that the effects of systematic variation of egg constituents (e.g., maternally derived yolk hormones) and egg size are too subtle and largely overwhelmed by the effects of hatching asynchrony. Therefore, we conclude that variation in offspring phenotypes is pre-dominantly determined by the social environment experienced post-hatching. Maternal effects may further fine-tune phenotypic variation in response to varying environmental conditions, but this needs to be tested through empirical studies in which multiple maternal effects are measured simultaneously under different environmental conditions.
18 show abstract

Ungulates are important to the diet of bears because they are high in protein, and the level of dietary protein strongly influences bear size. The size a bear obtains as an adult influences important life history characteristics, such as age of reproduction and reproductive success; therefore, it is important to know what foods are available to bears and how they are utilizing them. We tested hypotheses concerning the effect of age, sex, and location on black bear carnivory. We collected hair and vestigial premolar teeth from 49 Utah black bears, Ursus americanus according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources hunt unit. Hunt units differed in habitat quality and local ungulate density. We analyzed a vestigial premolar for the age of the bears and used analysis of the δ13C and δ15N values of the hairs of each bear to infer the degree of carnivory. δ15N of black bear hairs was positively correlated with increased availability of ungulates. There was a positive relationship between the δ15N of bear hairs and age in hunt units with the highest ungulate densities only. The δ15N and δ13C of black bear hairs were positively correlated, suggesting that bears are more carnivorous at higher altitudes. This study demonstrates the value of stable isotope analysis in understanding the feeding ecology of bears over broad geographic ranges. It demonstrates that ungulate availability is important to the feeding ecology of black bears in the Intermountain West.
19 show abstract

Humans have artificially enhanced the productivity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on a global scale by increasing nutrient loading. While the consequences of eutrophication are well known (e.g., harmful algal blooms and toxic cyanobacteria), most studies tend to examine short-term responses relative to the time scales of heritable adaptive change. Thus, the potential role of adaptation by organisms in stabilizing the response of ecological systems to such perturbations is largely unknown. We tested the hypothesis that adaptation by a generalist consumer (Daphnia pulicaria) to toxic prey (cyanobacteria) mediates the response of plankton communities to nutrient enrichment. Overall, the strength of Daphnia’s top–down effect on primary producer biomass increased with productivity. However, these effects were contingent on prey traits (e.g., rare vs. common toxic cyanobacteria) and consumer genotype (i.e., tolerant vs sensitive to toxic cyanobacteria). Tolerant Daphnia strongly suppressed toxic cyanobacteria in nutrient-rich ponds, but sensitive Daphnia did not. In contrast, both tolerant and sensitive Daphnia genotypes had comparable effects on producer biomass when toxic cyanobacteria were absent. Our results demonstrate that organismal adaptation is critical for understanding and predicting ecosystem-level consequences of anthropogenic environmental perturbations.
20 show abstract

Elevated transmission rate of pathogens and parasites is considered one of the major costs of sociality in birds. However, greater risk of infection in colonial birds might be compensated by specific immune adaptations. Here, we predicted that nestlings raised in larger colonies should invest more in their immune function. To test this hypothesis, we manipulated colony size and conduced cross-fostering experiment in a colonial waterbird, the common tern Sterna hirundo. Establishment of different size colonies under uniform environmental conditions was induced by providing large and small patches of attractive nesting area for terns (floating rafts). Then, pairs of clutches were swapped between large and small tern colonies, and skin-swelling response to phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) was assessed for nestlings from experimental and control broods. Contrary to our expectations, we found a negative effect of foster colony size on nestling PHA response (nestlings raised in the larger colony had lower PHA response). In addition, nestling PHA response correlated negatively with heterophil/lymphocyte ratio used as a measure of physiological stress. This suggested that low PHA response of nestlings raised in the larger colony could be mediated by an elevated level of social stress. We suggest that depression of immune function via social stress may constitute a strong selective pressure against large colony size in the common tern, and possibly in other colonial species. We also recommend that this largely overlooked cost of sociality should be considered in the further studies on the evolution and ecology of avian coloniality.

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Journal Citation Reports (2017)

Impact factor: 3.127
Q2 (Ecology (45/158))

Scopus Journal Metrics (2017)

SJR: 1.695
SNIP: 1.175
Impact (Scopus CiteScore): 0.317
Quartile: Q1
CiteScore percentile: 87%
CiteScore rank: 68 out of 561
Cited by WUR staff: 1436 times. (2014-2016)

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