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20 February 2017

Cooperation facilitates the colonization of harsh environments [Nature Ecology & Evolution]

Keywords : behavioural ecology, ecosystem ecology, phylogenetics, social evolution

Animals living in harsh environments, where temperatures are hot and rainfall is unpredictable, are more likely to breed in cooperative groups. As a result, harsh environmental conditions have been accepted as a key factor explaining the evolution of cooperation. However, this is based on evidence that has not investigated the order of evolutionary events, so the inferred causality could be incorrect. We resolved this problem using phylogenetic analyses of 4,707 bird species and found that causation was in the opposite direction to that previously assumed. (...)

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20 February 2017

Behavioral Diversity (Ethodiversity): A Neglected Level in the Study of Biodiversity [Frontiers in Ecology & Evolution]

The concept of biodiversity embraces a multifaceted and hierarchical analysis of the complexity of life, with implications in many areas of science, philosophy, ethics, politics, and even religion. Three levels are included in the commonly accepted definitions: genetical, species, and ecosystem diversity, going from the intraspecific level to the landscape. Here, I argue that a fourth level, never included in biodiversity studies, is of prominent relevance: ethological diversity or “ethodiversity.” There is a growing number of studies describing alternative behaviors, behavioral plasticity, learning, and even personality, as characteristics of animal populations or individuals. Ethodiversity is also relevant in unraveling cryptic biodiversity, such as species that differ in their behavior but are otherwise undistinguishable. Maintaining ethodiversity is therefore essential in conservation, and cannot be achieved simply by focusing on genetic diversity.(...)

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20 February 2017

Higher-order interactions capture unexplained complexity in diverse communities [Nature Ecology & Evolution]

Keywords : biodiversity, community ecology, theoretical ecology

Natural communities are well known to be maintained by many complex processes. Despite this, the practical aspects of studying them often require some simplification, such as the widespread assumption that direct, additive competition captures the important details about how interactions between species impact community diversity. More complex non-additive ‘higher-order’ interactions are assumed to be negligible or absent. Notably, these assumptions are poorly supported and have major consequences for the accuracy with which patterns of natural diversity are modelled and explained. We present a mathematically simple framework for incorporating biologically meaningful complexity into models of diversity by including non-additive higher-order interactions.(...)

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18 February 2017

Ecological and genetic basis of metapopulation persistence of the Glanville fritillary butterfly in fragmented landscapes [Nature Communications]

Kaywords : conservation biology, ecological modelling, evolutionary ecology, theoretical ecology

Ecologists are challenged to construct models of the biological consequences of habitat loss and fragmentation. Here, we use a metapopulation model to predict the distribution of the Glanville fritillary butterfly during 22 years across a large heterogeneous landscape with 4,415 small dry meadows. The majority (74%) of the 125 networks into which the meadows were clustered are below the extinction threshold for long-term persistence.(...)

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18 February 2017

Ecological networks to unravel the routes to horizontal transposon transfers [PLOS Biology]

Keywords : network analysis, genome analysis, host-pathogen interactions, invertebrate genomics, community ecology, genome evolution, species interactions, microbial ecology

Transposable elements (TEs) represent the single largest component of numerous eukaryotic genomes, and their activity and dispersal constitute an important force fostering evolutionary innovation. The horizontal transfer of TEs (HTT) between eukaryotic species is a common and widespread phenomenon that has had a profound impact on TE dynamics and, consequently, on the evolutionary trajectory of many species’ lineages. However, the mechanisms promoting HTT remain largely unknown. In this article, we argue that network theory combined with functional ecology provides a robust conceptual framework and tools to delineate how complex interactions between diverse organisms may act in synergy to promote HTTs.

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