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11 June 2018

Captivity and exposure to the emerging fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans are linked to perturbation and dysbiosis of the amphibian skin microbiome [BioRxiv]

The emerging fungal pathogen, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) is responsible for the catastrophic decline of European salamanders and poses a threat to amphibians globally. The amphibian skin microbiome is strongly associated with disease outcome for several host-pathogen systems, yet its role in Bsal infection remains unresolved. In addition, many in-vivo Bsal studies to date have relied on specimens that have been kept in captivity for long periods without considering the influence of environment on the microbiome and how this may impact the host response to pathogen exposure. We characterised the impact of captivity and exposure to Bsal on the skin bacterial and fungal communities of two co-occurring European newt species, the smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) and the great-crested newt (Triturus cristatus).(...)

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8 June 2018

Matching consumer feeding behaviours and resource traits: a fourth‐corner problem in food‐web theory [Ecology Letters]

Keywords : community structure, dimensionality, ecological networks, latent variables

For decades, food web theory has proposed phenomenological models for the underlying structure of ecological networks. Generally, these models rely on latent niche variables that match the feeding behaviour of consumers with their resource traits. In this paper, we used a comprehensive database to evaluate different hypotheses on the best dependency structure of trait‐matching patterns between consumers and resource traits. We found that consumer feeding behaviours had complex interactions with resource traits; however, few dimensions (i.e. latent variables) could reproduce the trait‐matching patterns. We discuss our findings in the light of three food web models designed to reproduce the multidimensionality of food web data; additionally, we discuss how using species traits clarify food webs beyond species pairwise interactions and enable studies to infer ecological generality at larger scales, despite potential taxonomic differences, variations in ecological conditions and differences in species abundance between communities.

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7 June 2018

Environment and host as large-scale controls of ectomycorrhizal fungi [Nature]

Keywords : forest ecology, fungal ecology, macroecology, microbial ecology, plant symbiosis

Explaining the large-scale diversity of soil organisms that drive biogeochemical processes—and their responses to environmental change—is critical. However, identifying consistent drivers of belowground diversity and abundance for some soil organisms at large spatial scales remains problematic. Here we investigate a major guild, the ectomycorrhizal fungi, across European forests at a spatial scale and resolution that is—to our knowledge—unprecedented, to explore key biotic and abiotic predictors of ectomycorrhizal diversity and to identify dominant responses and thresholds for change across complex environmental gradients. We show the effect of 38 host, environment, climate and geographical variables on ectomycorrhizal diversity, and define thresholds of community change for key variables. We quantify host specificity and reveal plasticity in functional traits involved in soil foraging across gradients. We conclude that environmental and host factors explain most of the variation in ectomycorrhizal diversity, that the environmental thresholds used as major ecosystem assessment tools need adjustment and that the importance of belowground specificity and plasticity has previously been underappreciated.

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7 June 2018

The strength of the biodiversity–ecosystem function relationship depends on spatial scale [Proceedings of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences]

Keywords : species richness, ecosystem functioning, β-diversity, Jensen’s inequality, nonlinear averaging, spatial scale

Our understanding of the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning (BEF) applies mainly to fine spatial scales. New research is required if we are to extend this knowledge to broader spatial scales that are relevant for conservation decisions. Here, we use simulations to examine conditions that generate scale dependence of the BEF relationship. We study scale by assessing how the BEF relationship (slope and R2) changes when habitat patches are spatially aggregated. We find three ways for the BEF relationship to be scale-dependent: (i) variation among local patches in local (α) diversity, (ii) spatial variation in the local BEF relationship and (iii) incomplete compositional turnover in species composition among patches.(...)

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7 June 2018

‘Green incubation’: avian offspring benefit from aromatic nest herbs through improved parental incubation behaviour [Proceedings of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences]

Keywords : egg temperature, European starling, prenatal, medicinal herbs, timing, volatile

Development of avian embryos requires thermal energy, usually from parents. Parents may, however, trade off catering for embryonic requirements against their own need to forage through intermittent incubation. This dynamically adjusted behaviour can be affected by properties of the nest. Here, we experimentally show a novel mechanism by which parents, through incorporation of aromatic herbs into nests, effectively modify their incubation behaviour to the benefit of their offspring. Our study species, the European starling, includes in its nest aromatic herbs which promote offspring fitness. We provided wild starlings with artificial nests including or excluding the typically selected fresh herbs and found strong support for our prediction of facilitated incubation.(...)

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