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16 January 2017

Legacy effects of developmental stages determine the functional role of predators [Nature Ecology & Evolution]

Keywords : community ecology, ecology

Predators are instrumental in structuring natural communities and ecosystem processes. The strong effects of predators are often attributed to their high trophic position in the food web. However, most predators have to grow and move up the food chain before reaching their final trophic position, and during this developmental process their traits, interactions and abundances change. Here, we show that this process of ‘moving up’ the food chain during development strongly determines the ecological role of a predator. By experimentally manipulating the succession of developmental stages of a predatory salamander in a seasonal aquatic ecosystem, we found that the effects of this apex predator on the ecosystem typically declined with age and size.(...)

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16 January 2017

Plant-soil feedbacks and mycorrhizal type influence temperate forest population dynamics [Science]

Feedback with soil biota is an important determinant of terrestrial plant diversity. However, the factors regulating plant-soil feedback, which varies from positive to negative among plant species, remain uncertain. In a large-scale study involving 55 species and 550 populations of North American trees, the type of mycorrhizal association explained much of the variation in plant-soil feedbacks. In soil collected beneath conspecifics, arbuscular mycorrhizal trees experienced negative feedback, whereas ectomycorrhizal trees displayed positive feedback. Additionally, arbuscular mycorrhizal trees exhibited strong conspecific inhibition at multiple spatial scales, whereas ectomycorrhizal trees exhibited conspecific facilitation locally and less severe conspecific inhibition regionally. These results suggest that mycorrhizal type, through effects on plant-soil feedbacks, could be an important contributor to population regulation and community structure in temperate forests.

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16 January 2017

Experimental test and refutation of a classic case of molecular adaptation in Drosophila melanogaster [Nature Ecology & Evolution]

Keywords : evolutionary genetics, molecular evolution

Identifying the genetic basis for adaptive differences between species requires explicit tests of historical hypotheses concerning the effects of past changes in gene sequence on molecular function, organismal phenotype and fitness. We address this challenge by combining ancestral protein reconstruction with biochemical experiments and physiological analysis of transgenic animals that carry ancestral genes. We tested a widely held hypothesis of molecular adaptation—that changes in the alcohol dehydrogenase protein (ADH) along the lineage leading to Drosophila melanogaster increased the catalytic activity of the enzyme and thereby contributed to the ethanol tolerance and adaptation of the species to its ethanol-rich ecological niche. Our experiments strongly refute the predictions of the adaptive ADH hypothesis and caution against accepting intuitively appealing accounts of historical molecular adaptation that are based on correlative evidence. The experimental strategy we employed can be used to decisively test other adaptive hypotheses and the claims they entail about past biological causality.(...)

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13 January 2017

Fast life history traits promote invasion success in amphibians and reptiles [Ecology Letters]

Keywords : amphibians, biological invasions, comparative analyses, invasion biology, invasive species, life history theory, population dynamics, population growth, reptiles, transient dynamics

Competing theoretical models make different predictions on which life history strategies facilitate growth of small populations. While ‘fast’ strategies allow for rapid increase in population size and limit vulnerability to stochastic events, ‘slow’ strategies and bet-hedging may reduce variance in vital rates in response to stochasticity. We test these predictions using biological invasions since founder alien populations start small, compiling the largest dataset yet of global herpetological introductions and life history traits.(...)

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13 January 2017

The Global Distribution and Drivers of Alien Bird Species Richness [Plos Biology]

Subject Areas : invasive species, birds, species diversity, species colonization, spatial autocorrelation, biogeography, population density, species delimitation

Alien species are a major component of human-induced environmental change. Variation in the numbers of alien species found in different areas is likely to depend on a combination of anthropogenic and environmental factors, with anthropogenic factors affecting the number of species introduced to new locations, and when, and environmental factors influencing how many species are able to persist there. However, global spatial and temporal variation in the drivers of alien introduction and species richness remain poorly understood. Here, we analyse an extensive new database of alien birds to explore what determines the global distribution of alien species richness for an entire taxonomic class.(...)

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