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8 September 2016

Evolutionary patterns of range size, abundance and species richness in Amazonian angiosperm trees [Peer J]

Jerôme Chave

Amazonian tree species vary enormously in their total abundance and range size, while Amazonian tree genera vary greatly in species richness. The drivers of this variation are not well understood. Here, we construct a phylogenetic hypothesis that represents half of Amazonian tree genera in order to contribute to explaining the variation. We find several clear, broad-scale patterns. Firstly, there is significant phylogenetic signal for all three characteristics; closely related genera tend to have similar numbers of species and similar mean range size and abundance. Additionally, the species richness of genera shows a significant, negative relationship with the mean range size and abundance of their constituent species.(...)

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5 September 2016

Sixteen years of change in the global terrestrial human footprint and implications for biodiversity conservation [Nature communications]

Keywords : biodiversity, conservation biology, environmental impact

Human pressures on the environment are changing spatially and temporally, with profound implications for the planet’s biodiversity and human economies. Here we use recently available data on infrastructure, land cover and human access into natural areas to construct a globally standardized measure of the cumulative human footprint on the terrestrial environment at 1 km2 resolution from 1993 to 2009. We note that while the human population has increased by 23% and the world economy has grown 153%, the human footprint has increased by just 9%. Still, 75% the planet’s land surface is experiencing measurable human pressures. Moreover, pressures are perversely intense, widespread and rapidly intensifying in places with high biodiversity. Encouragingly, we discover decreases in environmental pressures in the wealthiest countries and those with strong control of corruption. Clearly the human footprint on Earth is changing, yet there are still opportunities for conservation gains.

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2 September 2016

Environmental DNA reveals that rivers are conveyer belts of biodiversity information [Nature communications]

Keywords : ecology, molecular ecology

DNA sampled from the environment (eDNA) is a useful way to uncover biodiversity patterns. By combining a conceptual model and empirical data, we test whether eDNA transported in river networks can be used as an integrative way to assess eukaryotic biodiversity for broad spatial scales and across the land–water interface. Using an eDNA metabarcode approach, we detect 296 families of eukaryotes, spanning 19 phyla across the catchment of a river. We show for a subset of these families that eDNA samples overcome spatial autocorrelation biases associated with the classical community assessments by integrating biodiversity information over space. In addition, we demonstrate that many terrestrial species are detected; thus suggesting eDNA in river water also incorporates biodiversity information across terrestrial and aquatic biomes. Environmental DNA transported in river networks offers a novel and spatially integrated way to assess the total biodiversity for whole landscapes and will transform biodiversity data acquisition in ecology.

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2 September 2016

Variation in helper effort among cooperatively breeding bird species is consistent with Hamilton’s Rule [Nature communications]

Keywords : behavioural ecology, social evolution

Investment by helpers in cooperative breeding systems is extremely variable among species, but this variation is currently unexplained. Inclusive fitness theory predicts that, all else being equal, cooperative investment should correlate positively with the relatedness of helpers to the recipients of their care. We test this prediction in a comparative analysis of helper investment in 36 cooperatively breeding bird species. We show that species-specific helper contributions to cooperative brood care increase as the mean relatedness between helpers and recipients increases. Helper contributions are also related to the sex ratio of helpers, but neither group size nor the proportion of nests with helpers influence helper effort. Our findings support the hypothesis that variation in helping behaviour among cooperatively breeding birds is consistent with Hamilton’s rule, indicating a key role for kin selection in the evolution of cooperative investment in social birds.

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1 September 2016

Alien Pathogens on the Horizon: Opportunities for Predicting their Threat to Wildlife [Conservation Letters]

Keywords : environmental hazard, horizon scanning, invasive alien species, legislation, wildlife diseases

According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, by 2020 invasive alien species (IAS) should be identified and their impacts assessed, so that species can be prioritised for implementation of appropriate control strategies and measures put in place to manage invasion pathways. For one quarter of the IAS listed as the “100 of the world’s worst”, environmental impacts are linked to diseases of wildlife, undomesticated plants and animals. Moreover, IAS are a significant source of ‘pathogen pollution’ defined as the human-mediated introduction, often unintentional, of a pathogen to a new host or region.(...)

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