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Concept: Abundance


Following the 1986 Chernobyl accident, 116,000 people were permanently evacuated from the 4,200 km(2) Chernobyl exclusion zone [1]. There is continuing scientific and public debate surrounding the fate of wildlife that remained in the abandoned area. Several previous studies of the Chernobyl exclusion zone (e.g. [2,3]) indicated major radiation effects and pronounced reductions in wildlife populations at dose rates well below those thought [4,5] to cause significant impacts. In contrast, our long-term empirical data showed no evidence of a negative influence of radiation on mammal abundance. Relative abundances of elk, roe deer, red deer and wild boar within the Chernobyl exclusion zone are similar to those in four (uncontaminated) nature reserves in the region and wolf abundance is more than 7 times higher. Additionally, our earlier helicopter survey data show rising trends in elk, roe deer and wild boar abundances from one to ten years post-accident. These results demonstrate for the first time that, regardless of potential radiation effects on individual animals, the Chernobyl exclusion zone supports an abundant mammal community after nearly three decades of chronic radiation exposures.

Concepts: Chernobyl disaster, Deer, Zone of alienation, Abundance, Abundance of the chemical elements, Wildlife, Megafauna of Eurasia, Venison


The microbial communities living in the human intestine can have profound impact on our well-being and health. However, we have limited understanding of the mechanisms that control this complex ecosystem. Here, based on a deep phylogenetic analysis of the intestinal microbiota in a thousand western adults, we identify groups of bacteria that exhibit robust bistable abundance distributions. These bacteria are either abundant or nearly absent in most individuals, and exhibit decreased temporal stability at the intermediate abundance range. The abundances of these bimodally distributed bacteria vary independently, and their abundance distributions are not affected by short-term dietary interventions. However, their contrasting alternative states are associated with host factors such as ageing and overweight. We propose that the bistable groups reflect tipping elements of the intestinal microbiota, whose critical transitions may have profound health implications and diagnostic potential.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Nutrition, Microbiology, Intestine, Abundance, Abundance of the chemical elements, Beth Henley


Massive tsunamis induce catastrophic disturbance in marine ecosystems, yet they can provide unique opportunities to observe the process of regeneration. Here, we report the recovery of fauna after the 2011 tsunami in northeast Japan based on underwater visual censuses performed every two months over five years. Both total fish abundance and species richness increased from the first to the second year after the tsunami followed by stabilization in the following years. Short-lived fish, such as the banded goby Pterogobius elapoides, were relatively abundant in the first two years, whereas long-lived species, such as the black rockfish Sebastes cheni, increased in the latter half of the survey period. Tropical fish species were recorded only in the second and third years after the tsunami. The body size of long-lived fish increased during the survey period resulting in a gradual increase of total fish biomass. The recovery of fish assemblages was slow at one site located in the inner bay, where the impact of the tsunami was the strongest. Apart from fish, blooms of the moon jellyfish Aurelia sp. occurred only in the first two years after the tsunami, whereas the abundances of sea cucumber Apostichopus japonicus and abalone Haliotis discus hannai increased after the second year. Although we lack quantitative data prior to the tsunami, we conclude that it takes approximately three years for coastal reef fish assemblages to recover from a heavy disturbance such as a tsunami and that the recovery is dependent on species-specific life span and habitat.

Concepts: Moon, Quantitative research, Aurelia aurita, Abundance, Abundance of the chemical elements, Tsunami, Abalone, Scuba diving


Protected areas are widely considered essential for biodiversity conservation. However, few global studies have demonstrated that protection benefits a broad range of species. Here, using a new global biodiversity database with unprecedented geographic and taxonomic coverage, we compare four biodiversity measures at sites sampled in multiple land uses inside and outside protected areas. Globally, species richness is 10.6% higher and abundance 14.5% higher in samples taken inside protected areas compared with samples taken outside, but neither rarefaction-based richness nor endemicity differ significantly. Importantly, we show that the positive effects of protection are mostly attributable to differences in land use between protected and unprotected sites. Nonetheless, even within some human-dominated land uses, species richness and abundance are higher in protected sites. Our results reinforce the global importance of protected areas but suggest that protection does not consistently benefit species with small ranges or increase the variety of ecological niches.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Evolution, Species, Ecology, Natural resource, Taxonomic rank, Abundance


Oil palm monoculture comprises one of the most financially attractive land-use options in tropical forests, but cropland suitability overlaps the distribution of many highly threatened vertebrate species. We investigated how forest mammals respond to a landscape mosaic, including mature oil palm plantations and primary forest patches in Eastern Amazonia. Using both line-transect censuses (LTC) and camera-trapping (CT), we quantified the general patterns of mammal community structure and attempted to identify both species life-history traits and the environmental and spatial covariates that govern species intolerance to oil palm monoculture. Considering mammal species richness, abundance, and species composition, oil palm plantations were consistently depauperate compared to the adjacent primary forest, but responses differed between functional groups. The degree of forest habitat dependency was a leading trait, determining compositional dissimilarities across habitats. Considering both the LTC and CT data, distance from the forest-plantation interface had a significant effect on mammal assemblages within each habitat type. Approximately 87% of all species detected within oil palm were never farther than 1300 m from the forest edge. Our study clearly reinforces the notion that conventional oil palm plantations are extremely hostile to native tropical forest biodiversity, which does not bode well given prospects for oil palm expansion in both aging and new Amazonian deforestation frontiers.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Mammal, Forest, Rainforest, Tropical rainforest, Abundance, Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, Amazon Rainforest


In the life sciences, many assays measure only the relative abundances of components in each sample. Such data, called compositional data, require special treatment to avoid misleading conclusions. Awareness of the need for caution in analyzing compositional data is growing, including the understanding that correlation is not appropriate for relative data. Recently, researchers have proposed proportionality as a valid alternative to correlation for calculating pairwise association in relative data. Although the question of how to best measure proportionality remains open, we present here a computationally efficient R package that implements three measures of proportionality. In an effort to advance the understanding and application of proportionality analysis, we review the mathematics behind proportionality, demonstrate its application to genomic data, and discuss some ongoing challenges in the analysis of relative abundance data.

Concepts: Scientific method, Algorithm, Mathematics, Greek loanwords, Data, Abundance, Abundance of the chemical elements, Beth Henley


The availability of habitat structure across spatial scales can determine ecological organization and resilience. However, anthropogenic disturbances are altering the abundance and composition of habitat-forming organisms. How such shifts in the composition of these organisms alter the physical structure of habitats across ecologically important scales remains unclear. At a time of unprecedented coral loss and homogenization of coral assemblages globally, we investigate the inherent structural complexity of taxonomically distinct reefs, across five ecologically relevant scales of measurement (4-64 cm). We show that structural complexity was influenced by coral species composition, and was not a simple function of coral cover on the studied reefs. However, inter-habitat variation in structural complexity changed with scale. Importantly, the scales at which habitat structure was available also varied among habitats. Complexity at the smallest, most vulnerable scale (4 cm) varied the most among habitats, which could have inferences for as much as half of all reef fishes which are small-bodied and refuge dependent for much of their lives. As disturbances continue and species shifts persist, the future of these ecosystems may rely on a greater concern for the composition of habitat-building species and prioritization of particular configurations for protection of maximal cross-scale habitat structural complexity.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Biology, Life, Ecology, Coral reef, Natural resource, Abundance


Seagrass meadows globally are disappearing at a rapid rate with physical disturbances being one of the major drivers of this habitat loss. Disturbance of seagrass can lead to fragmentation, a reduction in shoot density, canopy height and coverage, and potentially permanent loss of habitat. Despite being such a widespread issue, knowledge of how such small scale change affects the spatial distribution and abundances of motile fauna remains limited. The present study investigated fish and macro faunal community response patterns to a range of habitat variables (shoot length, cover and density), including individual species habitat preferences within a disturbed and patchy intertidal seagrass meadow. Multivariate analysis showed a measurable effect of variable seagrass cover on the abundance and distribution of the fauna, with species specific preferences to both high and low seagrass cover seagrass. The faunal community composition varied significantly with increasing/decreasing cover. The faunal species composition of low cover seagrass was more similar to sandy control plots than to higher cover seagrass. Shannon Wiener Diversity (H') and species richness was significantly higher in high cover seagrass than in low cover seagrass, indicating increasing habitat value as density increases. The results of this study underline how the impacts of small scale disturbances from factors such as anchor damage, boat moorings and intertidal vehicle use on seagrass meadows that reduce shoot density and cover can impact upon associated fauna. These impacts have negative consequences for the delivery of ecosystem services such as the provision of nursery habitat.

Concepts: Habitat, Shannon index, Order theory, Abundance, Species richness, Habitat fragmentation, Habitat destruction, Seagrass


The emergence of high-throughput DNA sequencing methods provides unprecedented opportunities to further unravel bacterial biodiversity and its worldwide role from human health to ecosystem functioning. However, despite the abundance of sequencing studies, combining data from multiple individual studies to address macroecological questions of bacterial diversity remains methodically challenging and plagued with biases. Here, using a machine-learning approach that accounts for differences among studies and complex interactions among taxa, we merge 30 independent bacterial data sets comprising 1,998 soil samples from 21 countries. Whereas previous meta-analysis efforts have focused on bacterial diversity measures or abundances of major taxa, we show that disparate amplicon sequence data can be combined at the taxonomy-based level to assess bacterial community structure. We find that rarer taxa are more important for structuring soil communities than abundant taxa, and that these rarer taxa are better predictors of community structure than environmental factors, which are often confounded across studies. We conclude that combining data from independent studies can be used to explore bacterial community dynamics, identify potential ‘indicator’ taxa with an important role in structuring communities, and propose hypotheses on the factors that shape bacterial biogeography that have been overlooked in the past.

Concepts: DNA, Biodiversity, Ecology, Soil, Ecosystem, DNA sequencing, Abundance, Abundance of the chemical elements


Microbial viruses can control host abundances via density-dependent lytic predator-prey dynamics. Less clear is how temperate viruses, which coexist and replicate with their host, influence microbial communities. Here we show that virus-like particles are relatively less abundant at high host densities. This suggests suppressed lysis where established models predict lytic dynamics are favoured. Meta-analysis of published viral and microbial densities showed that this trend was widespread in diverse ecosystems ranging from soil to freshwater to human lungs. Experimental manipulations showed viral densities more consistent with temperate than lytic life cycles at increasing microbial abundance. An analysis of 24 coral reef viromes showed a relative increase in the abundance of hallmark genes encoded by temperate viruses with increased microbial abundance. Based on these four lines of evidence, we propose the Piggyback-the-Winner model wherein temperate dynamics become increasingly important in ecosystems with high microbial densities; thus ‘more microbes, fewer viruses’.

Concepts: Bacteria, Organism, Microbiology, Water, Coral reef, Abundance, Abundance of the chemical elements, Beth Henley