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Concept: Ecology


The energy requirement of species at each trophic level in an ecological pyramid is a function of the number of organisms and their average mass. Regarding human populations, although considerable attention is given to estimating the number of people, much less is given to estimating average mass, despite evidence that average body mass is increasing. We estimate global human biomass, its distribution by region and the proportion of biomass due to overweight and obesity.

Concepts: Mathematics, Biology, Ecology, Obesity, Mass, Trophic level, Food chain, Biomass


Spiders have been suspected to be one of the most important groups of natural enemies of insects worldwide. To document the impact of the global spider community as insect predators, we present estimates of the biomass of annually killed insect prey. Our estimates assessed with two different methods suggest that the annual prey kill of the global spider community is in the range of 400-800 million metric tons (fresh weight), with insects and collembolans composing >90% of the captured prey. This equals approximately 1‰ of the global terrestrial net primary production. Spiders associated with forests and grasslands account for >95% of the annual prey kill of the global spider community, whereas spiders in other habitats are rather insignificant contributors over a full year. The spider communities associated with annual crops contribute less than 2% to the global annual prey kill. This, however, can be partly explained by the fact that annual crop fields are “disturbed habitats” with a low buildup of spider biomass and that agrobiont spiders often only kill prey over short time periods in a year. Our estimates are supported by the published results of exclusion experiments, showing that the number of herbivorous/detritivorous insects and collembolans increased significantly after spider removal from experimental plots. The presented estimates of the global annual prey kill and the relative contribution of spider predation in different biomes improve the general understanding of spider ecology and provide a first assessment of the global impact of this very important predator group.

Concepts: Insect, Arthropod, Predation, Ecology, Lion, Biological pest control, Aposematism, Spider


Society’s techno-social systems are becoming ever faster and more computer-orientated. However, far from simply generating faster versions of existing behaviour, we show that this speed-up can generate a new behavioural regime as humans lose the ability to intervene in real time. Analyzing millisecond-scale data for the world’s largest and most powerful techno-social system, the global financial market, we uncover an abrupt transition to a new all-machine phase characterized by large numbers of subsecond extreme events. The proliferation of these subsecond events shows an intriguing correlation with the onset of the system-wide financial collapse in 2008. Our findings are consistent with an emerging ecology of competitive machines featuring ‘crowds’ of predatory algorithms, and highlight the need for a new scientific theory of subsecond financial phenomena.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Human, Ecology, Greek loanwords, Science, Theory, Behavior


True river dolphins are some of the rarest and most endangered of all vertebrates. They comprise relict evolutionary lineages of high taxonomic distinctness and conservation value, but are afforded little protection. We report the discovery of a new species of a river dolphin from the Araguaia River basin of Brazil, the first such discovery in nearly 100 years. The species is diagnosable by a series of molecular and morphological characters and diverged from its Amazonian sister taxon 2.08 million years ago. The estimated time of divergence corresponds to the separation of the Araguaia-Tocantins basin from the Amazon basin. This discovery highlights the immensity of the deficit in our knowledge of Neotropical biodiversity, as well as vulnerability of biodiversity to anthropogenic actions in an increasingly threatened landscape. We anticipate that this study will provide an impetus for the taxonomic and conservation reanalysis of other taxa shared between the Araguaia and Amazon aquatic ecosystems, as well as stimulate historical biogeographical analyses of the two basins.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Species, Ecology, Drainage basin, Amazon River, Brazil, Amazon Basin, Amazon Rainforest


Reconstructing the phylogenetic relationships that unite all lineages (the tree of life) is a grand challenge. The paucity of homologous character data across disparately related lineages currently renders direct phylogenetic inference untenable. To reconstruct a comprehensive tree of life, we therefore synthesized published phylogenies, together with taxonomic classifications for taxa never incorporated into a phylogeny. We present a draft tree containing 2.3 million tips-the Open Tree of Life. Realization of this tree required the assembly of two additional community resources: (i) a comprehensive global reference taxonomy and (ii) a database of published phylogenetic trees mapped to this taxonomy. Our open source framework facilitates community comment and contribution, enabling the tree to be continuously updated when new phylogenetic and taxonomic data become digitally available. Although data coverage and phylogenetic conflict across the Open Tree of Life illuminate gaps in both the underlying data available for phylogenetic reconstruction and the publication of trees as digital objects, the tree provides a compelling starting point for community contribution. This comprehensive tree will fuel fundamental research on the nature of biological diversity, ultimately providing up-to-date phylogenies for downstream applications in comparative biology, ecology, conservation biology, climate change, agriculture, and genomics.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Life, Species, Ecology, Phylogenetic tree, Phylogenetics, Cladistics


In June 2007, a previously undescribed monkey known locally as “lesula” was found in the forests of the middle Lomami Basin in central Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We describe this new species as Cercopithecus lomamiensis sp. nov., and provide data on its distribution, morphology, genetics, ecology and behavior. C. lomamiensis is restricted to the lowland rain forests of central DRC between the middle Lomami and the upper Tshuapa Rivers. Morphological and molecular data confirm that C. lomamiensis is distinct from its nearest congener, C. hamlyni, from which it is separated geographically by both the Congo (Lualaba) and the Lomami Rivers. C. lomamiensis, like C. hamlyni, is semi-terrestrial with a diet containing terrestrial herbaceous vegetation. The discovery of C. lomamiensis highlights the biogeographic significance and importance for conservation of central Congo’s interfluvial TL2 region, defined from the upper Tshuapa River through the Lomami Basin to the Congo (Lualaba) River. The TL2 region has been found to contain a high diversity of anthropoid primates including three forms, in addition to C. lomamiensis, that are endemic to the area. We recommend the common name, lesula, for this new species, as it is the vernacular name used over most of its known range.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecology, Primate, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic, Rainforest, Central Africa, Congo River


Climate change and fisheries are transforming the oceans, but we lack a complete understanding of their ecological impact [1-3]. Environmental degradation can cause maladaptive habitat selection, inducing ecological traps with profound consequences for biodiversity [4-6]. However, whether ecological traps operate in marine systems is unclear [7]. Large marine vertebrates may be vulnerable to ecological traps [6], but their broad-scale movements and complex life histories obscure the population-level consequences of habitat selection [8, 9]. We satellite tracked postnatal dispersal in African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) from eight sites across their breeding range to test whether they have become ecologically trapped in the degraded Benguela ecosystem. Bayesian state-space and habitat models show that penguins traversed thousands of square kilometers to areas of low sea surface temperatures (14.5°C-17.5°C) and high chlorophyll-a (∼11 mg m(-3)). These were once reliable cues for prey-rich waters, but climate change and industrial fishing have depleted forage fish stocks in this system [10, 11]. Juvenile penguin survival is low in populations selecting degraded areas, and Bayesian projection models suggest that breeding numbers are ∼50% lower than if non-impacted habitats were used, revealing the extent and effect of a marine ecological trap for the first time. These cascading impacts of localized forage fish depletion-unobserved in studies on adults-were only elucidated via broad-scale movement and demographic data on juveniles. Our results support suspending fishing when prey biomass drops below critical thresholds [12, 13] and suggest that mitigation of marine ecological traps will require matching conservation action to the scale of ecological processes [14].

Concepts: Biodiversity, Demography, Fish, Ecology, Climate, Ecosystem, Ocean, Sea surface temperature


The behavioral strategies developed by predators to capture and kill their prey are fascinating, notably for predators that forage for prey at, or beyond, the boundaries of their ecosystem. We report here the occurrence of a beaching behavior used by an alien and large-bodied freshwater predatory fish (Silurus glanis) to capture birds on land (i.e. pigeons, Columbia livia). Among a total of 45 beaching behaviors observed and filmed, 28% were successful in bird capture. Stable isotope analyses (δ(13)C and δ(15)N) of predators and their putative prey revealed a highly variable dietary contribution of land birds among individuals. Since this extreme behavior has not been reported in the native range of the species, our results suggest that some individuals in introduced predator populations may adapt their behavior to forage on novel prey in new environments, leading to behavioral and trophic specialization to actively cross the water-land interface.

Concepts: Predation, Ecology, Behavior, Hunting, Apex predator, Mobbing behavior, Predatory fish


Animals use a variety of escape mechanisms to increase the probability of surviving predatory attacks. Antipredator defenses can be elaborate, making their evolutionary origin unclear. Trap-jaw ants are known for their rapid and powerful predatory mandible strikes, and some species have been observed to direct those strikes at the substrate, thereby launching themselves into the air away from a potential threat. This potential escape mechanism has never been examined in a natural context. We studied the use of mandible-powered jumping in Odontomachus brunneus during their interactions with a common ant predator: pit-building antlions. We observed that while trap-jaw ant workers escaped from antlion pits by running in about half of interactions, in 15% of interactions they escaped by mandible-powered jumping. To test whether escape jumps improved individual survival, we experimentally prevented workers from jumping and measured their escape rate. Workers with unrestrained mandibles escaped from antlion pits significantly more frequently than workers with restrained mandibles. Our results indicate that some trap-jaw ant species can use mandible-powered jumps to escape from common predators. These results also provide a charismatic example of evolutionary co-option, where a trait that evolved for one function (predation) has been co-opted for another (defense).

Concepts: Predation, Ecology, Antipredator adaptation, Symbiosis, Ant, Ants, Odontomachus, Odontomachus bauri


Body size and metabolic rate both fundamentally constrain how species interact with their environment, and hence ultimately affect their niche. While many mechanisms leading to these constraints have been explored, their effects on the resolution at which temporal information is perceived have been largely overlooked. The visual system acts as a gateway to the dynamic environment and the relative resolution at which organisms are able to acquire and process visual information is likely to restrict their ability to interact with events around them. As both smaller size and higher metabolic rates should facilitate rapid behavioural responses, we hypothesized that these traits would favour perception of temporal change over finer timescales. Using critical flicker fusion frequency, the lowest frequency of flashing at which a flickering light source is perceived as constant, as a measure of the maximum rate of temporal information processing in the visual system, we carried out a phylogenetic comparative analysis of a wide range of vertebrates that supported this hypothesis. Our results have implications for the evolution of signalling systems and predator-prey interactions, and, combined with the strong influence that both body mass and metabolism have on a species' ecological niche, suggest that time perception may constitute an important and overlooked dimension of niche differentiation.

Concepts: Psychology, Evolution, Metabolism, Energy, Organism, Ecology, Information, Niche differentiation