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Journal: Ecology


The vertebrate tear-feeding (lachryphagy) on birds by moths is a rarely documented event, with only two known records from Madagascar (Hilgartner et al. 2007) and Colombia (Sazima 2015). In these events, the moths insert their morphologically adapted proboscis (Zaspel et al. 2011) on the target species' ocular area to feed on their tears (Hilgartner et al. 2007, Zenker et al. 2011). Although one currently known moth is an obligatory lachryphagous species (Waage 1979), most of them feed on tears as a supplementary method to obtain nutrients, mainly sodium and proteins (Plotkin and Goddard 2013). This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


The benefits of mutualistic interactions are often highly context dependent. We studied the interaction between the milkweed aphid Aphis asclepiadis and a tending ant, Formica podzolica. While this interaction is generally considered beneficial, variation in plant genotype may alter it from mutualistic to antagonistic. Here we link the shift in strength and relative benefit of the ant-aphid interaction to plant genotypic variation in the production of cardenolides, a class of toxic defensive chemicals. In a field experiment with highly variable genotypes of the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), we show that plant cardenolides, especially polar forms, are ingested and excreted by the aphid proportionally to plant concentrations without directly affecting aphid performance. Ants consume honeydew, and aphids that excreted high amounts of cardenolides received fewer ant visits, in turn reducing aphid survival. On at least some plant genotypes, aphid numbers per plant were reduced in the presence of ants to levels lower than in corresponding ant-exclusion treatments, suggesting antagonistic ant behavior. While cardenolides thus appear ineffective as direct plant defenses against aphids, the multi-trophic context reveals an ant-mediated negative indirect effect on aphid performance and population dynamics. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Genetics, Cretaceous, Asclepias syriaca, Insect, Asclepias, Aphid, Evolution, Ant


Understanding functional trait-environment relationships (TERs) may improve predictions of community assembly. However, many empirical TERs have been weak or lacking conceptual foundation. TERs based on leaf venation networks may better link individuals and communities via hydraulic constraints. We report measurements of vein density, vein radius, and leaf thickness for more than 100 dominant species occurring in ten forest communities spanning a 3300 m Andes-Amazon elevation gradient in Peru. We use these data to measure the strength of TERs at community scale and to determine whether observed TERs are similar to those predicted by physiological theory. We found strong support for TERs between all traits and temperature, as well weaker support for a predicted TER between maximum abundance-weighted leaf transpiration rate and maximum potential evapotranspiration. These results provide one approach for developing a more mechanistic trait-based community assembly theory. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: All rights reserved, Copyright, Futurology, Prediction, Water, Hypothesis, Transpiration, Scientific method


While there is widespread recognition of human involvement in biodiversity loss globally, at smaller spatial extents, the effects are less clear. One reason is that local effects are obscured by the use of summary biodiversity variables, such as species richness, that provide only limited insight into complex biodiversity change. Here, we use 30 yr of invertebrate data from a metacommunity of 10 streams in Wales, UK, combined with regional surveys, to examine temporal changes in multiple biodiversity measures at local, metacommunity, and regional scales. There was no change in taxonomic or functional α-diversity and spatial β-diversity metrics at any scale over the 30-yr time series, suggesting a relative stasis in the system and no evidence for on-going homogenization. However, temporal changes in mean species composition were evident. Two independent approaches to estimate species niche breadth showed that compositional changes were associated with a systematic decline in mean community specialization. Estimates of species-specific local extinction and immigration probabilities suggested that this decline was linked to lower recolonization rates of specialists, rather than greater local extinction rates. Our results reveal the need for caution in implying stasis from patterns in α-diversity and spatial β-diversity measures that might mask non-random biodiversity changes over time. We also show how different but complementary approaches to estimate niche breadth and functional distinctness of species can reveal long-term trends in community homogenization likely to be important to conservation and ecosystem function.

Concepts: Species, Ecosystem, Ecology, Taxonomy, Statistics, Evolution, Conservation biology, Biodiversity


Most forest ecosystems are simultaneously affected by concurrent global change drivers. However, when assessing these effects, studies have mainly focused on the responses to single factors and have rarely evaluated the joined effects of the multiple aspects of environmental change. Here, we analyzed the combined effects of anthropogenic nitrogen (N) deposition and climatic conditions on the radial growth of Acer saccharum, a dominant tree species in eastern North American forests. We capitalized on a long-term N deposition study, replicated along a latitudinal gradient, that has been taking place for more than 20 yr. We analyzed tree radial growth as a function of anthropogenic N deposition (ambient and experimental addition) and of summer temperature and soil water conditions. Our results reveal that experimental N deposition enhances radial growth of this species, an effect that was accentuated as temperature increased and soil water became more limiting. The spatial and temporal extent of our data also allowed us to assert that the positive effects of growing under the experimental N deposition are likely due to changes in the physiological performance of this species, and not due to the positive correlation between soil N and soil water holding capacity, as has been previously speculated in other studies. Our simulations of tree growth under forecasted climate scenarios specific for this region also revealed that although anthropogenic N deposition may enhance tree growth under a large array of environmental conditions, it will not mitigate the expected effects of growing under the considerably drier conditions characteristic of our most extreme climatic scenario.

Concepts: Affect, Acer saccharum, Ice, Effect, Precipitation, Climate change, Ecosystem, Climate


Only a handful of non-human animals are known to grow their own food by cultivating high-yield fungal or algal crops as staple food. Here we report an alternative strategy utilized by an omnivorous marine worm, Hediste diversicolor, to supplement its diet: gardening by sprouting seeds. In addition to having many other known feeding modes, we showed using video recordings and manipulative mesocosm experiments that this species can also behave like gardeners by deliberately burying cordgrass seeds in their burrows, which has been previously shown to reduce the loss of seeds to water. These seeds, however, are protected by the seed husk, and we used feeding experiments to show that they were not edible for H. diversicolor until they had sprouted or the seed husk had been artificially removed. Additionally, sprouts were shown to be highly nutritious, permitting higher growth rates in H. diversicolor than the low-quality basal food, detritus. We propose both a proximate cause (seed husk as a physical barrier) and ultimate cause (nutritional demand) for this peculiar feeding behavior. Our findings suggest that sprouting may be a common strategy used by seed-collecting animals to exploit nutrients from well-protected seeds.

Concepts: Dieting, Omnivore, Proximate and ultimate causation, Food, Sprouting, Eating, Plant, Nutrition


It is incredibly challenging to study the natural feeding habits of snakes. Snakes are themselves secretive and rarely observed in the wild, and they feed relatively infrequently, making observations of feeding scarce. As a result, scientific understanding of snake dietary ecology (beyond simple prey lists) remains remarkably superficial outside of a few species. In this context, our own research sets out to understand how feeding and competition for spatially- and temporally-patchy resources drives interspecific competition between two species of African snakes and how those processes might change in the future. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


Spatial community reassembly driven by changes in species abundances or habitat occupancy is a well-documented response to anthropogenic global change, but communities can also reassemble temporally if the environment drives differential shifts in the timing of life events across community members. Much like spatial community reassembly, temporal reassembly could be particularly important when critical species interactions are temporally concentrated (e.g., plant-pollinator dynamics during flowering). Previous studies have documented species-specific shifts in phenology driven by climate change, implying that temporal reassembly, a process we term “phenological reassembly,” is likely. However, few studies have documented changes in the temporal co-occurrence of community members driven by environmental change, likely because few datasets of entire communities exist. We addressed this gap by quantifying the relationship between flowering phenology and climate for 48 co-occurring subalpine wildflower species at Mount Rainier (Washington, USA) in a large network of plots distributed across Mt. Rainier’s steep environmental gradients; large spatio-temporal variability in climate over the 6 yr of our study (including the earliest and latest snowmelt year on record) provided robust estimates of climate-phenology relationships for individual species. We used these relationships to examine changes to community co-flowering composition driven by ‘climate change analog’ conditions experienced at our sites in 2015. We found that both the timing and duration of flowering of focal species was strongly sensitive to multiple climatic factors (snowmelt, temperature, and soil moisture). Some consistent responses emerged, including earlier snowmelt and warmer growing seasons driving flowering phenology earlier for all focal species. However, variation among species in their phenological sensitivities to these climate drivers was large enough that phenological reassembly occurred in the climate change analog conditions of 2015. An unexpected driver of phenological reassembly was fine-scale variation in the direction and magnitude of climatic change, causing phenological reassembly to be most apparent early and late in the season and in topographic locations where snow duration was shortest (i.e., at low elevations and on ridges in the landscape). Because phenological reassembly may have implications for many types of ecological interactions, failing to monitor community-level repercussions of species-specific phenological shifts could underestimate climate change impacts.

Concepts: Thermohaline circulation, Anthropogenic, Solar variation, Mount Rainier, Vegetation, Weather, Climate, Climate change


Changes to the community ecology of hosts for zoonotic pathogens, particularly rodents, are likely to influence the emergence and prevalence of zoonotic diseases worldwide. However, the complex interactions between abiotic factors, pathogens, vectors, hosts, and both food resources and predators of hosts are difficult to disentangle. Here we (1) use 19 years of data from six large field plots in southeastern New York to compare the effects of hypothesized drivers of interannual variation in Lyme disease risk, including the abundance of acorns, rodents, and deer, as well as a series of climate variables; and (2) employ landscape epidemiology to explore how variation in predator community structure and forest cover influences spatial variation in the infection prevalence of ticks for the Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, and two other important tick-borne pathogens, Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Babesia microti. Acorn-driven increases in the abundance of mice were correlated with a lagged increase in the abundance of questing nymph-stage Ixodes scapularis ticks infected with Lyme disease bacteria. Abundance of white-tailed deer two years prior also correlated with increased density of infected nymphal ticks, although the effect was weak. Density of rodents in the current year was a strong negative predictor of nymph density, apparently because high current abundance of these hosts can remove nymphs from the host-seeking population. Warm, dry spring or winter weather was associated with reduced density of infected nymphs. At the landscape scale, the presence of functionally diverse predator communities or of bobcats, the only obligate carnivore, was associated with reduced infection prevalence of I. scapularis nymphs with all three zoonotic pathogens. In the case of Lyme disease, infection prevalence increased where coyotes were present but smaller predators were displaced or otherwise absent. For all pathogens, infection prevalence was lowest when forest cover within a 1km radius was high. Taken together, our results suggest that a food web perspective including bottom-up and top-down forcing is needed to understand drivers of tick-borne disease risk, a result that may also apply to other rodent-borne zoonoses. Prevention of exposure based on ecological indicators of heightened risk should help protect public health. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


Ecologically dominant species often define ecosystem states, but as human disturbances intensify, their subordinate counterparts increasingly displace them. We consider the duality of disturbance by examining how environmental drivers can simultaneously act as a stressor to dominant species and as a resource to subordinates. Using a model ecosystem, we demonstrate that CO2 -driven interactions between species can account for such reversals in dominance; i.e., the displacement of dominants (kelp forests) by subordinates (turf algae). We established that CO2 enrichment had a direct positive effect on productivity of turfs, but a negligible effect on kelp. CO2 enrichment further suppressed the abundance and feeding rate of the primary grazer of turfs (sea urchins), but had an opposite effect on the minor grazer (gastropods). Thus, boosted production of subordinate producers, exacerbated by a net reduction in its consumption by primary grazers, accounts for community change (i.e., turf displacing kelp). Ecosystem collapse, therefore, is more likely when resource enrichment alters competitive dominance of producers, and consumers fail to compensate. By recognizing such duality in the responses of interacting species to disturbance, which may stabilize or exacerbate change, we can begin to understand how intensifying human disturbances determine whether or not ecosystems undergo phase shifts.