Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

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


Predators play an extremely important role in natural communities. In freshwater systems, fish can dominate sorting both at the colonization and post-colonization stage. Specifically, for many colonizing species, fish can have non-lethal, direct effects that exceed the lethal direct effects of predation. Functionally diverse fish species with a range of predatory capabilities have previously been observed to elicit functionally equivalent responses on oviposition in tree frogs. We tested this hypothesis of functional equivalence of non-lethal effects for four predatory fish species, using naturally colonizing populations of aquatic beetles. Among taxa other than mosquitoes, and with the exception of the chemically camouflaged pirate perch, Aphredoderus sayanus, we provide the first evidence of variation in colonization or oviposition responses to different fish species. Focusing on total abundance, Fundulus chrysotus, a gape-limited, surface-feeding fish, elicited unique responses among colonizing Hydrophilidae, with the exception of the smallest and most abundant taxa, Paracymus, while Dytiscidae responded similarly to all avoided fish. Neither family responded to A. sayanus. Analysis of species richness and multivariate characterization of the beetle assemblages for the four fish species and controls revealed additional variation among the three avoided species and confirmed that chemical camouflage in A. sayanus results in assemblages essentially identical to fishless controls. The origin of this variation in beetle responses to different fish is unknown, but may involve variation in cue sensitivity, different behavioral algorithms, or differential responses to species-specific fish cues. The identity of fish species occupying aquatic habitats is crucial to understanding community structure, as varying strengths of lethal and non-lethal effects, as well as their interaction, create complex landscapes of predator effects and challenge the notion of functional equivalence.

Concepts: Aphredoderidae, Hunting, Crypsis, Predatory fish, Beetle, Frog, Fish, Predation


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


Density dependence (DD) controls community recovery following widespread mortality, yet this principle rarely has been applied to coral assemblages. The reefs of Mo'orea, French Polynesia, provide the opportunity to study DD of coral population growth, because coral assemblages in this location responded to declines in abundance with high recruitment and an increase in cover during which recruitment of pocilloporid corals was inversely associated with density. This study tests for DD in this system, first, by describing the context within which it operates: coral cover changed from 46% in 2005, to <1% in 2010 following an outbreak of a corallivorous sea star and a cyclone, and then increased to 74% by 2017, in large part through inverse density-associated pocilloporid recruitment. Second, a test for DD of recruitment was conducted by decreasing Pocillopora spp. cover from 33% to 19%: one year later, the density of Pocillopora spp. recruits was 1.65-fold higher in the low vs. high cover treatment. Finally, the effects of DD were investigated by comparing simulated and empirical distributions of pocilloporid colonies: as predicted by DD, small colonies were randomly distributed, while large colonies were uniformly distributed. Together these results demonstrate DD of population regulation for Pocillopora spp. corals, thus revealing the potential importance of this ecological principle in determining the resilience of coral assemblages.


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