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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


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


Predator-mediated apparent competition is an indirect negative interaction between two prey species mediated by a shared predator. Quantifying such indirect ecosystem effects is methodologically challenging but important for understanding ecosystem functioning. Still, there are few examples of apparent competition from pelagic marine environments. Using state-space statistical modelling, we here provide evidence for apparent competition between two dominant zooplankton groups in a large marine ecosystem, i.e., krill and copepods in the Barents Sea. This effect is mediated by a positive association between krill biomass and survival of the main planktivorous fish in the Barents Sea, capelin Mallotus villosus, and a negative association between capelin and copepod biomasses. The biomass of Atlantic krill species is expected to increase in the Barents Sea due to ongoing climate change, thereby potentially negatively affecting copepods through apparent competition. By demonstrating and quantifying apparent competition in a large marine ecosystem, our study paves the way for more realistic projections of indirect ecosystem effects of climate change and harvesting. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Atlantic cod, Forage fish, Plankton, Barents Sea, Capelin, Krill, Predation, Zooplankton


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


Alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides (Molina) I.M. Johnst., Cupressaceae), known as Lahuan by the Mapuche people, is the most iconic endemic conifer of southern Chile and adjacent Argentina (Fig. 1). It can reach monumental dimensions (up to 5 m in diameter and over 50 m in height) and has remarkable longevity (Lara et al. 1999, Clement et al. 2001, Donoso-Zeggers 2006, Urrutia-Jalabert et al. 2015). The oldest alerce tree recorded is over 3,600 years old, making this species the second longest-lived tree in the world after the North American Bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva D. K. Bailey) (Lara and Villalba 1993). This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.


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