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Journal: The Journal of applied ecology


Whilst most studies reviewing the reliance of global agriculture on insect pollination advocate increasing the ‘supply’ of pollinators (wild or managed) to improve crop yields, there has been little focus on altering a crop’s ‘demand’ for pollinators.Parthenocarpy (fruit set in the absence of fertilization) is a trait which can increase fruit quantity and quality from pollinator-dependent crops by removing the need for pollination.Here we present a meta-analysis of studies examining the extent and effectiveness of parthenocarpy-promoting techniques (genetic modification, hormone application and selective breeding) currently being used commercially, or experimentally, on pollinator-dependent crops in different test environments (no pollination, hand pollination, open pollination).All techniques significantly increased fruit quantity and quality in 18 pollinator-dependent crop species (not including seed and nut crops as parthenocarpy causes seedlessness). The degree to which plants experienced pollen limitation in the different test environments could not be ascertained, so the absolute effect of parthenocarpy relative to optimal pollination could not be determined. Synthesis and applications. Parthenocarpy has the potential to lower a crop’s demand for pollinators, whilst extending current geographic and climatic ranges of production. Thus, growers may wish to use parthenocarpic crop plants, in combination with other environmentally considerate practices, to improve food security and their economic prospects.

Concepts: Agriculture, Fruit, Pollination, Seed, Flower, Pollen, Pollinator, Crops


Applied ecologists often face uncertainty that hinders effective decision-making.Common traps that may catch the unwary are: ignoring uncertainty, acknowledging uncertainty but ploughing on, focussing on trivial uncertainties, believing your models, and unclear objectives.We integrate research insights and examples from a wide range of applied ecological fields to illustrate advances that are generally underused, but could facilitate ecologists' ability to plan and execute research to support management.Recommended approaches to avoid uncertainty traps are: embracing models, using decision theory, using models more effectively, thinking experimentally, and being realistic about uncertainty.Synthesis and applications. Applied ecologists can become more effective at informing management by using approaches that explicitly take account of uncertainty.

Concepts: Scientific method, Biodiversity, Ecology, Risk, Science, Research, Decision theory, Uncertainty


Modelling species distribution and abundance is important for many conservation applications, but it is typically performed using relatively coarse-scale environmental variables such as the area of broad land-cover types. Fine-scale environmental data capturing the most biologically relevant variables have the potential to improve these models. For example, field studies have demonstrated the importance of linear features, such as hedgerows, for multiple taxa, but the absence of large-scale datasets of their extent prevents their inclusion in large-scale modelling studies.We assessed whether a novel spatial dataset mapping linear and woody-linear features across the UK improves the performance of abundance models of 18 bird and 24 butterfly species across 3723 and 1547 UK monitoring sites, respectively.Although improvements in explanatory power were small, the inclusion of linear features data significantly improved model predictive performance for many species. For some species, the importance of linear features depended on landscape context, with greater importance in agricultural areas. Synthesis and applications. This study demonstrates that a national-scale model of the extent and distribution of linear features improves predictions of farmland biodiversity. The ability to model spatial variability in the role of linear features such as hedgerows will be important in targeting agri-environment schemes to maximally deliver biodiversity benefits. Although this study focuses on farmland, data on the extent of different linear features are likely to improve species distribution and abundance models in a wide range of systems and also can potentially be used to assess habitat connectivity.

Concepts: Better, Conservation biology, Agriculture, Improve, Biology, Ecology, Model, Universe


Introduced pathogens and other parasites are often implicated in host population level declines and extinctions. However, such claims are rarely supported by rigorous real-time data. Indeed, the threat of introduced parasites often goes unnoticed until after host populations have declined severely. The recent introduction of the parasitic nest fly, Philornis downsi, to the Galápagos Islands provides an opportunity to monitor the current impact of an invasive parasite on endemic land bird populations, including Darwin’s finches.In this paper we present a population viability model to explore the potential long-term effect of P. downsi on Darwin’s finch populations. The goal of our study was to determine whether P. downsi has the potential to drive host populations to extinction and whether management efforts are likely to be effective.Our model is based on data from five years of experimental field work documenting the effect of P. downsi on the reproductive success of medium ground finch Geospiza fortis populations on Santa Cruz Island. Under two of the three scenarios tested, the model predicted medium ground finches are at risk of extinction within the next century.However, sensitivity analyses reveal that even a modest reduction in the prevalence of the parasite could improve the stability of finch populations. We discuss the practicality of several management options aimed at achieving this goal.Synthesis and applications. Our study demonstrates the predicted high risk of local extinction of an abundant host species, the medium ground finch Geospiza fortis due to an introduced parasite, Philornis downsi. However, our study further suggests that careful management practices aimed at reducing parasite prevalence have the potential to significantly lower the risk of host species extinction.

Concepts: Evolution, Ecology, Extinction, Invasive species, Darwin's finches, Finch, Medium Ground-finch, Large Ground-finch


Traditional tropical agriculture often entails a form of slash-and-burn land management that may adversely affect ecosystem services such as pollination, which are required for successful crop yields. The Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico has a >4000 year history of traditional slash-and-burn agriculture, termed ‘milpa’. Hot ‘Habanero’ chilli is a major pollinator-dependent crop that nowadays is often grown in monoculture within the milpa system.We studied 37 local farmers' chilli fields (sites) to evaluate the effects of landscape composition on bee communities. At 11 of these sites, we undertook experimental pollination treatments to quantify the pollination of chilli. We further explored the relationships between landscape composition, bee communities and pollination service provision to chilli.Bee species richness, particularly species of the family Apidae, was positively related to the amount of forest cover. Species diversity decreased with increasing proportion of crop land surrounding each sampling site. Sweat bees of the genus Lasioglossum were the most abundant bee taxon in chilli fields and, in contrast to other bee species, increased in abundance with the proportion of fallow land, gardens and pastures which are an integral part of the milpa system.There was an average pollination shortfall of 21% for chilli across all sites; yet the shortfall was unrelated to the proportion of land covered by crops. Rather, chilli pollination was positively related to the abundance of Lasioglossum bees, probably an important pollinator of chilli, as well indirectly to the proportion of fallow land, gardens and pastures that promote Lasioglossum abundance. Synthesis and applications. Current, low-intensity traditional slash-and-burn (milpa) agriculture provides Lasioglossum spp. pollinators for successful chilli production; fallow land, gardens and pasture therefore need to be valued as important habitats for these and related ground-nesting bee species. However, the negative impact of agriculture on total bee species diversity highlights how agricultural intensification is likely to reduce pollination services to crops, including chilli. Indeed, natural forest cover is vital in tropical Yucatán to maintain a rich assemblage of bee species and the provision of pollination services for diverse crops and wild flowers.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Ecology, Pollination, Bee, Pollinator, Crops, Slash and burn


1. Competition among sympatric wild herbivores is reduced by different physiological, morphological, and behavioral traits resulting in different dietary niches. Wild equids are a rather uniform group of large herbivores which have dramatically declined in numbers and range. Correlative evidence suggests that pasture competition with livestock is one of the key factors for this decline, and the situation may be aggravated in areas where different equid species overlap. 2. The Dzungarian Gobi is currently the only place where two wild equid species coexist and share the range with the domesticated form of a third equid species. In the arid and winter cold Gobi, pasture productivity is low, highly seasonal, and wild equids additionally face increasing livestock densities. 3. We used stable isotope chronologies of tail hairs to draw inferences about multi-year diet seasonality, isotopic dietary niches, and physiological adaptations in the Asiatic wild ass (khulan), reintroduced Przewalski’s horse, and domestic horse in the Mongolian part of the Dzungarian Gobi. 4. Our results showed that even in the arid Gobi, both horse species are predominantly grazers, whereas khulan are highly seasonal, switching from being grazers in summer to mixed feeders in winter. The isotopic dietary niches of the two horse species were almost identical, did not vary with season as in khulan, and were narrower than in the latter. Higher δ(15)N values point towards higher water use efficiency in khulan, which may be one reason why they can exploit pastures further away from water. 5. Synthesis and applications: The high degree of isotopic dietary niche overlap in the two horses points towards a high potential for pasture competition during the critical nutritional bottleneck in winter and highlights the need to severely restrict grazing of domestic horses on the range of the Przewalski’s horses. Khulan are less constrained by water and seem more flexible in their choice of diet or less successful in exploiting grass dominated habitats in winter due to human presence. Providing additional water sources could increase the competition between khulan and livestock, and should therefore be only done following careful consideration.

Concepts: Horse, Pasture, Livestock, Grazing, Equus, Equidae, Donkey, Przewalski's Horse


As part of global efforts to reduce dependence on carbon-based energy sources there has been a rapid increase in the installation of renewable energy devices. The installation and operation of these devices can result in conflicts with wildlife. In the marine environment, mammals may avoid wind farms that are under construction or operating. Such avoidance may lead to more time spent travelling or displacement from key habitats. A paucity of data on at-sea movements of marine mammals around wind farms limits our understanding of the nature of their potential impacts.Here, we present the results of a telemetry study on harbour seals Phoca vitulina in The Wash, south-east England, an area where wind farms are being constructed using impact pile driving. We investigated whether seals avoid wind farms during operation, construction in its entirety, or during piling activity. The study was carried out using historical telemetry data collected prior to any wind farm development and telemetry data collected in 2012 during the construction of one wind farm and the operation of another.Within an operational wind farm, there was a close-to-significant increase in seal usage compared to prior to wind farm development. However, the wind farm was at the edge of a large area of increased usage, so the presence of the wind farm was unlikely to be the cause.There was no significant displacement during construction as a whole. However, during piling, seal usage (abundance) was significantly reduced up to 25 km from the piling activity; within 25 km of the centre of the wind farm, there was a 19 to 83% (95% confidence intervals) decrease in usage compared to during breaks in piling, equating to a mean estimated displacement of 440 individuals. This amounts to significant displacement starting from predicted received levels of between 166 and 178 dB re 1 μPa(p-p). Displacement was limited to piling activity; within 2 h of cessation of pile driving, seals were distributed as per the non-piling scenario. Synthesis and applications. Our spatial and temporal quantification of avoidance of wind farms by harbour seals is critical to reduce uncertainty and increase robustness in environmental impact assessments of future developments. Specifically, the results will allow policymakers to produce industry guidance on the likelihood of displacement of seals in response to pile driving; the relationship between sound levels and avoidance rates; and the duration of any avoidance, thus allowing far more accurate environmental assessments to be carried out during the consenting process. Further, our results can be used to inform mitigation strategies in terms of both the sound levels likely to cause displacement and what temporal patterns of piling would minimize the magnitude of the energetic impacts of displacement.

Concepts: Pinniped, Wind power, Wind farm, Floating wind turbine, Wind power in Denmark, Environmental impact assessment, Wind power in the United States, Pile driver


In Latin America, the common vampire bat Desmodus rotundus is the primary reservoir of rabies, a zoonotic virus that kills thousands of livestock annually and causes sporadic and lethal human rabies outbreaks. The proliferation of livestock provides an abundant food resource for this obligate blood-feeding species that could alter its foraging behaviour and rabies transmission, but poor understanding of the dietary plasticity of vampire bats limits understanding of how livestock influences rabies risk.We analysed individual- and population-level foraging behaviour by applying δ(13)C and δ(15)N stable isotope analysis to hair samples from 183 vampire bats captured from nine colonies in Peru. We also assessed the isotopic distributions of realized prey by analysing blood meals extracted from engorged bats and samples collected from potential prey species. In two adjacent but contrasting areas of the Amazon with scarce and abundant livestock, we used questionnaires to evaluate the incidence of feeding on humans.Population-level isotopic signatures suggested substantial among-site variation in feeding behaviour, including reliance on livestock in some colonies and feeding on combinations of domestic and wild prey in others. Isotopic heterogeneity within bat colonies was among the largest recorded in vertebrate populations, indicating that individuals consistently fed on distinct prey resources and across distinct trophic levels. In some sites, isotopic values of realized prey spanned broad ranges, suggesting that bats with intermediate isotopic values could plausibly be dietary specialists rather than generalists.Bayesian estimates of isotopic niche width varied up to ninefold among colonies and were maximized where wildlife and livestock were present at low levels, but declined with greater availability of livestock. In the Amazon, the absence of livestock was associated with feeding on humans and wildlife. Policy implications. We provide the first insights into the foraging behaviour of vampire bats in habitats with common depredation on humans and show how vampire bat foraging may respond to land-use change. Our results demonstrate risks of rabies transmission from bats to other wildlife and are consistent with the hypothesis that introducing livestock might reduce the burden of human rabies in high-risk communities.

Concepts: Bat, Rabies, Vampire bat, Common Vampire Bat, Vampire


1. The ongoing changes to climate challenge the conservation of forest biodiversity. Yet, in thermally limited systems, such as temperate forests, not all species groups might be affected negatively. Furthermore, simultaneous changes in the disturbance regime have the potential to mitigate climate-related impacts on forest species. Here, we (i) investigated the potential long-term effect of climate change on biodiversity in a mountain forest landscape, (ii) assessed the effects of different disturbance frequencies, severities and sizes and (iii) identified biodiversity hotspots at the landscape scale to facilitate conservation management. 2. We employed the model iLand to dynamically simulate the tree vegetation on 13 865 ha of the Kalkalpen National Park in Austria over 1000 years, and investigated 36 unique combinations of different disturbance and climate scenarios. We used simulated changes in tree cover and composition as well as projected temperature and precipitation to predict changes in the diversity of Araneae, Carabidae, ground vegetation, Hemiptera, Hymenoptera, Mollusca, saproxylic beetles, Symphyta and Syrphidae, using empirical response functions. 3. Our findings revealed widely varying responses of biodiversity indicators to climate change. Five indicators showed overall negative effects, with Carabidae, saproxylic beetles and tree species diversity projected to decrease by more than 33%. Six indicators responded positively to climate change, with Hymenoptera, Mollusca and Syrphidae diversity projected to increase more than twofold. 4. Disturbances were generally beneficial for the studied indicators of biodiversity. Our results indicated that increasing disturbance frequency and severity have a positive effect on biodiversity, while increasing disturbance size has a moderately negative effect. Spatial hotspots of biodiversity were currently found in low- to mid-elevation areas of the mountainous study landscape, but shifted to higher-elevation zones under changing climate conditions. 5.Synthesis and applications. Our results highlight that intensifying disturbance regimes may alleviate some of the impacts of climate change on forest biodiversity. However, the projected shift in biodiversity hotspots is a challenge for static conservation areas. In this regard, overlapping hotspots under current and expected future conditions highlight priority areas for robust conservation management.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Species, Climate, Ecosystem, Sustainability, Conservation, Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis


The evolution of resistance to pesticides by insect pests is a significant challenge for sustainable agriculture. For transgenic crops expressing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), crystalline (Cry) toxins resistance evolution may be delayed by the high-dose/refuge strategy in which a non-toxic refuge is planted to promote the survival of susceptible insects. The high-dose/refuge strategy may interact with fitness costs associated with resistance alleles to further delay resistance. However, while a diverse range of fitness costs are reported in the field, they are typically represented as a fixed reduction in survival or viability which is insensitive to ecological conditions such as competition. Furthermore, the potential dynamic consequences of restricting susceptible insects to a refuge which represents only a fraction of the available space have rarely been considered.We present a generalized discrete time model which utilizes dynamic programming methods to derive the optimal management decisions for the control of a theoretical insect pest population exposed to Bt crops. We consider three genotypes (susceptible homozygotes, resistant homozygotes and heterozygotes) and implement fitness costs of resistance to Bt toxins as either a decrease in the relative competitive ability of resistant insects or as a penalty on fecundity. Model analysis is repeated and contrasted for two types of density dependence: uniform density dependence which operates equally across the landscape and heterogeneous density dependence where the intensity of competition scales inversely with patch size and is determined separately for the refuge and Bt crop.When the planting of Bt is decided optimally, fitness costs to fecundity allow for the planting of larger areas of Bt crops than equivalent fitness costs that reduce the competitive ability of resistant insects.Heterogeneous competition only influenced model predictions when the proportional area of Bt planted in each season was decided optimally and resistance was not recessive. Synthesis and applications. The high-dose/refuge strategy alone is insufficient to preserve susceptibility to transgenic Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) crops in the long term when constraints upon the evolution of resistance are not insurmountable. Fitness costs may enhance the delaying effect of the refuge, but the extent to which they do so depends upon how the cost is realized biologically. Fitness costs which apply independently of other variables may be more beneficial to resistance management than costs which are only visible to selection under a limited range of ecological conditions.

Concepts: Gene, Agriculture, Allele, Evolution, Insect, Antibiotic resistance, Bacillus, Bacillus thuringiensis