MInOSSE: all you need to reconstruct past species geographic range is in the fossil record!

Post provided by Francesco Carotenuto

A very important ecological feature of a species is its geographic range, which can be described by its size, position and shape. Studying the geographic range can be useful to understand the ecological needs of a species and, thereby, to plan conservation strategies. In ecological studies, mathematical models are the new standard to reconstruct the distribution of living species on Earth because of their accuracy in predicting a species presence or absence at unsampled locations. These methods are able to reconstruct the climatic niche of a species and to project it onto a geographic domain in order to predict the species’ spatial distribution. To do this, besides the occurrences of a species, the models necessarily require the spatial maps of environmental variables, like temperature and precipitation, for all the study area.

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Using Shark Scales to Unlock the Secrets of Historical Shark Communities on Coral Reefs

Post provided by Erin Dillon

Close your eyes for a second and imagine a coral reef. What do you think the shark community on that reef looked like historically?

Grey reef sharks on Palmyra Atoll’s forereef. ©Darcy Bradley.

Perhaps you imagined a remote reef with high shark abundance like Fakarava, French Polynesia or Palmyra Atoll, Northern Line Islands. Maybe you thought of a marine protected area such as Jardines de la Reina National Park in Cuba. Or perhaps you relied on your own memories from snorkeling on reefs in the past or photos of reefs taken decades ago.

The answer to this question depends on a reef’s location, given that shark abundances can vary with primary productivity and other oceanographic features. It also depends on which time period you chose as your reference point. Shark abundances can fluctuate over the course of a few hours – as well as over days to years to decades and beyond. Even if you chose the same time and place as the person before you, you might have come up with a slightly different answer. This variation in how we determine baselines – overlaid on a backdrop of natural variation in shark communities over space and time – can contribute to differing perceptions about what’s natural or what a depleted population can possibly be restored to.

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Editor Recommendation: Quantitative Evolutionary Patterns in Bipartite Networks

Post provided by ROB FRECKLETON

The study of interactions and their impacts on communities is a fundamental part of ecology. Much work has been done on measuring the interactions between species and their impacts on relative abundances of species. Progress has been made in understanding of the interactions at the ecological level, but we know that co-evolution is important in shaping the structure of communities in terms of the species that live there and their characteristics. Continue reading

The BES Macroecology (& Macroevolution) SIG: Who We Are, What We Do and What to Look Out for at #BES2018

Post provided by Natalie Cooper

Defining macroecology should be easy; it’s just ecology at large spatial scales, right? In reality though, it’s a little more complex than that. No-one agrees on exactly how large the spatial scale should be, and many studies that could be macroecology may also be defined as biogeography, landscape ecology, community ecology etc. Working at large spatial scales can also mean working at large temporal scales, often in deep-time. So there’s a lot of overlap with studies of macroevolution both on living and extinct species too.

This breadth of definitions means the BES Macroecology Special Interest Group (or BES Macro as we usually call it) has members with interests across ecology, evolution and palaeontology. Probably the most common statement at any of our events is “I’m not a macroecologist but…”. So, if you’re interested in broad-scale ecology and evolution, in a living or palaeo context, the SIG is for you, even if you don’t identify as a macroecologist! Continue reading

New Associate Editor: Res Altwegg

Today, we are pleased to be welcoming a new member of the Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editor Board. Res Altwegg joins us from the University of Cape Town, South Africa and you can find out a little more about him below.

Res Altwegg

“My interests lie at the intersection between ecology and statistics, particularly in demography, population ecology, species range dynamics and community ecology. My work addresses questions in conservation biology especially in relation to climate change. I’m particularly excited about the increasing availability of large data sets, such as those collected by citizen scientists, and the opportunities and challenges their analysis brings.”

Res is the founding director of the centre for Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation at the University of Cape Town. The centre brings together ecologists and statisticians with the aim to address some of the most important questions in ecology and conservation using cutting-edge statistical methods. He has reviewed for Methods in Ecology and Evolution a number of times over the past few years and has had one article – ‘A general framework for animal density estimation from acoustic detections across a fixed microphone array‘ – published in the journal. Another of Res’ articles has recently been accepted for publication and will appear in an upcoming Special Feature.

We are thrilled to welcome Res as a new Associate Editor and we look forward to working with him on the journal.

Overcoming the Challenges of Studying Soil Nematodes: A New Approach with Implications for All (Soil) Organisms

Post provided by Stefan Geisen

(Soil) Nematodes

“…if all the matter in the universe except the nematodes were swept away, our world would still be dimly recognizable, and if, as disembodied spirits, we could then investigate it, we should find its mountains, hills, vales, rivers, lakes, and oceans represented by a film of nematodes…” (Cobb 1914)

He may have said it more than a century ago but we now, more than ever, realise that Nathan Augustus Cobb was right. Nematodes are by far the most abundant animals soil, freshwater and marine ecosystems. These tiny worms are barely visible to the human eye (if they’re visible at all), hundreds can inhabit a single gram of soil . Their similar shape might lead you to think that they’re all alike, but that’s not the case. More than 25,000 species have been identified and estimates put their entire species diversity in the 100,000s.

Some common nematode species found in most soils. a) Plectus sp; b) Aphelenchus sp; c) Helicotylenchus sp; d) Thonus sp; e) Mononchus sp; © Wageningen University, Laboratory of Nematology, NL; Hanny van Megen

Some common nematode species found in most soils. a) Plectus sp, b) Aphelenchus sp, c) Helicotylenchus sp, d) Thonus sp, e) Mononchus sp. © Wageningen University, Laboratory of Nematology, NL; Hanny van Megen

This taxonomic and functional diversity has boosted nematodes to become useful bioindicators for soil quality. Nematodes perform many different functions in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. These are mainly defined by what they eat:

  • Bacteria/Fungi: Many nematode groups eat bacteria and fungi. They control the population of these organisms and keep them active.
  • Plants: Plant feeders are the unwanted guests in agricultural systems as well as in our gardens. They can destroy entire harvests by piercing into or infiltrating roots.
  • Omnivores/Predators: Many nematode species prey on other smaller organisms including smaller nematodes and control their abundances.
  • Parasites: These species inhabit other larger organisms and can act as biocontrol agents.

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ANDe™: High‐Throughput eDNA Sampling in a Fully Integrated System

Current eDNA sampling technologies consist mainly of do‐it‐yourself solutions. The lack of purpose‐built sampling equipment is limiting the efficiency and standardization of eDNA studies. So, Thomas et al. (a team of molecular ecologists and engineers) designed ANDe™.

In this video, the authors highlight the key features and benefits of ANDe™. This integrated system includes a backpack-portable pump that integrates sensor feedback, a pole extension with remote pump controller, custom‐made filter housings in single‐use packets for each sampling site and on-board sample storage. 

This video is based on the article ‘ANDe: A fully integrated environmental DNA sampling system‘ by Thomas et al.

Editor Recommendation: How Do Trait Distributions Differ Across Species and Their Environments?

Post provided by Pedro Peres-Neto

The rise of trait ecology led to many quantitative frameworks to understand the underlying rules that determine how species are assembled into local communities from regional pools. Ecologists are interested in understanding whether environmental features select for particular traits that optimise local fitness and regulate species co-existence.

In ‘Assessing the joint behaviour of species traits as filtered by environment’, Erin Schliep and her co-authors aimed to develop a joint probabilistic model under a Bayesian framework to help explain the correlations among traits and how trait distributions differ across species and their environments. The end product is a model of trait-environmental relationships that takes full advantage of information on intra- and interspecific variation typically found within and among species.  Continue reading

Issue 9.2

Issue 9.2 is now online!

The February issue of Methods is now online!

This double-size issue contains six Applications articles (one of which is Open Access) and two Open Access research articles. These eight papers are freely available to everyone, no subscription required.

 Temperature Manipulation: Welshofer et al. present a modified International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) chamber design for year-round outdoor use in warming taller-stature plant communities up to 1.5 m tall.This design is a valuable tool for examining the effects of in situ warming on understudied taller-stature plant communities

 ZoonThe disjointed nature of the current species distribution modelling (SDM) research environment hinders evaluation of new methods, synthesis of current knowledge and the dissemination of new methods to SDM users. The zoon R package aims to overcome these problems by providing a modular framework for constructing reproducible SDM workflows.

 BEIN R Package: The Botanical Information and Ecology Network (BIEN) database comprises an unprecedented wealth of cleaned and standardised botanical data. The bien r package allows users to access the multiple types of data in the BIEN database. This represents a significant achievement in biological data integration, cleaning and standardisation.

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An Interview with Tony Ives

David Warton interviews Tony Ives, a Keynote speaker at the Statistics in Ecology and Environmental Monitoring (SEEM) conference in Queenstown, NZ. Tony has published a few papers in Methods in Ecology and Evolution over the last couple of years – first we discuss the exchanges on log-transformation of counts (including a paper co-authored with David Warton).

Tony and David then talk about a recent paper by Daijiang Li with Tony, on the need to check for phylogenetic structure when looking for associations between species trait and the environment.

We’ll have more of David’s interviews from the SEEM Conference coming out over the next couple of months. Keep an eye out for them here and on the Methods in Ecology and Evolution YouTube channel.