Tag Archives: connectivity

Shannon McCauley: The Rise of Community Ecology

Community ecology is one of the more recent ecological disciplines, and has enjoyed a rise in popularity in the last decade. Yet it’s often been criticised as a little obscure, and has had difficulties integrating with other branches of ecology like evolution and population dynamics.

With this in mind, I sat down with Doctor Shannon McCauley of the University of Toronto during her recent visit to the University of Arkansas. Shannon is a community ecologist at the University of Toronto-Mississauga who uses dragonflies and other aquatic insects to answer questions about dispersal, community connectivity, and the effects of climate change. We attempted to put a little more context behind community ecology, and highlighted its relevance in the coming years.

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When the Food Comes to You

A young orca from the southern population chasing its dinner. (Image Credit: Oregon State University via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

A young orca from the southern population chasing its dinner. (Image Credit: Oregon State University via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Long-distance migration of prey synchronizes demographic rates of top predators across broad spatial scales (2016) Ward et al, Ecosphere, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.1276

The Crux

Populations that experience some kind of connection are classified as “meta-populations”, as they are all interconnected in some way and can influence one another. Although these populations may be geographically and reproductively isolated, meaning that they are in different places and the organisms from the different populations don’t breed with one another, certain environmental factors may cause these populations to grow or shrink in similar ways.

The key to understanding how this synchrony between the varying populations happens is understanding what connects them. Killer whale (orca) populations in the northeast Pacific Ocean inhabit three distinct areas, with orcas from the northern and southern populations never coming into contact with one another. They do, however, feed on the same salmon populations that migrate from where the southern population lives to the where the northern lives. The authors wanted to find out if this connection via a food source could result in the demographic rates of these distant populations syncing up.

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Between a Dam and a Hard Place

Dams like this change the flow regimes of rivers, and prevent some species from accessing their spawning grounds, lowering population viability. But is removing them completely danger-free? (

Dams like this change the flow regimes of rivers, and prevent some species from accessing their spawning grounds, lowering population viability. But is removing them completely danger-free? (Image Credit: pxhere, CC0)

Anybody who has ever studied freshwater ecosystems will end up having to study dams at some point. And they’ll no doubt learn that dams are the enemy. They fragment ecosystems. They cut fish off from their spawning grounds. They change flow regimes. So it makes sense that the recent trend of dam removal across Europe and the world in general would please ecologists. But there’s a problem with dam removal, and it comes in the form of invasive species.

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