This is a guest post by Dr. Monica Mowery.
Title Image Credit: Sean McCann, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped
Dispersal and life history of brown widow spiders in dated invasive populations on two continents (2022) Mowery et al., Animal Behaviour, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2022.02.006
As I write this, I can hear invasive myna birds chirping in the trees outside, and see yellow pollen from the invasive Acacia trees floating through the air. What makes these species able to thrive far away from their native habitat? Despite the knowledge of how harmful invasive species can be, humans continue to transport species to new environments, both intentionally and unintentionally. Yet even with the explosive growth of both invasive species and invasion ecologists, we still don’t know a lot about which traits make the most successful invaders that can thrive and spread to new places.
One way to investigate this is to compare invasive populations that have just arrived at a new place with populations that have been in an area for a long time. To better understand invasive species, we need to figure out how traits shift in invasive populations, as some individuals survive transport, establish, and spread to new habitats, expanding their range. When this happens, traits can change, or shift, as the species adapt to the new environment. Such traits, such as body size, number of offspring, and dispersal ability, may be particularly important during range expansion. This study is an investigation into how traits of invasive spiders shift on a broad geographic scale on two continents.
Today we associate lions with Africa, but they used to be widespread around the northern hemisphere (Image Credit: MLbay, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped)
While I continuously hear my little one’s nursery rhyme about a certain stuff going round and round, I think, what else moves round and round in my field? Species!
They move around as they are looking for a mate, food, to avoid cold weather, the list goes on. They occupy a reasonable range that can be handled by their bodily functions, and either stay in that range or move when the environment changes. A species’ historical movement is one of the most important aspects of its natural history.
The cost of travel: how dispersal ability limits local adaptation in host–parasite interactions (2020) Johnson et al., Journal of Evolutionary Biology. https://doi:10.1111/jeb.13754
Image Credit: Francis Eartherington, CC BY-NC 2.0, Image Cropped
There are countless parasites in nature, and many of them tend to have relatively short life-cycles. For example, ticks live for about two years, while may of their hosts (us included) live for much longer. Because there is such a disparity in lifespan, parasites are predicted to have a greater evolutionary potential than their hosts. In other words, parasites should evolve faster than their hosts, which theoretically means that parasites should be more fit on local hosts than they would be on non-local hosts, as they would have had more time to adapt (i.e., local adaption, see Did You Know?).
Despite these predictions, the evidence from experimental studies of parasite local adaptation is mixed at best. Some studies show the adaptation to local hosts we’d expect, but some studies don’t. One reason for the lack of consistent evidence is that parasite dispersal between habitats can limit the ability of parasites to adapt. To help explain that I’ll use a comparison to cooking. If you are cooking a dish and you want to make it spicier you add in more spice. But imagine that when you add in that spice, you are also adding a lot of cream. The dish could be spicy, because you are adding spice, but the cream is diluting the spice and masking any potential heat. That is what parasite dispersal does to local adaptation: parasites within a given habitat (the dish) may have the ability to adapt to their hosts (become spicier), but because parasites from other habitats (the cream) are coming into their habitat and diluting those adaptations it masks any overall adaptation to the host (never gets spicy). Today’s authors therefore wanted to test how parasite dispersal affected local adaptation to hosts.
Image Credit: Dennis Jarvis, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped
Integrating dispersal along freshwater systems in species distribution models (2020) Perrin et. al., Diversity & Distributions, https://doi.org/10.1111/ddi.13112
Trying to figure out where a species can comfortably live is one thing, but figuring out which habitats they can actually access is another. I like to think most marsupials would do quite well in South America or Africa, but the fact is that they’re not dispersing across the Atlantic or Pacific anytime soon. However a Species Distribution Model (a statistical model that can be used to predict the likelihood of a species being found somewhere) often requires a more nuanced approach than “big ocean separating these two habitats”.
To integrate a species’ ability to actually access an area into a Species Distributions Model (SDM), we often use the concept of connectivity. Often, this means simply measuring the distance between two populations. But sometimes a species ability to disperse might not reflect something as simple as how far it needs to go. A perfectly good habitat might be only 100 metres away, but cut off by a raging great cliff. Or a road.
In this study, we wanted to see whether we could relate connectivity parameters used in an SDM to the actual ability of the species to disperse.
Image Credit: Jorg Hempel, CC BY-SA 2.0
Can plant traits predict seed dispersal probability via red deer guts, fur, and hooves? (2019) Petersen and Bruun, Ecology and Evolution, https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5512
Large animals are key players in structuring both the physical structure and the species compositions of plant communities. They eat some plants, but not others, they trample vegetation, they deposit nutrients through feces. However, they can also affect plant communities by transporting seeds (a process called zoochory) – either by eating them and defecating later on or by acting as vehicles for seeds stuck in their fur or on their feet. As large plant eaters are found in most of the world, and several populations are actually increasing, a deeper insight into these processes could turn out to be of great importance.
Today’s authors (myself and former colleague Hans Henrik Bruun) looked at the transport of plant seeds by red deer in Denmark: whether the different kinds of seed dispersal are significantly different with regards to what species are transported, and if certain plant and seed traits can be used to predict whether a seed is more likely to be found on the outside or inside of a deer.
Environmental DNA is a hot topic in biomonitoring. But what is it exactly, and how can it be used to monitor the dispersal of a reintroduced fish species? (Image credit: Gunnar Jacobs, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped).
Using environmental DNA to monitor the reintroduction success of the Rhine sculpin (Cottus rhenanus) in a restored stream (2019) Hempel et al., PeerJ, https://peerj.com/preprints/27574/
The term “environmental DNA (eDNA)” is currently booming in molecular ecology. But what exactly is this technological marvel? Essentially, eDNA comprises all DNA released by organisms into their environment, and originates from mucus, scales, faeces, epidermal cells, saliva, urine, hair, feathers – basically anything an organism might get rid of during its life. The eDNA can be collected from the environment, extracted, and analyzed to detect species using molecular approaches. As this is a very sensitive and non-invasive approach, it is a very hot topic for biomonitoring.
eDNA can be collected from any animal (in theory), but aquatic organisms in particular have been shown to be good target individuals (as eDNA is easiest to handle in water samples). Consequently, there are many studies using eDNA to monitor the activity of fish, reaching from the presence of invasive species to the effects of aquaculture. Here, we applied eDNA analysis to monitor a reintroduced fish species, the Rhine sculpin. The sculpin’s poor swimming ability make it useful as a bioindicator of the passability of streams and rivers. We wanted to investigate the potential of using eDNA to monitor the dispersal of the species in a remediated stream on a fine spatial and temporal scale.
Image Credit: Game of Thrones, 2019
Adam and Sam talk macroecology and that’s pretty much it. How small would these dragons be? It’s very anti-climactic. We’ll do a supplemental later. Also SPOILERS. Though as we were a week behind, there’s some stuff that is currently incorrect re: the current status of the GoT dragons. Spoilers.
04:02 – Everyone’s Favourite Dragons
13:15 – The Ecology of the Dragons
40:13 – Balerion the Big Boi vs. The US Military
And as usual, you can check out last week’s podcast on the physiology of these flappy flaps flaps below.
Image Credit: johnno49, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped
Modeling the ecology and evolution of biodiversity: Biogeographical cradles, museums, and graves (2018) Rangel et al., Science, 244, DOI: 10.1126/science.aar5452
Understanding the processes which drive biodiversity worldwide is never more crucial than now, in a world where biodiversity is shrinking rapidly. Biogeography, the study of species distributions, has come a long way, but there are still a lot of problems that need solving, including improving our understanding of the interactions between factors like climate change, dispersal abilities, fragmentation and species competition, to name a few.
This paper attempted to analyse some of the effects of those factors in concert, by producing a simulation of the evolutionary process in the world’s most biologically diverse continent, South America.
The great tit (Parus major) needs to gain more than 10 % of its body weight in pure fat every evening, in order to survive a cold winter night (Image Credit: Frank Vassen, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)
Short-term insurance versus long-term bet-hedging strategies as adaptations to variable environments (2019). Haaland, T.R. et al., Evolution, 73, 145-157.
Why do animals behave the way they do? Behavioral ecology is a field of research trying to explain the ecological rationale of animal decision making. But quite often, it turns out the animals are doing the ‘wrong’ thing. Why don’t all animals make the same choice, when there clearly is a best option? Why do animals consistently do too little or too much of something?