New Associate Editors

Today we are welcoming two new people to the Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editor Board. Pierre Durand is joining us from the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) and Andrew Mahon joins from Central Michigan University (USA). You can find out more about Pierre and Andrew below.

Pierre Durand

Pierre Durand

“My research is broadly focussed on the evolution of complexity. Many of my projects are related to the evolutionary ecology of programmed cell death (PCD) in unicellular organisms; how PCD impacts microbial communities; and how the philosophy of levels of selection informs our understanding of PCD evolution. I have also examined other aspects of complexity evolution such as the origin of life and group formation in unicellular chlorophytes in response to predation. The model organisms I typically use are phytoplankton. With specific reference to submissions to Methods in Ecology and Evolution, I have used a range of methods in my research, including general cell and molecular biology tools, biochemical assays, microscopy, flow cytometry, bioinformatics and computational algorithms.”

The most current projects in Pierre’s laboratory concern: programmed cell death evolution and complexity in microbial communities; changes in phytoplankton abundance and diversity in harmful algal blooms, led by PhD candidate Andrew Ndhlovu (“A red tide forming dinoflagellate Prorocentrum triestinum: identification, phylogeny and impacts on St Helena Bay, South Africa” in review in Phycologia); and the genomics of the four-celled chlorophyte Tetrabaena socialis, led by PhD candidate Jonathan Featherson.

Andrew Mahon

Andrew Mahon

“I’m a molecular ecologist who uses genetic and genomic tools to ask questions ranging from surveillance and monitoring to biodiversity and phylogeography.  My work includes development of novel molecular detection tools and metabarcoding applications for aquatic invasive species.  I’m also interested in applying molecular tools to ask questions related to the evolution and biodiversity of benthic marine invertebrates in Antarctica.”

Andrew has recently been published in the journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (‘DNAqua-Net: Developing new genetic tools for bioassessment and monitoring of aquatic ecosystems in Europe‘) and in Environmental Science and Technology (‘Influence of Stream Bottom Substrate on Retention and Transport of Vertebrate Environmental DNA‘). He also has a manuscript in press with Ecology and Evolution (‘Geographic structure in the Southern Ocean circumpolar brittle star Ophionotus victoriae (Ophiuridae) revealed from mtDNA and single-nucleotide polymorphism data‘).

We are thrilled to welcome Pierre and Andrew to the Associate Editor Board and we look forward to working with them over the coming years.

Biogeography Virtual Issue

Photo © An-Yi Cheng

© An-Yi Cheng

To coincide with the International Biogeography Society’s 2017 conference in Tuscon, Arizona, we have compiled a Virtual Issue that shows off new Methods in Ecology and Evolution articles in the field from a diverse array of authors.

To truly understand how species’ distributions vary through space and time, biogeographers often have to make use of analytical techniques from a wide array of disciplines. As such, these papers cover advances in fields such as evolutionary analysis, biodiversity definitions, species distribution modelling, remote sensing and more. They also reflect the growing understanding that biogeography can include experiments and highlight the increasing number of software packages focused towards biogeography.

This Virtual Issue was compiled by Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editors Pedro Peres-Neto and Will Pearse (both of whom are involved in the conference). All of the articles in this Virtual Issue are free for a limited time and we have a little bit more information about each of the papers included here: Continue reading

A New Modelling Strategy for Conservation Practice? Ensembles of Small Models (ESMS) for Modelling Rare Species

Post provided by FRANK BREINER, ARIEL BERGAMINI, MICHAEL NOBIS and ANTOINE GUISAN

Rare Species and their Protection

Erythronium dens-canis L. – a rare and threatened species used for modelling in Switzerland. ©Michael Nobis

Erythronium dens-canis L. – a rare and threatened species used for modelling in Switzerland. ©Michael Nobis

Rare species can be important for ecosystem functioning and there is also a high intrinsic interest to protect them as they are often the most original and unique components of local biodiversity. However, rare species are usually those most threatened with extinction.

In order to help prioritizing conservation efforts, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has published criteria to categorize the status of threatened species, which are then published in Red Lists. Changes in a species’ geographical distribution is one of the several criteria used to assign a threat status. For rare species, however, the exact distribution is often inadequately known. In conservation science, Species Distribution Models (SDMs) have recurrently been used to estimate the potential distribution of rare or insufficiently sampled species. Continue reading

What is Dark Diversity?

Post provided by ROB LEWIS & MEELIS PÄRTEL

Our understanding of how biological diversity works has been advanced by a long history of observing species and linking patterns to ecological processes. However, we generally don’t focus as much on those species that aren’t observed, or in other words ‘absent species’. But, can absent species provide valuable information?

Dark diversity – a set of species absent from a particular site but which belong to its species pool – has the potential to be as ecologically meaningful as observed diversity. Part of the species pool concept, understanding dark diversity is relatively straightforward.

The Basic Theory of Dark Diversity

To begin learning about dark diversity, there are two important terms that we need to define: ‘species pool’ and ‘focal community’. A ‘species pool’ is a set of species present in a particular region or landscape that can potentially inhabit a particular observed community because of suitable local ecological conditions.

A ‘focal community’ is the set of species that have been observed in a particular region or landscape (this is the ‘observed community’ and can also be referred to as alpha diversity). For a given focal community to become established, the species within it must have overcome dispersal pressures as well as environmental and biotic filters.

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Continue reading

A Model Approach to Weed Management

Post provided by VANESSA ADAMS

Vanessa Adams in the field with gamba grass in the Batchelor region, NT. ©Amy Kimber (NERP Northern Australia Hub)

Vanessa Adams in the field with gamba grass in the Batchelor region, NT.
©Amy Kimber (NERP Northern Australia Hub)

Invasive weeds cause environmental and economic harm around the world. Land managers bear a heavy responsibility for the control of infestations in what is often a time-consuming and costly battle.

Fortunately, an increasing number of research-based solutions are giving land managers an advantage. This includes tools to determine the distribution of weeds and also the development of modelling approaches to predict their spread.

Understanding the current and future distribution of an invasive species allows managers to better direct their limited resources. However, the direct and strategic management of weeds is tricky and that’s why population models (in particular spatial dispersal models that can be applied without much data) are needed to inform and facilitate action on the ground. Continue reading

Demography and Big Data

Post provided by BRITTANY TELLER, KRISTIN HULVEY and ELISE GORNISH

Follow Brittany (@BRITTZINATOR) and Elise (@RESTORECAL) on Twitter

To understand how species survive in nature, demographers pair field-collected life history data on survival, growth and reproduction with statistical inference. Demographic approaches have significantly contributed to our understanding of population biology, invasive species dynamics, community ecology, evolutionary biology and much more.

As ecologists begin to ask questions about demography at broader spatial and temporal scales and collect data at higher resolutions, demographic analyses and new statistical methods are likely to shed even more light on important ecological mechanisms.

Population Processes

Midsummer Opuntia cactus in eastern Idaho, USA. © B. Teller.

Midsummer Opuntia cactus in eastern Idaho, USA. © B. Teller.

Traditionally, demographers collect life history data on species in the field under one or more environmental conditions. This approach has significantly improved our understanding of basic biological processes. For example, rosette size is a significant predictor of survival for plants like wild teasel (Werner 1975 – links to all articles are at the end of the post), and desert annual plants hedge their bets against poor years by optimizing germination strategies (Gremer & Venable 2014).

Demographers also include temporal and spatial variability in their models to help make realistic predictions of population dynamics. We now know that temporal variability in carrying capacity dramatically improves population growth rates for perennial grasses and provides a better fit to data than models with varying growth rates because of this (Fowler & Pease 2010). Moreover, spatial heterogeneity and environmental stochasticity have similar consequences for plant populations (Crone 2016). Continue reading

Issue 7.1

Issue 7.1 is now online!

The January issue of Methods is now online!

As always, the first issue of the year is our sample issue. You can access all of the articles online free of charge. No subscription or membership is required!

We have two Open Access articles and two Applications papers in our January issue.

Recognizing False Positives: Environmental DNA (eDNA) is increasingly used for surveillance and detection of species of interest in aquatic and soil samples. A significant risk associated with eDNA methods is potential false-positive results due to laboratory contamination. To minimize and quantify this risk, Chris Wilson et al. designed and validated a set of synthetic oligonucleotides for use as species-specific positive PCR controls for several high-profile aquatic invasive species.

BiMat: An open-source MATLAB package for the study of the structure of bipartite ecological networks. BiMat enables both multiscale analysis of the structure of a bipartite ecological network – spanning global (i.e. entire network) to local (i.e. module-level) scales – and meta-analyses of many bipartite networks simultaneously. The authors have chosen to make this Applications article Open Access.

Gemma Murray et al. provide this month’s second Open Access article. In ‘The effect of genetic structure on molecular dating and tests for temporal signal‘ the authors use simulated data to investigate the performance of several tests of temporal signal, including some recently suggested modifications. The article shows that all of the standard tests of temporal signal are seriously misleading for data where temporal and genetic structures are confounded (i.e. where closely related sequences are more likely to have been sampled at similar times). This is not an artifact of genetic structure or tree shape per se, and can arise even when sequences have measurably evolved during the sampling period.

Our January issue also features articles on Monitoring, Population Ecology, Genetics, Evolution, Community Ecology, Diversity and more. Continue reading

Models, Practical Management and Invasive Critters

POST PROVIDED BY NICK BEETON

How Simple Should a Model Be?

Should scientists make simplifying assumptions in complex models? This is a debate as old as the hills, and one that everyone seems to have strong opinions about. Some argue that because even the most simplistic model based on the best available estimates is objective, it is better than relying solely on “gut feelings”. In such a model, estimates based on expert opinion or simplifying assumptions can at least be included in a transparent fashion. Others argue that such an approach can miss important emergent properties as a result of missed complexity, making any results misleading and potentially even worse than not using a model at all.

Models to Support Management: Invasive Horses, Cats and Deer

Wild horses in the Australian alps. © Regina Magierowski

Wild horses in the Australian Alps. © Regina Magierowski

Both sides are right in their own way, of course, but perhaps unusually (as an applied mathematics graduate working in ecology), I’ve found myself leaning towards the former view as my career progresses. During my last postdoc, I was confronted with a large, vexing problem: the incursion of wild horses in the Australian Alps. The species was already impacting bogs and wetlands, overpopulated in some places to the point of starvation, and spreading to previously pristine areas of National Park. The issue was (and still is) highly contentious, with activists applying considerable political pressure against lethal forms of control. Knowledge of population densities across the horses’ range was patchy and ability to predict their likely movements equally unreliable. Even predicting their demographics was difficult, with most values for population growth rates conflicting and spatially variable. Continue reading

Study Finds Black Bears in Yosemite Forage Primarily on Plants and Nuts

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Measuring the realized niches of animals using stable isotopes: from rats to bears‘ taken from the University of California, San Diego:

©PLF73 (Click image to see original)

Animal proteins only make up a small part of a black bear’s diet. ©PLF73 (Click image to see original)

Black bears in Yosemite National Park that don’t seek out human foods subsist primarily on plants and nuts, according to a study conducted by biologists at UC San Diego who also found that ants and other sources of animal protein, such as mule deer, make up only a small fraction of the bears’ annual diet.

Their study, published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, might surprise bear ecologists and conservationists who had long assumed that black bears in the Sierra Nevada rely on lots of protein from ants and other insects because their remains are frequently found in bear feces. Instead, the researchers believe that bears likely eat ants for nutrient balance. Continue reading

2014 Robert May Prize Winner: Laure Gallien

The Robert May Prize is awarded annually for the best paper published in Methods by a young author at the start of their research career. We’re delighted to announce that the 2014 winner is Laure Gallien, for her article ‘Identifying the signal of environmental filtering and competition in invasion patterns – a contest of approaches from community ecology.

Today, biological invasions are of major concern for maintaining biodiversity. However, understanding what drives the success of invasive species at the scale of the community remains a challenge. Two processes have been described as main drivers of the coexistence between invasive and native species: environmental filtering and competitive interactions. However, recent reviews have shown that competitive interactions are rarely detected, and thus their importance as drivers of invasion success placed under question. But can this be due to pure methodological issues? Using a simulation model of community assembly, Laure and co-authors (Marta Carboni and Tamara Münkemüller) show that the infrequent detection of competition can arise from three important methodological shortcomings, and provide guidelines for future studies of invasion drivers at the scale of the community.

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