We tend to assume that if there are more species in a given site that this typically leads to a better functioning ecosystem with for instance a higher production of biomass. In a new paper in Ecology Letters, we show that this is invalid. It’s not how many species that are present that matters, it’s how many species that had an opportunity to be present (the regional species pool) that determines functioning.
The paper is lead by James Hagan, an ex MSc student from our department at VUB and Tropimundo alumnus. He’s enrolled at the University of Gothenburg under supervision of Lars Gamfeldt and co-supervised by Bram.
83. Hagan, J., Vanschoenwinkel, B. & Gamfeldt, L. (2021) We should not necessarily expect positive relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in observational field data. Ecology Letters (in press).
Always nice to deal with unfinished business. After more than 15 years, the data of my only unpublished PhD chapter are now finally published. In the end it took us a physical model, a demographic model, two field experiments and three lab experiments to show that fairy shrimp can avoid extinctions by ensuring that their dormant eggs can hatch at various moments in the future and that this is an evolutionary risk spreading strategy.
Pinceel, T., Buschke, F., Geerts, A., Vanoverbeke, J., Brendonck, L., & Vanschoenwinkel, B. (2021). An empirical confirmation of diversified bet hedging as a survival strategy in unpredictably varying environments. Ecology. (SCI: 5.499), Q1
Bram was part of a working group hosted by the German Integrative Biology Institute in Leipzig that had the ambition to better understand how communities interact in space by including a much needed temporal dimension. In a first paper lead by Patrick Thompson, we present a novel framework to understand (and study) how ecological communities can interact in space and how this leads to different temporal dynamics in community data. Instead of trying to infer process from community patterns, this framework explicitly varies three underlying processes (density dependent competition, density independent environmental filtering and dispersal) and shows that by doing this a whole range of possible metacommunity dynamics can be obtained including all currently known and described dynamics as well as a range of dynamics that have remained unconsidered and unstudied.
We believe it can be an important first step to achieve a much needed synthesis in the field of metacommunity ecology.
The study was published as an “Idea and perspectives” piece in the journal Ecology Letters
In a new paper, Falko Buschke tried to test whether vertebrates that differ in conservation status differ in to what extent their ranges can be predicted by spatial and environmental gradients. It turns out there are no strong differences. Instead, models to predict the ranges of the most threatened species perform much worse than models for least concern species. Also, response to broad environmental gradients could not distinguish endangered, threatened or least concern species. This suggests that we may underestimate extinction risk of species if we would try to assess this based on reliance on specific environmental conditions.
sTURN Working Group: Does time drive space? Building a mechanistic linkage between spatial and temporal turnover in metacommunities
Bram recently met up with an international selection of ecologists in Leipzig to develop new ways to study metacommunity dynamics and gave a lecture at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) https://www.idiv.de/
In a new paper out in Scientific Reports, we use a matrix population model to test how sensitive populations of fairy shrimps are to changes in climate. The stepwise modeling procedure allows to calculate the long term population growth as a measure of fitness. If it is positive, the population will survive, if it is negative it will not. It does this by calculating, for each generation, how many eggs would be produced based on known life history traits of the species and a measure of environmental quality of the inundation (in this case represented by inundation length).
For most species it is very difficult to know how they would respond to changes in climate. However, for our fairy shrimp we have a lot of background information that allows us to make educated guesses about which life history traits could be important. We know for this species that it requires a specific amount of time to reproduce which is related to how long a pool can hold water and on the conditions they need to hatch. We also know how much eggs they can produce per day, how many eggs hatch during each inundation etc…
Population of the fairy shrimp Branchipodopsis wolfi in a temporary rock pool on a mountaintop in South Africa
The length of these inundations is one environmental parameter (of many) that will change under changing climates. But it is an important one that is directly linked to fitness. Shorter inundations means less inundations that are long enough for reproduction.
We were – and are – still ignorant about how these species will respond to these changes. However, the model does allow us to test which life history traits could be important to maintain long term survival of the populations. As such it shows which traits could help populations to survive.
One of the conclusions of the study is that, when inundations are short, it would be beneficial to make sure that a lower fraction of eggs would hatch during a given inundation. Such a mechanism could be an example of a risk spreading theory that is consistent with predictions of evolutionary bet hedging theory.
It is still a simplistic model, so it does not tell us how things will go in the future. It does not capture tradeoffs among life history traits nor the evolutionary potential of the populations. Yet, it still narrows down the range of possible future scenarios of these populations by showing what the consequences for population survival would be if populations could respond adaptively or plastically and change there life history traits.
In a new paper out in the journal Ecography, Falko Buschke tried to explain the distribution patterns of all terrestrial vertebrates that occur in sub Sahara Africa using environmental variables and spatial dispersal related variables.
He found that when you map Africa based on how much variation is explained by dispersal based processes vs. environmental niche based filtering, you can see the contours of the biogeographic regions. This suggests that community structuring processes differ among regions within biogeographic realms.
He also showed that corrections for range size are necessary to extract ecologically meaningful patterns from variation partitioning results.
Finally, he found that unexplained variation was highest in species with small distributions… which is worrying from a conservation perspective as these are often threatened. While we can quite accurately predict distributions of widespread animals, we don’t know very well why certain rarer species are range restricted.
In a new paper published in Freshwater Biology, PhD student Karen Tuytens builds further on a hydrological model for temporary pools I developed in my PhD. Temporary pools are expected to be strongly impacted by the effects of global environmental change. Being directly dependent on precipitation (and occasionally ground water) for filling, changes in precipitation and/or evaporation will have an impact on the length (hydroperiod) and the frequency of inundations.
The model that was developed is a realistic simulation model which can be parametrized for individual pools and which can predict the water levels on a day to day basis based on nothing but pool morphometry and precipitation and evaporation data. By making use of historic climate it is possible to reconstruct the inundation history of a pool and, hence, reconstruct the long term disturbance regime which is relevant to explain both patterns of diversity as well as adaptive trait variation among populations.
However, the main advantage explored in this paper is the ability to simulate the effects of different IPCC climate change scenarios on inundation patterns. Karen did not only show that inundations are likely to be become shorter resulting in shorter growing seasons for aquatic fauna, she also modeled connections that are formed between pools during heavy rains. Under future scenarios that include less precipitation and higher evaporation, these connections formed less frequently. Overall, this shows that climate change can not only affect habitat suitability but also connectivity in clusters of aquatic habitats. This is relevant since different levels of connectivity can have pronounced effects, not only on the persistence of populations but also on diversity and the functioning of metacommunities.
The code of the model is optimized for the R programming environment and is readily available in the appendix of the paper. At the moment, the model is optimized to work in very simple aquatic habitats such as rock pools which have no groundwater influence and don’t leak water. However, Karen is currently extending the model to make it applicable for more complex temporary aquatic habitats such as temporary wetlands.