Species distribution models (SDMs) are increasingly proposed to support conservation decision making. However, evidence of SDMs supporting solutions for on‐ground conservation problems is still scarce in the scientific literature. Here, we show that successful examples exist but are still largely hidden in the grey literature, and thus less accessible for analysis and learning. Furthermore, the decision framework within which SDMs are used is rarely made explicit. Using case studies from biological invasions, identification of critical habitats, reserve selection and translocation of endangered species, we propose that SDMs may be tailored to suit a range of decision‐making contexts when used within a structured and transparent decision‐making process. To construct appropriate SDMs to more effectively guide conservation actions, modellers need to better understand the decision process, and decision makers need to provide feedback to modellers regarding the actual use of SDMs to support conservation decisions. This could be facilitated by individuals or institutions playing the role of ‘translators’ between modellers and decision makers. We encourage species distribution modellers to get involved in real decision‐making processes that will benefit from their technical input; this strategy has the potential to better bridge theory and practice, and contribute to improve both scientific knowledge and conservation outcomes.
Environmental heterogeneity is regarded as one of the most important factors governing species richness gradients. An increase in available niche space, provision of refuges and opportunities for isolation and divergent adaptation are thought to enhance species coexistence, persistence and diversification. However, the extent and generality of positive heterogeneity–richness relationships are still debated. Apart from widespread evidence supporting positive relationships, negative and hump‐shaped relationships have also been reported. In a meta‐analysis of 1148 data points from 192 studies worldwide, we examine the strength and direction of the relationship between spatial environmental heterogeneity and species richness of terrestrial plants and animals. We find that separate effects of heterogeneity in land cover, vegetation, climate, soil and topography are significantly positive, with vegetation and topographic heterogeneity showing particularly strong associations with species richness. The use of equal‐area study units, spatial grain and spatial extent emerge as key factors influencing the strength of heterogeneity–richness relationships, highlighting the pervasive influence of spatial scale in heterogeneity–richness studies. We provide the first quantitative support for the generality of positive heterogeneity–richness relationships across heterogeneity components, habitat types, taxa and spatial scales from landscape to global extents, and identify specific needs for future comparative heterogeneity–richness research.
Biological invasions cause ecological and economic impacts across the globe. However, it is unclear whether there are strong patterns in terms of their major effects, how the vulnerability of different ecosystems varies and which ecosystem services are at greatest risk. We present a global meta-analysis of 199 articles reporting 1041 field studies that in total describe the impacts of 135 alien plant taxa on resident species, communities and ecosystems. Across studies, alien plants had a significant effect in 11 of 24 different types of impact assessed. The magnitude and direction of the impact varied both within and between different types of impact. On average, abundance and diversity of the resident species decreased in invaded sites, whereas primary production and several ecosystem processes were enhanced. While alien N-fixing species had greater impacts on N-cycling variables, they did not consistently affect other impact types. The magnitude of the impacts was not significantly different between island and mainland ecosystems. Overall, alien species impacts are heterogeneous and not unidirectional even within particular impact types. Our analysis also reveals that by the time changes in nutrient cycling are detected, major impacts on plant species and communities are likely to have already occurred.
Species are the unit of analysis in many global change and conservation biology studies; however, species are not uniform entities but are composed of different, sometimes locally adapted, populations differing in plasticity. We examined how intraspecific variation in thermal niches and phenotypic plasticity will affect species distributions in a warming climate. We first developed a conceptual model linking plasticity and niche breadth, providing five alternative intraspecific scenarios that are consistent with existing literature. Secondly, we used ecological niche-modeling techniques to quantify the impact of each intraspecific scenario on the distribution of a virtual species across a geographically realistic setting. Finally, we performed an analogous modeling exercise using real data on the climatic niches of different tree provenances. We show that when population differentiation is accounted for and dispersal is restricted, forecasts of species range shifts under climate change are even more pessimistic than those using the conventional assumption of homogeneously high plasticity across a species' range. Suitable population-level data are not available for most species so identifying general patterns of population differentiation could fill this gap. However, the literature review revealed contrasting patterns among species, urging greater levels of integration among empirical, modeling and theoretical research on intraspecific phenotypic variation.
P>A recent increase in studies of beta diversity has yielded a confusing array of concepts, measures and methods. Here, we provide a roadmap of the most widely used and ecologically relevant approaches for analysis through a series of mission statements. We distinguish two types of beta diversity: directional turnover along a gradient vs. non-directional variation. Different measures emphasize different properties of ecological data. Such properties include the degree of emphasis on presence/absence vs. relative abundance information and the inclusion vs. exclusion of joint absences. Judicious use of multiple measures in concert can uncover the underlying nature of patterns in beta diversity for a given dataset. A case study of Indonesian coral assemblages shows the utility of a multi-faceted approach. We advocate careful consideration of relevant questions, matched by appropriate analyses. The rigorous application of null models will also help to reveal potential processes driving observed patterns in beta diversity.
Bees provide essential pollination services that are potentially affected both by local farm management and the surrounding landscape. To better understand these different factors, we modelled the relative effects of landscape composition (nesting and floral resources within foraging distances), landscape configuration (patch shape, interpatch connectivity and habitat aggregation) and farm management (organic vs. conventional and local‐scale field diversity), and their interactions, on wild bee abundance and richness for 39 crop systems globally. Bee abundance and richness were higher in diversified and organic fields and in landscapes comprising more high‐quality habitats; bee richness on conventional fields with low diversity benefited most from high‐quality surrounding land cover. Landscape configuration effects were weak. Bee responses varied slightly by biome. Our synthesis reveals that pollinator persistence will depend on both the maintenance of high‐quality habitats around farms and on local management practices that may offset impacts of intensive monoculture agriculture.
P>Ocean acidification is a pervasive stressor that could affect many marine organisms and cause profound ecological shifts. A variety of biological responses to ocean acidification have been measured across a range of taxa, but this information exists as case studies and has not been synthesized into meaningful comparisons amongst response variables and functional groups. We used meta-analytic techniques to explore the biological responses to ocean acidification, and found negative effects on survival, calcification, growth and reproduction. However, there was significant variation in the sensitivity of marine organisms. Calcifying organisms generally exhibited larger negative responses than non-calcifying organisms across numerous response variables, with the exception of crustaceans, which calcify but were not negatively affected. Calcification responses varied significantly amongst organisms using different mineral forms of calcium carbonate. Organisms using one of the more soluble forms of calcium carbonate (high-magnesium calcite) can be more resilient to ocean acidification than less soluble forms (calcite and aragonite). Additionally, there was variation in the sensitivities of different developmental stages, but this variation was dependent on the taxonomic group. Our analyses suggest that the biological effects of ocean acidification are generally large and negative, but the variation in sensitivity amongst organisms has important implications for ecosystem responses.
The study of positive species interactions is a rapidly evolving field in ecology. Despite decades of research, controversy has emerged as to whether positive and negative interactions predictably shift with increasing environmental stress as hypothesised by the stress‐gradient hypothesis ( SGH ). Here, we provide a synthesis of 727 tests of the SGH in plant communities across the globe to examine its generality across a variety of ecological factors. Our results show that plant interactions change with stress through an outright shift to facilitation (survival) or a reduction in competition (growth and reproduction). In a limited number of cases, plant interactions do not respond to stress, but they never shift towards competition with stress. These findings are consistent across stress types, plant growth forms, life histories, origins (invasive vs. native), climates, ecosystems and methodologies, though the magnitude of the shifts towards facilitation with stress is dependent on these factors. We suggest that future studies should employ standardised definitions and protocols to test the SGH , take a multi‐factorial approach that considers variables such as plant traits in addition to stress, and apply the SGH to better understand how species and communities will respond to environmental change.
Interspecific trait variation has long served as a conceptual foundation for our understanding of ecological patterns and dynamics. In particular, ecologists recognise the important role that animal behaviour plays in shaping ecological processes. An emerging area of interest in animal behaviour, the study of behavioural syndromes (animal personalities) considers how limited behavioural plasticity, as well as behavioural correlations affects an individuals fitness in diverse ecological contexts. In this article we explore how insights from the concept and study of behavioural syndromes provide fresh understanding of major issues in population ecology. We identify several general mechanisms for how population ecology phenomena can be influenced by a species or populations average behavioural type, by within-species variation in behavioural type, or by behavioural correlations across time or across ecological contexts. We note, in particular, the importance of behavioural type-dependent dispersal in spatial ecology. We then review recent literature and provide new syntheses for how these general mechanisms produce novel insights on five major issues in population ecology: (1) limits to species distribution and abundance; (2) species interactions; (3) population dynamics; (4) relative responses to human-induced rapid environmental change; and (5) ecological invasions.
Though many processes are involved in determining which species coexist and assemble into communities, competition is among the best studied. One hypothesis about competition's contribution to community assembly is that more closely related species are less likely to coexist. Though empirical evidence for this hypothesis is mixed, it remains a common assumption in certain phylogenetic approaches for inferring the effects of environmental filtering and competitive exclusion. Here, we relate modern coexistence theory to phylogenetic community assembly approaches to refine expectations for how species relatedness influences the outcome of competition. We argue that two types of species differences determine competitive exclusion with opposing effects on relatedness patterns. Importantly, this means that competition can sometimes eliminate more different and less related taxa, even when the traits underlying the relevant species differences are phylogenetically conserved. Our argument leads to a reinterpretation of the assembly processes inferred from community phylogenetic structure.
Understanding the sensitivity of tundra vegetation to climate warming is critical to forecasting future biodiversity and vegetation feedbacks to climate. In situ warming experiments accelerate climate change on a small scale to forecast responses of local plant communities. Limitations of this approach include the apparent site-specificity of results and uncertainty about the power of short-term studies to anticipate longer term change. We address these issues with a synthesis of 61 experimental warming studies, of up to 20 years duration, in tundra sites worldwide. The response of plant groups to warming often differed with ambient summer temperature, soil moisture and experimental duration. Shrubs increased with warming only where ambient temperature was high, whereas graminoids increased primarily in the coldest study sites. Linear increases in effect size over time were frequently observed. There was little indication of saturating or accelerating effects, as would be predicted if negative or positive vegetation feedbacks were common. These results indicate that tundra vegetation exhibits strong regional variation in response to warming, and that in vulnerable regions, cumulative effects of long-term warming on tundra vegetation and associated ecosystem consequences have the potential to be much greater than we have observed to date.
Aboveground–belowground interactions exert critical controls on the composition and function of terrestrial ecosystems, yet the fundamental relationships between plant diversity and soil microbial diversity remain elusive. Theory predicts predominantly positive associations but tests within single sites have shown variable relationships, and associations between plant and microbial diversity across broad spatial scales remain largely unexplored. We compared the diversity of plant, bacterial, archaeal and fungal communities in one hundred and forty‐five 1 m 2 plots across 25 temperate grassland sites from four continents. Across sites, the plant alpha diversity patterns were poorly related to those observed for any soil microbial group. However, plant beta diversity (compositional dissimilarity between sites) was significantly correlated with the beta diversity of bacterial and fungal communities, even after controlling for environmental factors. Thus, across a global range of temperate grasslands, plant diversity can predict patterns in the composition of soil microbial communities, but not patterns in alpha diversity.
P>Biodiversity in agricultural landscapes can be increased with conversion of some production lands into 'more-natural'- unmanaged or extensively managed - lands. However, it remains unknown to what extent biodiversity can be enhanced by altering landscape pattern without reducing agricultural production. We propose a framework for this problem, considering separately compositional heterogeneity (the number and proportions of different cover types) and configurational heterogeneity (the spatial arrangement of cover types). Cover type classification and mapping is based on species requirements, such as feeding and nesting, resulting in measures of 'functional landscape heterogeneity'. We then identify three important questions: does biodiversity increase with (1) increasing heterogeneity of the more-natural areas, (2) increasing compositional heterogeneity of production cover types and (3) increasing configurational heterogeneity of production cover types? We discuss approaches for addressing these questions. Such studies should have high priority because biodiversity protection globally depends increasingly on maintaining biodiversity in human-dominated landscapes.
Beta diversity can be measured in different ways. Among these, the total variance of the community data table Y can be used as an estimate of beta diversity. We show how the total variance of Y can be calculated either directly or through a dissimilarity matrix obtained using any dissimilarity index deemed appropriate for pairwise comparisons of community composition data. We addressed the question of which index to use by coding 16 indices using 14 properties that are necessary for beta assessment, comparability among data sets, sampling issues and ordination. Our comparison analysis classified the coefficients under study into five types, three of which are appropriate for beta diversity assessment. Our approach links the concept of beta diversity with the analysis of community data by commonly used methods like ordination and anova . Total beta can be partitioned into Species Contributions ( SCBD : degree of variation of individual species across the study area) and Local Contributions ( LCBD : comparative indicators of the ecological uniqueness of the sites) to Beta Diversity. Moreover, total beta can be broken up into within‐ and among‐group components by manova , into orthogonal axes by ordination, into spatial scales by eigenfunction analysis or among explanatory data sets by variation partitioning.
Biodiversity‐ecosystem functioning experiments have established that species richness and composition are both important determinants of ecosystem function in an experimental context. Determining whether this result holds for real‐world ecosystem services has remained elusive, however, largely due to the lack of analytical methods appropriate for large‐scale, associational data. Here, we use a novel analytical approach, the Price equation, to partition the contribution to ecosystem services made by species richness, composition and abundance in four large‐scale data sets on crop pollination by native bees. We found that abundance fluctuations of dominant species drove ecosystem service delivery, whereas richness changes were relatively unimportant because they primarily involved rare species that contributed little to function. Thus, the mechanism behind our results was the skewed species‐abundance distribution. Our finding that a few common species, not species richness, drive ecosystem service delivery could have broad generality given the ubiquity of skewed species‐abundance distributions in nature.
A major aim in ecology is identifying determinants of invasiveness. We performed a meta-analysis of 117 field or experimental-garden studies that measured pair-wise trait differences of a total of 125 invasive and 196 non-invasive plant species in the invasive range of the invasive species. We tested whether invasiveness is associated with performance-related traits (physiology, leaf-area allocation, shoot allocation, growth rate, size and fitness), and whether such associations depend on type of study and on biogeographical or biological factors. Overall, invasive species had significantly higher values than non-invasive species for all six trait categories. More trait differences were significant for invasive vs. native comparisons than for invasive vs. non-invasive alien comparisons. Moreover, for comparisons between invasive species and native species that themselves are invasive elsewhere, no trait differences were significant. Differences in physiology and growth rate were larger in tropical regions than in temperate regions. Trait differences did not depend on whether the invasive alien species originates from Europe, nor did they depend on the test environment. We conclude that invasive alien species had higher values for those traits related to performance than non-invasive species. This suggests that it might become possible to predict future plant invasions from species traits.
P>Do invasive plant species have greater phenotypic plasticity than non-invasive species? And, if so, how does this affect their fitness relative to native, non-invasive species? What role might this play in plant invasions? To answer these long-standing questions, we conducted a meta-analysis using data from 75 invasive/non-invasive species pairs. Our analysis shows that invasive species demonstrate significantly higher phenotypic plasticity than non-invasive species. To examine the adaptive benefit of this plasticity, we plotted fitness proxies against measures of plasticity in several growth, morphological and physiological traits to test whether greater plasticity is associated with an improvement in estimated fitness. Invasive species were nearly always more plastic in their response to greater resource availability than non-invasives but this plasticity was only sometimes associated with a fitness benefit. Intriguingly, non-invasive species maintained greater fitness homoeostasis when comparing growth between low and average resource availability. Our finding that invasive species are more plastic in a variety of traits but that non-invasive species respond just as well, if not better, when resources are limiting, has interesting implications for predicting responses to global change.
To manage and conserve biodiversity, one must know what is being lost, where, and why, as well as which remedies are likely to be most effective. Metabarcoding technology can characterise the species compositions of mass samples of eukaryotes or of environmental DNA . Here, we validate metabarcoding by testing it against three high‐quality standard data sets that were collected in Malaysia (tropical), China (subtropical) and the United Kingdom (temperate) and that comprised 55,813 arthropod and bird specimens identified to species level with the expenditure of 2,505 person‐hours of taxonomic expertise. The metabarcode and standard data sets exhibit statistically correlated alpha‐ and beta‐diversities, and the two data sets produce similar policy conclusions for two conservation applications: restoration ecology and systematic conservation planning. Compared with standard biodiversity data sets, metabarcoded samples are taxonomically more comprehensive, many times quicker to produce, less reliant on taxonomic expertise and auditable by third parties, which is essential for dispute resolution.
Sustainable agricultural landscapes by definition provide high magnitude and stability of ecosystem services, biodiversity and crop productivity. However, few studies have considered landscape effects on the stability of ecosystem services. We tested whether isolation from florally diverse natural and semi-natural areas reduces the spatial and temporal stability of flower-visitor richness and pollination services in crop fields. We synthesised data from 29 studies with contrasting biomes, crop species and pollinator communities. Stability of flower-visitor richness, visitation rate (all insects except honey bees) and fruit set all decreased with distance from natural areas. At 1 km from adjacent natural areas, spatial stability decreased by 25, 16 and 9% for richness, visitation and fruit set, respectively, while temporal stability decreased by 39% for richness and 13% for visitation. Mean richness, visitation and fruit set also decreased with isolation, by 34, 27 and 16% at 1 km respectively. In contrast, honey bee visitation did not change with isolation and represented > 25% of crop visits in 21 studies. Therefore, wild pollinators are relevant for crop productivity and stability even when honey bees are abundant. Policies to preserve and restore natural areas in agricultural landscapes should enhance levels and reliability of pollination services.
There is mounting evidence that biodiversity increases the stability of ecosystem processes in changing environments, but the mechanisms that underlie this effect are still controversial and poorly understood. Here, we extend mechanistic theory of ecosystem stability in competitive communities to clarify the mechanisms underlying diversity–stability relationships. We first explain why, contrary to a widely held belief, interspecific competition should generally play a destabilising role. We then explore the stabilising effect of differences in species' intrinsic rates of natural increase and provide a synthesis of various potentially stabilising mechanisms. Three main mechanisms are likely to operate in the stabilising effects of biodiversity on ecosystem properties: (1) asynchrony of species' intrinsic responses to environmental fluctuations, (2) differences in the speed at which species respond to perturbations, (3) reduction in the strength of competition. The first two mechanisms involve temporal complementarity between species, while the third results from functional complementarity. Additional potential mechanisms include selection effects, behavioural changes resulting from species interactions and mechanisms arising from trophic or non‐trophic interactions and spatial heterogeneity. We conclude that mechanistic trait‐based approaches are key to predicting the effects of diversity on ecosystem stability and to bringing the old diversity–stability debate to a final resolution.