Do you ever feel tempted to try new things?

Submitted by editor on 23 January 2018.Get the paper!

Do you ever feel tempted to try new things?  As time goes on, we are always acquiring new preferences; it goes for food, books, songs and hobbies for example. Time, in the evolutionary scale, may also play an important role in determining the chances of species acquiring new interactions.

Species interactions often are part of complex networks assembling several species, and may provide important ecosystem services such as the pollination of plants by animals. There is a growing interest in understanding what makes species interact the way they do in ecological networks, like the number of species they interact with and what frequency. Some of the drivers of interactions are well described, for example, the morphological match between pollinators’ mouthparts and plants’ corolla tube, or the role of abundances on the probabilities of encounters among species. Many ecologists are also interested in the role of the chronology of speciation events that shaped Earth’s biodiversity in driving current species interactions.

Studying the drivers of ecological networks is even more interesting when it is possible to compare the drivers, and even rank them. Specially, the extent to which we can attribute observed phenomena to a given driver, or combinations of drivers. In our newly published study, we developed a framework on how the contribution of the evolutionary histories of species in structuring their networks of interactions can be compared with the contribution of other drivers. Taking as a case study a plant-hummingbird system of one of the hotspots of biodiversity —the Atlantic Forest of southeastern Brazil— our results revealed that the species’ evolutionary histories are important drivers of their network of interactions.

In our experiment, we obtained models of probabilities of interactions between hummingbird and plant species based on their morphologies, phenologies, abundances and, for the first time, their evolutionary histories. We evaluated the fit between the observed frequencies of plant-hummingbird interactions and the modeled probabilities of drivers thru a likelihood analysis. Our framework shows step by step how probabilities based on the evolutionary histories of species can be obtained from species phylogenies according to different evolutionary hypotheses. Hopefully, this framework will contribute on understanding the importance of species’ evolutionary histories in relation to other drivers of ecological networks.

After this glance at our study, I invite you to read in full our new article at Oikos journal.

Thalurania glaucopis is one of the 64 species of the studied plant-hummingbird network (Photo by Vizentin-Bugoni). 

The authors through Romulo Vitoria

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