The Forum section is a place where ecological ideas can be kicked around and examined from new angles. Forum papers bring together multiple fields, push boundaries, and offer new ways of interpreting existing data. They should strive for conceptual unification and serve as a point of departure for future work rather than simply summarizing previous bodies of theory and data. Through the Forum we seek to challenge current thinking on ecological issues and provide a high level of synthesis in the field of ecology.
Inclusive fitness, asymmetric competition and kin selection in plants Bodil K. Ehlers, Trine Bilde
Some plants are less competitive than usual when their neighbours are close relatives.
Does that mean they are cooperating to pass shared genes to the next generation (kin selection)?
Maybe. But to show that kin selection is really happening, this Forum paper argues, you have to measure the fitness of the individual plant plus the fitness it gains from its neighbour's success.
Using that framework (inclusive fitness), the authors simulated interactions between plants and predicted conditions that favor kin selection.
Generalized fire response strategies in plants and animals Juli G. Pausas
How do plants and animals respond to fire?
This Forum paper proposes that they share a set of common strategies: resistance, refugia, avoidance, dormancy, recolonization, crypsis and intolerance.
By using that unified framework we can learn from a great diversity of life forms, exchange expertise between animal and plant biologists, and improve our understanding of the role of fire on biodiversity.
The priority of prediction in ecological understanding
Jeff E. Houlahan, Shawn T. McKinney, T. Michael Anderson, Brian J. McGill
This Forum paper argues that ecologists have nearly abandoned prediction—and along with it, the ability to demonstrate understanding.
The authors explore how a renewed commitment to prediction (the riskier and more quantitative, the better!) would benefit the study of ecology and advance our understanding of the natural world.
Motifs in bipartite ecological networks: uncovering indirect interactions Benno I. Simmons, Alyssa
R. Cirtwill, Nick J. Baker, Hannah S. Wauchope, Lynn V. Dicks, Daniel B. Stouffer, William J. Sutherland
Ecosystems are complicated networks of relationships, full of indirect interactions that drive ecological and evolutionary processes as much as direct interactions between organisms (or even more).
However, we tend to lose those indirect interactions when we describe community structure through standard practices.
This Forum paper presents a framework that accounts for indirect interactions by breaking down ecosystem networks into smaller building blocks or 'motifs.'
Life history and eco‐evolutionary dynamics in light of the gut microbiota
Emilie Macke, Aurélie Tasiemski, François Massol, Martijn Callens, Ellen Decaestecker
Who's in charge, an animal or the bacteria in its gut?
According to this Forum paper, gut microbes provide metabolic functions and flexibility that their host animals depend on—and even influence traits previously thought to be under the hosts' genetic control, such as development and behavior.
These microscopic powerhouses can actually drive the ecology and evolution of their hosts at the individual, population, community, and ecosystem levels.
Species richness change across spatial scales Jonathan M. Chase, Brian J. McGill, Patrick L. Thompson, Laura H. Antão, Amanda E. Bates, Shane A. Blowes, Maria Dornelas, Andrew Gonzalez, Anne E. Magurran, Sarah R. Supp, Marten Winter, Anne D. Bjorkman, Helge Bruelheide, Jarrett E. K. Byrnes, Juliano Sarmento Cabral, Robin Elahi, Catalina Gomez, Hector M. Guzman, Forest Isbell, Isla H. Myers‐Smith, Holly P. Jones, Jes Hines, Mark Vellend, Conor Waldock, Mary O'Connor
Local changes in species richness don't always match regional changes—an important thing to remember when we're trying to understand our effects on biodiversity, cautions this Forum paper.
One region can lose species while its local sites hold steady or even gain species on average, if the sites become more homogenized. Another region can gain species while its local sites hold steady or lose species, if the sites become more differentiated.
Using models, case studies, and collated data, the authors show just how complicated the relationship between small-scale and large-scale species richness can be.
Deriving indicators of biodiversity change from unstructured community-contributed data
Giovanni Rapacciuolo, Alison Young, Rebecca Johnson
Citizen science is a vast and growing resource for understanding global biodiversity as it shifts in the throes of the Anthropocene. But how can a jumble of unstructured data be useful scientifically?
This study confronts four main challenges of harvesting insights from community-contributed data, and presents solutions for overcoming those hurdles—with the help of practices already in use to compensate for bias within professional science.
The authors take examples from California’s rocky intertidal zone, comparing citizen science observations with scientific survey results, to illustrate their strategies: reverse-engineering survey structure, borrowing strength across taxa, modeling the observation process, and integrating standardized data sources.
Citizen science, they suggest, is “poised to become an important tool for biodiversity monitoring locally and globally, at a time when the early detection of biodiversity responses…requires eyes everywhere at all times.”
The tradeoff between information and pathogen transmission in animal societies
Valéria Romano, Cédric Sueur, Andrew J. J. MacIntosh
Social contact comes with costs and benefits, as the pandemic has made painfully clear. Within animal societies, the presumed tradeoff between pathogen transmission and information sharing is an unexplored aspect of sociality, according to this Forum paper.
Previous studies show that social networks are shaped by the behavior of individuals, and that network structure feeds back on individuals by influencing how they transmit information or disease to each other. In one study, social clusters formed around individual lemurs that solved a new foraging task. In another, ants that encountered a fungal pathogen isolated themselves, creating a more modular network with reduced risk of transmission.
To better understand the tradeoff between pathogen and information transmission, the authors suggest experimenting with both together. “If socially-acquired information and pathogens are investigated as the selective pressures that they are, it will help us shed light on the mechanisms underlying the formation and maintenance of social relationships and, ultimately, the evolution of sociality.”
An eco-evolutionary perspective on the humpty-dumpty effect and community restoration
Annette E. Evans, Marketa Zimova, Sean T. Giery, Heidi E. Golden, Amanda L. Pastore, Christopher P. Nadeau, Mark C. Urban
Why is it so hard to fix broken ecosystems? This Forum paper seeks to improve our idea of the “humpty-dumpty effect” that is often invoked to explain restoration failure.
Reassembling an ecosystem is more complicated than putting puzzle pieces back together when the "pieces" have changed in size (population size) or shape (species traits), according to the authors of the study.
Using this puzzle-piece concept, the authors evaluate 271 efforts to restore fragmented ecosystems. They describe examples where restoration failure seems to have resulted from changes in size, shape, or both. Their paper concludes with a checklist of five recommendations as a starting point to help future restoration efforts “more successfully put the ecological community pieces together again.”
Artwork and summaries by Abby McBride/Sketch Biologist.