#BESsfe on reflection by Ignasi Bartomeus

Last week quite a few members of Journal of Ecology’s Editorial team were in Lille for the joint BES/SFE Annual Meeting. It was a fantastic few days. Associate Editor Ignasi Bartomeus has written about his highlights below.

#BESsfe

Quick summary of the talks that surprised me most:

Lots of Pollination biology talks: the most surprising finding was from K. Ohashi who showed with comparative analysis across plant species and elegant experiments in the lab that old flowers change their colour (reflectance) quite often, especially when these plants are visited by bees (which are central place foragers, and re-visit sites often). Matthias Schleuning also had a nice talk showing strong trait matching between plant floral traits and hummingbird pollinator traits. I wondered why bee-flower matching is not as strong (presumably).

Also lots of networks stuff: M. Dheling showed an amazing method to relate plant and pollinator traits via their interactions in a network. The 4rth corner analysis! I had the kind of moment where you wonder why you didn’t come up with it before, as it seems so obvious once he explained it. The plenary talk by Pedro Jordano was also a great summary of the potential that a network approach has for explaining a variety of questions, ranging from responses to global change to evolutionary process. On a more methodological point, Marta Sales-Pardo tempted me with an algorithm to detect under-sampled links. I may try it soon.

BEF talks: I skipped most of them this time, but I really liked Rudolf Rohr’s talk using a series of Lotka-Volterra models to show that BEF is positive only when no competitive exclusion and no environmental filtering is modelled. Otherwise the relationship is broken. That fits really well with our observation that dominance patterns and differential extinction risks in natural pollination systems also weaken the experimental BEF relationship.

And as always, the best part is the people that you meet and talk with.

Ignasi Bartomeus
Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology

Editor’s Choice 103:1

Editor’s Choice 103:1

Issue 103:1 of the Journal will be online soon. The latest Editor’s Choice paper is “Earthworm invasion, white-tailed deer and seedling establishment in deciduous forests of north-eastern North America” by Dobson & Blossey. Associate Editor Frank S. Gilliam has written a commentary on the paper below.

The herbaceous layer of eastern hardwood forests: small of stature, large on importance

To those of us who do research on the dynamics of the herbaceous layer in forest ecosystems, the essential role of this lowest of vegetation strata in maintaining the structure and function of those ecosystems is no mystery.  To others, however, it may come as a surprise that, despite that its relative biomass is far less than 0.1% of total standing above-ground biomass of forests; the herb layer serves a function that belies its diminutive stature.  For example, up to 90% of more of the plant biodiversity of forest communities is found in the herb layer.  Furthermore, it can represent 5% of net primary productivity and produce nearly 20% of litterfall, material which tends to have far higher concentrations of N, P, K, and Mg, thus facilitating rapid recycling of macronutrients (Gilliam 2014).

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Geranium maculatum seedling (photo credit: Annise Dobson)

Forest disturbance ecology: a complexity of agents

Another characteristic of the herb layer of forests is its sensitivity to a wide variety of endogenous and exogenous disturbances of both natural and anthropogenic origin.  The more intense and extensive of these disturbances, such as forest harvesting or fire, can initiate secondary forest succession, which actually can be mitigated by composition of the herb layer itself, wherein the herb layer serves as a regeneration filter for seedlings of eventual canopy dominant species.  Other disturbances are perhaps more subtle (since they do not directly impact the forest overstorey), yet are no less profound in their effects.  Essentially all of these are of anthropogenic origin.  These can include plant species invasions (Ehrenfeld 2010), earthworm activity (Hale et al. 2006), and browsing by white-tail deer (Waller 2014).  As is virtually always the case involving human activities that interfere with ecosystem function, these effects often occur simultaneously (Whitfeld et al. 2014) .

Interactive effects of forest disturbance:  deer browsing and earthworm invasion

soil profile

The forest floor profile from as forest invaded (above) and uninvaded (below) by earthworms (photo credit: Grant Dobson)

The Editor’s Choice in this issue of Journal of Ecology is “Earthworm invasion, white-tailed deer and seedling establishment in deciduous forests of northeastern North America,” by Annise Dobson and Bernd Blossey.  The authors tackle the challenge of simultaneous effects of anthropogenic disturbance head-on by establishing a field experiment that manipulates deer browsing and earthworm activity in a factorial design in the Finger Lakes Region of New York.  Among the compelling aspects of this study is that they used transplants of 15 prominent herb-layer species in the temperate hardwood forests of the region, essentially allowing herb composition to be an additional manipulated variable.  Thus, part of the novel aspect of this study was in combining these variables in an experimental setting in the field.

Enemies above versus enemies below

Although most plant ecologists are aware of the deleterious effect that overbrowsing by burgeoning populations of deer can have on forests (Waller 2014), I suspect that many who might read this are at least somewhat surprised to consider earthworms as agents of disturbance in eastern hardwood forests of the United States.  I recall learning as a child that earthworms serve an important role in ‘tilling’ the soil, simultaneously aerating and fertilizing the soil.  The reality, however, is that they can increase decomposition to the extent that there is minimal humus layers in impacted forests, and can enhance herbivore and pathogen attacks (Hale et al. 2006).  Dobson’s and Blossey’s results suggest that earthworm activity (using the surrogate metric of earthworm biomass) decreased seedling survivorship in virtually all herbaceous species (12 out of 15).  In addition, the negative effects of earthworms exceeded that of deer browsing. Interestingly, there were no interactive effects of deer and earthworms.

Lumbricus terrestris and Annise Dobson (photo credit: Grant Dobson)

Lumbricus terrestris and Annise Dobson (photo credit: Grant Dobson)

Some surprising findings:  other trophic interactions

I found this paper to be intriguing for a variety of reasons. As previously stated, it tackles the challenge of multiple stressors by examining them interactively.  Furthermore, the use of transplants of important herb layer species eliminates confounding that can be unavoidable in field studies, wherein ‘replicate’ sites are often not true replicates of each other because of natural spatial variation in herb composition. I also found quite interesting the novel findings regarding other trophic interactions: earthworms increased likelihood of insect attacks on herbs, whereas deer browsing decreased extent of rodent attacks.

Frank S. Gilliam

Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology

References 

Ehrenfeld, J.G. (2010) Ecosystem consequences of biological invasions.  Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 41, 59-80.

Gilliam, F.S. (2014) The Herbaceous Layer in Forests of Eastern North America, 2nd edition. Oxford University Press, New York.

Hale, C.M., Frelich, L.E. & Reich, P.B. (2006) Changes in cold-temperate hardwood forest understory plant communities in response to invasion by European earthworms. Ecology, 87, 1637-1649.

Waller, D.M. (2014) Effects of deer on forest herb layers. The Herbaceous Layer in Forests of Eastern North America, 2nd edition (ed F.S. Gilliam), pp.369-399. Oxford University Press, New York..

Whitfeld, T.J.S., Roth, A.M., Lodge, A.G., Eisenhauer, N., Frelich, L.E. & Reich, P.B. (2014) Resident plant diversity and introduced earthworms have contrasting effects on the success of invasive plants. Biological Invasions, 16, 2181–2193.

Greetings from Lille! #BESsfe

Ho ho ho, off to Lille we go!

Well, this is exciting the BES is in France! Obviously there are talks and lots of conference things happening but there’s also a Christmas market with wooden chalets selling Christmas decorations and festive food, and an exciting museum which I’m hoping I can visit between talks. For those of you who like such things the Sunrise Fun Run is not to be missed, I know I wouldn’t. Talks that caught my eye include

Wednesday

Woodroffe on wild dogs looks fascinating, how can we preserve this iconic species in the face of climate change?

Loeuille explores the interplay between eco-evolutionary dynamics and agriculture.

Froy decomposes the population-level responses to climate and determines the relative importance of within- vs between-individual variation, is plasticity the key?

Kunstler can traits may be used to predict competitive interactions in forests at large scales? It seems that trait values that favour tolerance to competition also render species slow growing in absence of competition, could this be the answer to the coexistence paradox?

Eichhorn mechanisms generating lumpy size distributions, does asymmetric competition hold the key?

Barot Are low rates of nutrient acquisition a form of altruism?

Thursday

Koricheva how not to bodge your meta-analysis!

Van der Vaart Using ABC for IBMs – can you estimate a complex model’s parameters? Come along and find out.

Preece why were some species domesticated and others not? Top team at work here.

De Roos Solving evolutionary problems in continuous time, a software package to do the hard work for you!

De Deyn what traits predict plant soil feedbacks? Perhaps not the ones you expect – see also Dawson.

Friday

Jones getting better as you age, well yes it can happen apparently, but when and why?

Berger how to provision your kids as you age, have marmots got the right idea?

Maurel insights from the garden – do traits or timing/size of introduction influence invasion success?

As ever come along and meet the editors at the BES stand (Richard Bardgett and I will be there, plus several Associate Editors) or follow us living tweeting from the talks, it’s going to be awesome!

Mark Rees

Editor, Journal of Ecology

Happy World Soil Day from Journal of Ecology

Soils Virtual Issue

On Friday 5 December it is World Soil Day and in celebration Journal of Ecology has published a Virtual Issue on soils http://bit.ly/1rMUXyI. The Virtual Issue has been edited by Journal of Ecology’s Richard Bardgett and Amy Austin. For more information about the VI see the below blurb, then visit the Journal homepage to see which papers have been included.

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In December 2013, the 68th United Nation’s General Assembly designated December 5th as World Soil Day to raise global awareness of the importance of soil as a critical component of the natural system and vital contributor to human wellbeing. To celebrate World Soil Day, and the UN’s forthcoming International Year of Soils 2015, we have compiled a Virtual Issue to highlight recent papers in Journal of Ecology with a below-ground focus.

Although there is a long history of plant ecologists exploring broad relationships between plant communities and their underlying soils, it is fair to say that plant and soil ecologists have, until recently, mostly worked in separate arenas. This, however, has changed in recent years, as plant ecologists have become increasingly aware of the importance of soil for understanding plant population and community dynamics, and the regulation of major biogeochemical processes. In addition, soil scientists have come to appreciate the important role that plants have in modulating many aspects of soil chemistry, nutrient availability and carbon and nutrient turnover. Reflecting these interests, the topic of plant-soil (below-ground) interactions is now among the most popular in the Journal, with 14% of all our published papers being under this header. This research area also has featured prominently in our recent Special Features, including Plant-Soil Feedbacks in a Changing World, Plant-Mediated Interactions Between Above- and Below-ground Communities, and Plant-Soil Interactions and the Carbon Cycle. The Journal is now firmly established as a leading venue for the publication of the most ground-breaking research on the ecological and evolutionary importance of plant-soil interactions in a changing world.

For this Virtual Issue, we have selected 20 papers recently published in Journal of Ecologythat demonstrate the breadth and international scope of soil-related research, and illustrate how ecologists are pushing our understanding of the ecological and evolutionary significance of plant-soil interactions forward. The papers cover topics such as below-ground controls on invasions, the role of soil biota in plant-plant interactions, and the influence of plant and soil community change on biogeochemical processes. We very much hope you enjoy reading these papers brought together in this collection and invite you to submit your ‘ground’ breaking research on plant-soil interactions to Journal of Ecology as a part of the celebration of the International Year of Soils.

Richard Bardgett & Amy Austin

Editor’s Choice 102:6

Issue 102:6 of Journal of Ecology is online now. The latest Editor’s Choice paper was chosen by Editor Amy Austin and the paper is “Tropical rabbitfish and the deforestation of a warming temperate sea” by Vergés et al. Associate Editor Yvonne Buckley has written a commentary on the paper below.

Rock slime and Rabbitfish

A tropical herbivore moves north, invading warmer areas and devouring the diverse native vegetation. Invaded areas are denuded and barren, the native herbivores nowhere to be seen. Who would have thought the rather cutely named rabbitfish would have such a devastating impact?

Editor's Choice 102.6 rabbitfish

Close-up of a rabbitfish juvenile (photo credit: Zafer Kizilkaya)

Soon after the Suez canal opened tropical rabbitfish species entered the Mediterranean and spread into the warmer areas. Vergés et al. not only documented and mapped the impact of tropical rabbitfish in the Mediterranean in relation to sea surface temperature but carried out some neat experiments and video-taped fish feeding behaviour to determine the mechanism of impact. Why do these range-shifting herbivores devastate the macro-algal forests – is it a greater consumption rate or a difference in the way they eat? Underwater cameras were used to catch the rabbitfish in the act.

Invasive rabbitfish in Turkey (photo credit: Zafer Kizilkaya)

Invasive rabbitfish in Turkey (photo credit: Zafer Kizilkaya)

There were small differences in the amount of macroalgal biomass removed by the native and non-native species, but the big difference in eating patterns was that one particular species of rabbitfish consumed the “rock slime” or Epilithic Algal Matrix at a very high rate. Rock slime is a nursery for macroalgae, so the rabbitfish were eating the baby algae, preventing recruitment.

Dr Fiona Tomas and Dr Adriana Vergés setting up feeding preference experiments in barren Adrasan (Turkey), where algal forests are nowhere to be found. (photo credit: Murat Draman).

Dr Fiona Tomas and Dr Adriana Vergés setting up feeding preference experiments in barren Adrasan (Turkey), where algal forests are nowhere to be found. (photo credit: Murat Draman).

When invaders find an unexploited niche they can have a very large impact. As species move around in response to climate change, we may expect more unexpectedly large impacts, particularly as species which have evolved in more diverse communities move into less diverse temperate ecosystems where not all of the potential niches are filled.

Yvonne Buckley
Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology

Special Feature: Grass–woodland transitions

Maestre_Sala_web ad

Grasslands, woodlands and savannas occupy large portions of the Earth´s surface, but are particularly prevalent in dryland, temperate and tropical/subtropical regions. These vegetation types play a key role in the functioning of the biosphere and in supporting the needs of human population through the provision of multiple ecosystem services. An important part of the world’s grasslands and savannas is undergoing a rapid shift from herbaceous to woody-plant dominance, which is promoting large changes in their structure and functioning, and thus on the services they provide.

In the introduction to the Special feature, Sala & Maestre (2014) discuss the importance of having a mechanistic understanding of the factors driving grassland/woodland transitions and of their ecological consequences, and illustrate how the different articles included in the special feature contribute to fill important gaps in our knowledge of this topic.

Anadon, Sala & Maestre (2014) used models of current distribution of treeless vegetation, savanna and forest coupled with an ensemble of global circulation models, to forecast how climate change will affect the distribution of these vegetation types, and of the transition zones between them, in tropical and subtropical Americas. Using data from The Konza Prairie Research Natural Area spanning multiple decades,  Ratajczak et al. (2014) explore the role of fire as an important driver of grass-woodland dynamics in mesic grasslands. Abades, Gaxiola & Marquet (2014) describe the theory behind the spatial structure of woodlands and grasslands, and point out the importance of critical transitions associated with percolation phenomena as a potential mechanism that may underlie grass-woodland transitions.  Archer & Predick (2014) evaluate the known and potential consequences of management actions on a wide range of ecosystem services provided by grasslands and woodlands, the scientific challenges to quantifying these services and the trade-offs existing among them. They also provide a roadmap of priority areas for research that can reduce uncertainty and improve predictions of the outcomes of brush management activities. Using an extensive database with over 900 study sites coupled to an ecosystem water balance model, Bradford et al. (2014) evaluate in this issue the hydrological impacts of the removal of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) in shrub steppe ecosystems across western North America. In the last article from the special feature, Gaitán et al. (2014) used 311 sites located across a broad natural gradient in Patagonian rangelands and structural equation modelling to evaluate the relative importance of climate (temperature and precipitation) and vegetation structure (grass/shrub cover and species richness) as drivers of aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP), precipitation-use efficiency (the ratio of annual ANPP to annual precipitation) and precipitation marginal response (the slope of the annual precipitation-ANPP relationship).

Understanding the causes and consequences of grass-woodland transitions requires the joint consideration of the multiple drivers affecting this phenomenon and their consequences for ecosystem functioning and services. The collection of reviews, empirical and modelling studies included in this Special Feature contribute towards this goal, and will motivate further research in these and other important issues on grass-woodland transitions.

Osvaldo Sala & Fernando Maestre

Happy #OAWeek2014

In celebration of Open Access week 2014 each of the British Ecological Society’s journals, including Journal of Ecology, have each published a Virtual Issue of recently published OA papers. Click on the covers below to access each journal’s Virtual Issue.

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All of the papers included in the Virtual Issues have been published through the Online Open programme. Members of the British Ecological Society are offered a 25% discount towards the cost of the Online Open scheme.

Two papers co-authored by Associate Editor Roberto Salguero-Gómez are included in Journal of Ecology’s Virtual Issue.

“Science is open by definition. We all wish to communicate our findings in hopes of advancing the field. One of the most effective ways of reaching all four corners of the globe is to publish open-access – after all we no longer live in the era where scientific communications were carried out on a one-on-one basis via written letters. Yes, undeniably this comes at an (economic) cost… however; the amount of benefits to researchers and members of the general public from this channel of communication clearly outcompetes such costs. I am a strong advocate of open–access science, and a proud contributor of open plant ecology research through Journal of Ecology.” (Roberto Salguero-Gómez)

On Monday 10 November 2014 Rob and his colleagues will be launching the COMPADRE Plant Matrix Database, which is an Open Online Repository for Plant Demography. The launch of this matrix will coincide with the publication of an Open Access paper, in Journal of Ecology, about the COMPADRE database. Stay tuned!

The range of an importance index by Antonio Mingo

The search for symmetry has always intrigued researchers, whatever the field of their study. This is the case, in plant ecology, for the continuous challenge to get improved metrics for measuring plant-plant interaction effects. Plants exert both negative and positive influences on one another, and the balance between them may change depending on the level of environmental stress. Exploring these relationships is highly relevant when testing focal ecological theories, such as the classical Grime model1 or the currently debated Stress Gradient Hypothesis (SGH)2: both assume that negative interactions prevail in favorable environments, and SGH also predicts positive interactions to be more frequent and important in unfavorable environments.

During recent years, an interesting debate has developed about the concepts of intensity and importance. When analyzing plant interactions, researchers can either look at the intensity of the interaction, i.e. the absolute impact of neighbours on target plant performance, or at its importance, i.e. the measure of how important the interaction effects are in relation to other impacts of environment3. The lack of a clear distinction between these two approaches has been invoked as the cause of widespread confusion among researchers about the role of plant interactions along productivity gradients4.

Hence, appropriate indices are needed to measure the importance as well as the intensity of plant-plant interactions. Ideally, a good index should have a limited and symmetric range for negative and positive effects. While such indices are available for measuring intensity5, 6, the metric that was originally proposed for measuring interaction importance, the Cimp index4, has a limited range for competition, but no limit for facilitation. This deficiency seemed to be resolved with the development of another metric, the Iimp index7, an elegant attempt to bounding the Cimp index in the (-1, 1) interval. However, as I suggest in this forum paper, the real range of this index is not the one claimed: if analyzed in depth, the result is that the inherent limits of the index components make Iimp to range in a narrower interval, so that it can never exceed the positive value of 0.5.

Definitely, Iimp is not the symmetric index we are looking for. Overall, by widely looking at theliterature, it seems that importance metrics suffer from too many conceptual and mathematical gaps, the most relevant of which is in their inherent correlation with the performance of the isolated target plant along the gradient8. So, the current approach to measuring interaction importance needs to be revised. I have personally outlined a possible alternative approach9, and testing it is the object of ongoing work. My advice is that it is time to stop using importance metrics with the naive belief that long-running debates can be solved by simply using a different index: instead we need to critically define new more stringent and robust frameworks.

Antonio Mingo

(Author of Refining the range of an importance index , which is currently in Early View.)

1Grime, J. P. (1973) Competitive exclusion in herbaceous vegetation. Nature 242, 344–347.
2Bertness, M. & Callaway, R.M. (1994) Positive interactions in communities. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 9, 191–193.
3Welden, C.W. & Slauson, W.L. (1986) The intensity of competition versus its importance: an overlooked distinction and some implications. Quarterly Review of Biology 61, 23–44.
4Brooker, R.W., Kikvidze, Z., Pugnaire, F.I., Callaway, R.M., Choler, P., Lortie, C.J. & Michalet., R. (2005) The importance of importance. Oikos 109, 63–70.
5Markham, J.H. & Chanway, C.P. (1996) Measuring plant neighbour effects. Functional Ecology 10, 548–549.
6Armas, C., Ordiales, R. & Pugnaire, F.I. (2004) Measuring plant interactions: a new comparative index. Ecology 85, 2682–2686.
7Seifan, M., Seifan, T., Arizal, C. & Tielbörger, K. (2010) Facilitating an importance index. Journal of Ecology 98, 356–361.
8Rees, M., Childs, D.Z. & Freckleton, R.P. (2012) Assessing the role of competition and stress: a critique of importance indices and the development of a new approach. Journal of Ecology 100, 577-585.
9Mingo, A. (2014) Integrating importance and intensity: a novel approach to normalize measurement of neighbour effects. Community Ecology 15, 65-76.

ESA – from our California Correspondents

The American ecological society has just finished its annual meeting in Sacramento, California, and the BES was well represented.  For those of you who missed it, let me summarize my impressions.

Sacramento has a gleaming modern core, surrounded by genteel Victorian suburbs, surrounded by millions of acres of dry billiard-table flat agricultural land.  The population shows a typically Californian ethnic diversity, with every Pacific-rim culture well represented.  When you interact with them, however, they all seem to speak the same relaxed Californian version of English (anyone with a foreign accent is likely to be from the meeting).  The modern city exudes environmental consciousness: Every street is lined with large shade trees; street design encourages safe driving; a light rail system whisks you efficiently around town; police ride bicycles not cars; and all fountains have been turned off to conserve water in the draught.

The meeting was BIG, with ca. 3500 attendees (organizers tell me this is actually a small meeting compared with previous years).  People streamed in and out of the Convention Center and nearby hotels like an underground station at rush hour.  Graduate students were strongly represented (two of my own students presented).  By my unsystematic reckoning, the age distribution was bimodal with a large peak at ca. 28 years and a smaller one at ca. 58.  Both genders seemed equally represented.  I was constantly avoiding baby buggies.  Is a meeting dominated by graduate students and young parents a good thing?  Yes!  Notwithstanding a degree of hubris and naiveté, the standard of presentations seemed quite high.  I come away with a strong impression of youthful energy and enthusiasm.

With more than 300 thematic sessions, scheduling your time becomes a serious dilemma.  Hallways, foyers, and lounges were lined with people closely studying their printed programs and mapping out their day.  Should one politely settle in a single session and hear out all the talks on a particular topic, or should one rush from session to session to catch particularly attractive individual talks?  I began the week resolved to devote my whole gracious and dignified attention to entire sessions, but soon began scooting in and out as individual talks varied so widely.  At least in the sessions I attended, talks did not fit the themes closely, e.g. a talk on dynamic landscape models followed one on transitions between physiological dormancy states – both aspects of biological invasion (one of which I presented).  One can’t fault the organizers for the weak transitions, however.  Considering the number and variety of submissions, it’s a wonder that sessions were as unified as they were!

Enough social observation – what direction of ecological science was revealed at the meeting?  A tally of oral and poster sessions gives a crude idea of direction.  Among 300+ sessions (ca. 8 contributions per session), the winner was clearly Climate Change, appearing in the title of 33 sessions.  Invasion (16 sessions) and Disturbance Responses (13) were also popular topics.  The ecology of disease (8 sessions) and urban ecosystems (7 ) look like rising stars.  And there were many curious one-off sessions, including “interaction with religion” and “skin microflora”.  My choice for the animal- and plant-of-the-meeting awards would be white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum), respectively.  Both are serious management concerns in the eastern United States, and both appeared in many talks.

A large number of presentations used GIS to generalize local observations to entire landscapes and regions for management purposes (frequently tied to climate change).  Conversely, many population-level studies used deterministic projection methods to extrapolate local behavior over large areas and long time frames (the authors would do well to consult the literature on landscape heterogeneity).  The terms “local” and “spatial” were particularly slippery, applied at every scale from the neighborhood of an individual plant to sections of entire continents.  One of the most important benefits I derive from these meetings is acquaintance with new methods. The trendy new statistical method is clearly “Integral Projection Modeling” with “Maximum Entropy Modeling” in a close second place.  Bayesian methods, zero-inflated regression, and PERMANOVA (previous favorites) have become rather ordinary.  I now have a list which will guide my bed-time reading for several months at least!

Is a mega-meeting such as this one really worth the effort or would we be better served by smaller, more focused meetings?  Although I enjoyed connecting with old friends, and serendipity revealed some fascinating new ideas, the enormity of the meeting caused me to miss many interesting discussions and somehow impeded personal interaction.  For the moment, however, I set the question aside.  I need to write follow-up emails to the many new friends I met in Sacramento!

Best regards,

The California Correspondent

Glenn Matlack

Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology

***

From plant-soil feedbacks to rhizosphere ecology to soil community diversity and aboveground interactions, the talks I attended at ESA 2014 indicate that a great deal of interest exists concerning the black box that is the soil.  Without a doubt we need a better understanding of the mechanisms by which the soil microbial communities influence aboveground plant and community dynamics.  To say that aboveground plant communities are an epiphenomenon of belowground processes is not an exaggeration and ecologists often are guilty of ascribing causation to aboveground treatments without an understanding of how plant responses to those treatments are mediated by interactions belowground.  Invasive species ecology is one of those areas where our ability to understand spread is hampered by our lack of knowledge of interactions between non-native plant species and belowground biota.  In particular, new studies are emphasizing the importance of genotype interactions, changes in the intensity of pathogen loads over time, the potential advantages of intraspecific competition over interspecific competition, and even that the invasive characters of some species may be emergent properties in the invaded range.  Needless to say, experiments that take into account a greater number of the growing list of potentially importance variables are few and difficult at the very least, but some very good work is being done nonetheless.

Andy Dyer

Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology

 

California, Here I Come!

OK—that’s corny, I realize.  Right out of the DeSylva/Meyer song of the same name from the 1921 Broadway musical Bombo, starring Al Jolson.  But it’s always uttered with a great deal of excitement by anyone who uses that expression, and this is no exception.  Annual meetings of the Ecological Society of America are always exciting for me, and even more so for this ‘easterner’ to be travelling to Sacramento.

As I shared in a similar blog for last year’s meeting in Minneapolis, MN, I have had a long-standing tradition of attending ESA meetings.  Among the historic high points are the symposia I organized and presided over (1993, 1998, and 2003) and serving as Program Chair for the 2010 meeting in Pittsburgh.  Because of my Chair-related, inside knowledge of symposia I was pleased to be able to connect with Journal editors, leading to a Special Issue in May 2011:  Ecological Consequences of Climate Extremes.

Furthermore, especially since my arrival in 1990 here at Marshall University—a public school small state (among the 50 United States, West Virginia ranks 38th in population) and with very limited personal access to colleagues doing similar research—annual ESA meetings have become a professional ‘lifeline,’ connecting me with ecologists from throughout North America and the world.  I also greatly enjoy both the talks and the feedback on current research I present every year.  But another extremely enjoyable tradition since joining the editorial board of the Journal of Ecology, is the annual dinner for editors—what an amazing combination of great food, wine, spirits, along with the best company and conversation.  Also from a personal standpoint, these meetings are special opportunities to combine keeping up on current research and seeing my ‘ESA friends,’ those folks I have met through the years who I would otherwise essentially never see.

So, what about this year’s ESA meeting in Sacramento, California?  Per usual, I will be excited to reconnect with those ESA friends, go to interesting talks, and re-join staff and fellow editors at Journal of Ecology for another great evening out for our annual dinner.  One special facet this year, however, will be the promotion by Oxford University Press of the publication of my third book, The Herbaceous Layer in Forests of Eastern North America, 2nd edition, the first edition of which actually began as an ESA symposium in 1998 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Finally, as is always my practice, I will present a paper.  This one examines a serious environmental threat—the effects of excess nitrogen (N) on forest biodiversity—by comparing results of field studies that look at the response of the herbaceous layer to experimental N additions in hardwood forests of sharply contrasting sites:  a temperate forest in West Virginia, and a tropical forest in southeastern China.  (COS 142-9 “Response of the herbaceous layer of contrasting forest ecosystems to excess nitrogen deposition”)

California, here I come, indeed!

Frank Gilliam

Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology