David Gibson interviews Scott Collins

Editor’s Note

I was pleased this past summer to sit down with former Ecological Society of America President Scott Collins and conduct a wide-ranging interview on many aspects of ecology. You can listen to this interview as a podcast. In addition, Scott has penned the blog article below in which he discusses the new publishing arrangement that the ESA has with Wiley, the same publisher that the British Ecological Society has partnered with for many years. At Journal of Ecology we share Scott’s optimism for this new arrangement and hope to develop the sort of collaborations with the ESA journals that he suggests in the near future.

David Gibson

Executive Editor, Journal of Ecology

ESA recently established a new publishing agreement with Wiley, a for-profit commercial publisher, after many decades working with Allen Press. This agreement brings many benefits and opportunities to ESA and its members. The ESA Governing Board is charged with overseeing the financial health of the society and partnering with Wiley puts ESA on solid financial footing. In addition, Wiley’s marketing strategy will mean a wider distribution of the journals and more eyeballs pointed at papers in the journals. But it is worth acknowledging that some are not happy that ESA partnered with a commercial publisher. The Open Science movement in ecology , a movement that I support in principle, is particularly concerned with this decision because it could lead to higher subscription costs to libraries, bundling, and reduced open access to papers in our journals. I share these concerns. When ESA worked with Allen Press, authors were allowed to post a PDF of the published paper on their website or in some other repository with no embargo period, a form of “green” open access. Our contract with Wiley continues this practice, so although not what some would consider ideal, this does reflect our desire to make ESA publications more accessible even when working with a for-profit publisher. The world of scientific publishing is changing quickly and technological advances will continue to drive the evolution of scientific publishing models. The agreement with Wiley brings ESA journals into the 21st Century, and both ESA and BES can and should constantly evaluate alternative models for scientific publications.

To me, one of the big advantages of publishing with Wiley is that they already publish many of the premier journals in ecology. Some might think that BES and ESA journals are competitors, but I have a hard time understanding that concern. I think there is an abundant resource base of excellent papers, more than can be published in all BES and ESA journals combined. Given that, it seems to me that BES and ESA journals should more collaborative. I think these societies could plan and produce joint special issues on hot topics, or thematic collections of published papers. Overall, these societies should join forces more often not just about publishing papers, but to actively promote ecological research and education, and the application of ecological knowledge to policy and management.

 Scott Collins

New Journal of Ecology Blog Editor: Pierre Mariotte

Journal of Ecology is pleased to welcome Pierre Mariotte as a new Associate Editor with special responsibility for overseeing this blog. Pierre is a Swiss NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Sydney, Australia where he works on community ecology particularly plant-soil interactions and feedbacks. He has published several papers in the Journal including Kardol et al. (2013), Thébault et al. (2014) and Mariotte et al. (2013). The latter was Highly Commended for the BES Young Investigator Award 2013. More about Pierre is available through his personal blog. We look forward to working with Pierre and developing further this blog. By way of introduction, Pierre’s first contribution to the JEcol blog is a contribution to our Ecological Inspiration series.

David Gibson

Executive Editor


Ecological Inspirations: Grime’s classification of dominant, subordinate and transient plant species

Nature has always captivated me, and as an ecologist I became fascinated by the diversity of living organisms and the related diversity of functions within ecosystems. One of the first ecological articles that I read was “Benefits of plant diversity to ecosystems: immediate, filter and founder effects” by JP Grime published in Journal of Ecology in 1998, which truly became my ecological inspiration.

While many studies pointed out the role of plant diversity in ecosystem functioning, the underlying mechanisms to explain these effects were unclear. Building upon years of studies (Whittaker 1965, Grime 1973), Grime shed greater light on the relationship between plant diversity and ecosystem properties by classifying component species into three functional groups (referred as the DST classification): dominants with immediate effects on ecosystem properties, subordinates with filter effects, and transients with founder effects. The DST classification, which offers theoretical basis to link vegetation structure and functions (Gibson, Ely & Collins 1999), is robust and well-adapted to a large range of ecosystems.

Grime’s mass ratio theory, which suggests that immediate controls of ecosystem properties are determined by the traits of dominant species, was the inspiration for many highly cited studies published in Journal of Ecology (Mokany, Ash & Roxburgh 2008; Lavorel et al. 2011). But Grime also defined subordinate species for the first time and mentioned their potential filtering effects. He also asked in his paper for more carefully designed experiments to test subordinates’ effects in plant communities. Various studies subsequently demonstrated the crucial functions of subordinate species, especially under climate change (Richardson et al. 2002), including my own research (Mariotte et al. 2013; Mariotte 2014).

Grime’s DST classification provided a framework to study the benefits of plant diversity on ecosystems, which supported many years of research highlighting the role of dominant species in driving ecosystem functions and the importance of subordinate species in maintaining these functions under perturbations. One finding of Grime’s review is that functional diversity matters more than species richness per se. Indeed, the role of functional diversity (immediate and filter effects) as emphasised by Grime clarifies the observed relationship between species diversity and ecosystem functioning. Grime’s classification also inspired recent advances in plant functional traits (Lavorel et al. 2011) and plant-soil interactions research (Mariotte 2014), yielding valuable knowledge with broad implications for conserving/restoring ecosystems, providing sustainable agricultural practices and mediating climate change impacts.

Grime’s paper is one of the most influential articles published in Journal of Ecology (over 600 citations and counting) and will long continue to inspire research aiming at understanding the effects of functional diversity on ecosystem functioning.

Pierre Mariotte

References and more information:

Virtual Issue: In Honour of J Philip Grime

Gibson, D.J., Ely, J.S. & Collins, S.L. (1999) The core-satellite species hypothesis provides a theoretical basis for Grime’s classification of dominant, subordinate, and transient species. Journal of Ecology 87, 1064-1067.

Grime, J.P. (1973) Competitive exclusion in herbaceous vegetation. Nature, 242, 344-347.

Grime, J.P. (1998) Benefits of plant diversity to ecosystems: immediate, filter and founder effects. Journal of Ecology, 86, 902–906.

Lavorel, S., Grigulis, K., Lamarque, P., Colace, M.-P., Garden, D., Girel, J., Pellet, G. & Douzet, R. (2011) Using plant functional traits to understand the landscape distribution of multiple ecosystem services. Journal of Ecology, 99, 135-147.

Mariotte, P. (2014) Do subordinate species punch above their weight? Evidence from above- and below-ground. New Phytologist, 203, 16-21.

Mariotte, P., Vandenberghe, C., Hagedorn, F., Kardol, P. & Buttler, A. (2013) Subordinate species enhance community insurance to drought in semi-natural grassland ecosystems. Journal of Ecology 101, 763-773.

Mokany, K., Ash, J. & Roxburgh, S. (2008) Functional identity is more important than diversity in influencing ecosystem processes in a temperate native grassland. Journal of Ecology, 96, 884-893.

Richardson, S.J., Press, M.C., Parsons, A.N. & Hartley, S.E. (2002) How do nutrients and warming impact on plant communities and their insect herbivores? A 9-year study from a sub-arctic heath. Journal of Ecology, 90, 544–556.

Whittaker, R.H. (1965) Dominance and diversity in land plant communities. Science, 147, 250-260.

Ecological Inspirations, L’Oréal style by Amy Austin

A recent survey sponsored by the L’Oréal Foundation and led by Nobel Prize winning scientist Elizabeth Blackburn reported that ‘67% of Europeans think that women do not possess the required capabilities in order to access high-level scientific positions’.  That is two-thirds of the general public in Europe.  And that statistic means that many women, as well as men, believe this to be true.

As a 2015 recipient of the Argentine L’Oréal-UNESCO fellowship for Women in Science, I was invited to combine this ecological inspirations blog with a reflection on the role of women in science. The L’Oréal Foundation, in collaboration with many national agencies and research councils, created this program with the objective of increasing the visibility of women working in physical and life sciences. Each year, in addition to the national programs, five international laureates are honored, one from each continent, to recognize outstanding achievements by women scientists from around the world. I feel honored to be a part of this group of women.

Amy Austin (center) with former graduate students (L-R) Laura Martínez, Patricia Araujo, Lucía Vivanco & Adelia González-Arzac in the field in Patagonia

Amy Austin (center) with former graduate students (L-R) Laura Martínez, Patricia Araujo, Lucía Vivanco & Adelia González-Arzac in the field in Patagonia

I believe we all have stories to tell. Stories of a roadblock, an obstacle, a hindrance that made it more difficult to continue pursuing the passion of science because of our gender. For some, seemingly innocuous comments along the lines of ‘you are much too pretty to be a scientist, you should dedicate yourself to something that takes advantage of that’.  Or the female graduate student who wasn’t allowed to go to the field because of the all-male bunkhouse. My own tenth grade algebra teacher/wrestling coach who told me that ‘girls aren’t supposed to be good at math’. Comments that undermine.  Actions that impede. Many have suffered much worse, with direct and obvious discrimination, but my guess is that no woman has gone untouched by what the lion’s share of the world still thinks. That women cannot, or should not, excel in science.

I would like to say, then, that my ecological inspiration comes from all the women who have kept calm and carried on doing science in their own style and at their rhythm in spite of these obstacles. My hat goes off to all of you who have stayed in the game, and have managed to change the rules a bit to ensure your happiness and wellbeing.  My inspirations are women who have continued to pursue science as a career in all its facets, and the people who recognized their potential and encouraged them to follow their calling.  Not only the Nobel Prize winners and the MacArthur fellowship recipients, who are certainly to be admired, but also the women who have not listened to the detractors and achieved a balance between life and science that allows them to continue doing what they love. In the context of this post,  I would also like to highlight what I have come to appreciate first-hand in the last few years  — the scientific contribution by the people, the vast majority of whom are women, whose names don´t go on the papers and who don´t end up in the spotlight –the scientists who work tirelessly in one of the most important aspects of our enterprise –that of scientific publishing and making available to others the results of all the hard work and experiments that have been done.

So I have been asked this a lot in the last few weeks — how can we promote women in science?  It is a difficult and complex question to answer, and one for which I feel wholly unqualified to offer a definitive solution.  But here are my personal thoughts on what things could be done. Do encourage excellence and reward enthusiasm to women who show promise, or have already demonstrated their achievement. Don´t pretend to promote women so you can look good on Twitter. Celebrate the success, highlight the positives, but don´t condescend. Don’t put up roadblocks; don’t undermine. Value the contributions from women working in all walks of science and in its all its manifestations (see the Journal of Ecology Special Feature on Plants and Biogeochemistry). And most importantly, believe that women can do good science. There is abundant evidence of this.

I remember in a recent interview for the L’Oréal awards, Julia Etulain, who was awarded the postdoctoral scholarship in the Argentine national program, said, “It would be fantastic if there comes a day when we don’t have to have a special award to highlight women in science.  That awards would just be based on scientific achievement independently of gender (I am paraphrasing from Spanish, of course).” It is a lovely sentiment and one with which I wholeheartedly agree.  But we are not there yet. We do not live in a perfect world and there is still much to do to Change The Numbers. Nevertheless, it is my hope for all those girls out there who like to play with frogs, or who eat dirt (as apparently I was prone to do as a toddler), or who want to know why plants are green and don’t eat meat, the national and international L’Oréal-UNESCO fellows For Women in Science can serve as an inspiration to highlight the possibilities that are out there.  And so these same girls might believe, ‘That could be me.’

Amy Austin

Editor, Journal of Ecology

Editor’s Choice 103:6

The Editor’s Choice paper for issue 103:6 is “Fog as a source of nitrogen for redwood trees: evidence from fluxes and stable isotopes” by Templer et al. 

Journal of Ecology Editor Amy Austin has written a commentary on the paper below, which is part of a new Special Feature on biogeochemical cycling edited by Amy Austin & Amy Zanne.

Emerging from the fog ….nitrogen

The majestic coast redwoods are, quite simply, impressive. Given that Sequoia sempervirens can boast to be the tallest tree in the world, and its cousin the giant sequoia (Sequoia giganteum) wins the prize for most voluminous tree, and with both species having some of the oldest trees alive, there is no denying their mystique as ancient wonders of the natural world.

Redwood forest 1

Coast redwoods have a very limited distribution, occupying a narrow strip of land approximately 750 km long and 50 km along the Pacific coastline of California and Oregon in North America.  And there is a reason for this. One of the ways in which these trees are able to grow so tall, and withstand an extended summer period without rainfall typical of Mediterranean climates, is that they have a particular capacity to harvest water from fog drip, which can contribute 15-45% of the annual transpiration of a redwood forest stand (Dawson 1998). More fascinating is the fact that the leaves themselves appear to directly absorb some of this fog before it condenses as liquid water and enters the soil (Burgess & Dawson 2004). This clever strategy allows the trees to maintain an adequate water status when soil water is scarce and fog is abundant, as well as preventing dehydration and excessive transpirational loss during times of drought.

The Editor’s Choice paper for this issue of the Journal of Ecology “Fog as a source of nitrogen for redwood trees: evidence from fluxes and stable isotopes” by Templer and colleagues demonstrates even more cleverness on the part of the coast redwoods. This study explores an additional component that comes rolling in with the fog to these nutrient-poor forests –nitrogen. While nitrogen has been measured in fog in these coastal habitats (Ewing et al. 2009), it was not clear whether or not the trees might be taking advantage of this nutrient subsidy accompanying the fog water. Analysing the natural abundance of 15N and 13C stable isotopes in soils and fog demonstrated large differences in the δ 15N signatures of ammonium, which allowed the researchers to identify that the redwood trees nearest the forest edge were indeed ´harvesting´ a fraction of the nitrogen that was coming in with fog. And comparison with soil nitrogen and similar root δ15N values between the forest edge and the interior trees led the authors to conclude that the nitrogen in fog was being principally absorbed directly by the leaves!  The increased nitrogen availability from fog sources through direct absorption and increased soil nitrogen from throughfall, together with more favorable plant water balance, allowed for greater rates of photosynthesis during the drought period, with the forest edge redwoods benefitting doubly from the fog subsidies. This study unravels more of the complex ways in which this species is able to prosper and attain dizzying heights in spite of a highly seasonal water supply and relatively infertile soils.

Redwood Forest 2

However, there is trouble on the horizon. There has been an estimated 33% reduction in fog frequency in the last 100 years along the Pacific Coast of California (Johnstone & Dawson 2010), sounding alarm bells for the potential water stress that this could exert on these trees.  The findings of Templer and colleagues suggest that this reduction in fog frequency could also impact the nitrogen status of the trees by removing an important exogenous source of nitrogen that is directly accessed and utilized by the coast redwoods.  Even more alarmingly, the extended drought in California, which has been linked to anthropogenic climate change (Williams et al. 2015), is now threatening these majestic giants, both inland and on the coast. It has yet to be seen if the combined effects of reducing fog subsidies and intensifying the summer dry period will wreak irrevocable harm on these emblematic forest ecosystems.

Amy Austin

Editor, Journal of Ecology


Burgess, S. S. O. & Dawson, T. E. (2004) The contribution of fog to the water relations of Sequoia sempervirens (D. Don): foliar uptake and prevention of dehydration. Plant, Cell & Environment, 27, 1023-1034.

Dawson, T. E. (1998) Fog in the California redwood forest: ecosystem inputs and use by plants. Oecologia, 117, 476-485.

Ewing, H., Weathers, K., Templer, P., Dawson, T., Firestone, M., Elliott, A. & Boukili, V. S. (2009) Fog Water and Ecosystem Function: Heterogeneity in a California Redwood Forest. Ecosystems, 12, 417-433.

Johnstone, J. A. & Dawson, T. E. (2010) Climatic context and ecological implications of summer fog decline in the coast redwood region. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107, 4533-4538.

Williams, A. P., Seager, R., Abatzoglou, J. T., Cook, B. I., Smerdon, J. E. & Cook, E. R. (2015) Contribution of anthropogenic warming to California drought during 2012–2014. Geophysical Research Letters, 42, 6819-6828.



Plants in all their glory – more than just green blobs

Biogeochemical cycling traces the pathways by which elements pass through both biotic and abiotic steps on their journeys between the earth and the atmosphere. Plants are a critical step in this process for many elements; however, traditional biogeochemistry views typically take a top down approach, treating plants as a ‘green box’ and failing to appreciate the rich texture provided by how different plant species control the rates and forms of elemental cycling.

Whether on the land or in the sea, plants are an intimate part of biogeochemical cycling. An April sunrise overlooking a diversity of red and brown algal species during low tide on Tatoosh Island, WA, USA, owned by the Makah Tribal Nation. Photo by Orissa Moulton.

Whether on the land or in the sea, plants are an intimate part of biogeochemical cycling. An April sunrise overlooking a diversity of red and brown algal species during low tide on Tatoosh Island, WA, USA, owned by the Makah Tribal Nation. Photo by Orissa Moulton.

In this Special Feature (“Whether in Life or Death: fresh perspectives on how plants affect biogeochemical cycling”), on both land and in the sea, we highlight a series of studies in which the researchers explore from the bottom up how plants influence biogeochemical cycles. Papers by Litchman et al. (2015) and Stepien (2015) focus on the diversity and functioning of phytoplankton and macrophytes in the oceans, including plant traits and specialized carbon-concentrating mechanisms. Templer et al. (2015) and Araujo and Austin (2015) examine how conifer canopies allow for direct resource uptake from the atmosphere and light attenuation altering photodegradation of litter on the ground. Zanne et al. (2015) continue to focus on plant controls on rates of tissue decay by microbes in wood, while Borer et al. (2015) manipulate foliar pest and pathogen communities in grasslands to determine shifts in leaf stoichiometry. Going belowground, both Moore et al. (2015) and Midgley, Brzostek, and Phillips (2015) look at the role of microbes and roots to determine soil and litter chemical dynamics. These 8 studies provide fresh perspective on the critical role of plants in creating the world we find around us and responding to the world we are creating for them.

B. Life at the ocean edge. Iron Range National Park, QLD, Australia. Photo by Amy E. Zanne.

B. Life at the ocean edge. Iron Range National Park, QLD, Australia. Photo by Amy E. Zanne.

It is an ongoing challenge in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), as in many disciplines, attracting and maintaining women throughout the educational process and into academia. We would like to highlight that the lead and/or senior author of all papers in this Special Feature is a woman, with stages ranging from early career graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to full professors. These are women pushing the boundaries of their discipline and making new contributions to our understanding of how plants influence biogeochemistry. We pause here to acknowledge their accomplishments in this Special Feature and in their contributions to their fields more generally. The best way to #changethenumbers is to celebrate good science.

Amy Zanne @AmyZanne and Amy Austin @amytaustin

Marine Ecology: David Gibson interviews Carol Thornber

Associate Editor Carol Thornber has edited a Virtual Issue, of papers published in the Journal of Ecology, focussed on marine ecology. You can access the Virtual Issue here. Executive Editor also interviewed Carol at ESA back in August about all things marine ecology.

Charismatic Orchids

With an estimated >27,000 species, the orchid family is one of the most speciose plant families within the Angiosperms. At the same time, it harbours a large number of threatened species, making it one of the most vulnerable plant families as well. Due to their spectacular floral diversity, orchids have long attracted wide attention from the general public. The commercial trade in specimens was already established in the nineteenth century after the first orchid from overseas had been sent to London in 1818. Eventually, this resulted in a flourishing industry that comprised collectors, merchant traders and orchid hunters who competed against each other, in often dreadful conditions, to find and extract the precious — and much-coveted — flora from their natural habitats. Specimens from all over the world were sent to orchid markets in London and elsewhere in Europe, where they were sold for considerable (and sometimes absurd) amounts of money, culminating in what has later been described as ‘orchidelirium’, the name given to the Victorian era of flower madness, when collecting and discovering orchids became extraordinarily popular. It was not until the 1920s when the French mycologist Noel Bernard discovered how to propagate orchids from seeds that the orchid mania subsided and the plants became plentiful (and affordable!) in Europe and the U.S.

Apart from their ornamental value, orchids have always attracted great scientific interest as well. Inspired by Christian Konrad Sprengel’s 1793 work Das entdeckte Geheimnis der Natur im Bau und in der Befruchtung der Blumen (The Secret of Nature in the Form and Fertilisation of Flowers Discovered), Charles Darwin was among the first to highlight the striking complexity of orchid pollination. In his book ‘On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilized by insects’, which was first published in 1862 and published again, in a revised version, in 1877, Darwin wrote in meticulous detail about the close functional relationships between the sexual structures of orchids and the insects that fertilize them. Although the book sold only about 6,000 copies before the turn of the century and was therefore – at least from a publisher’s point of view – not a success, it was much praised by botanists. Darwin had noted this himself when he wrote: ‘For since the appearance of my book, a surprising number of papers and separate works on the fertilization of all kinds of flowers have appeared; and these are far better done than I could possibly have effected.’ Judging by the large number of papers on orchid biology published in Journal of Ecology, from which the contents of  this Virtual Issue  were selected, orchids continue to be a rich source of inspiration and great model systems for answering important and timely questions in ecology and evolution.

Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera)

Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera)

The selected papers cover three major fields highlighting the complexity of the orchid life style: reproductive biology, demography and mycorrhizal associations. Additionally, twelve Biological Flora of the British Isles accounts have been included in this Virtual Issue. These Biological Flora accounts not only provide a thorough review of what is known about the distribution and natural history of each of the species they address, but also offer critical reflections about their ecology and conservation. Although Biological Flora accounts aim to be as complete as possible, reading between the lines often reveals important gaps in knowledge, or suggests hypotheses to be tested in future research. Therefore, these accounts may be most valuable in providing an important source of inspiration.

Orchids have a complex life-history and describing the demography of these species can be challenging, tedious and at times even frustrating. Every field biologist who has spent a couple of weeks of his/her life monitoring orchid populations knows that one of the most challenging parts of describing the orchid life cycle is getting a grip on what you can’t see, i.e. the developments that take place underground. Seed germination and protocorm development are notoriously difficult to estimate under natural field conditions. Moreover, more than in any other plant family, mature adult individuals are also able to stay underground for one or more years, a phenomenon better known as vegetative dormancy. Dormancy not only complicates field work, but also has a big impact on data analyses afterwards. At least four papers in this Virtual Issue deal with dormancy and how to integrate it into demographic models (Kéry and Gregg 2003, 2004, Shefferson and Tali 2007; Shefferson and Simms 2007). To make things even more complex, orchids do not only rely on pollinators for completion of their life cycle; they also depend on mycorrhizal fungi. The study of mycorrhizal fungi has now stepped out of its infancy, and it has become increasingly clear as a result of major recent advances that mycorrhizal fungi have a major impact on the distribution (Diez 2007; Jacquemyn et al. 2009, 2012) and demography of orchid populations.

Early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes)

Early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes)

Despite – and perhaps also because of – these difficulties, orchid demographic studies tend to be the longest demographic studies in ecology and they usually have considerable sample sizes. Mike Hutchings’ study on the demography of the early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) is probably one of the longest plant demographic studies to have been carried out so far (Hutchings 2010). Datasets such as this one are rare, and give unprecedented insights into the demography of the species. With the climate changing at an ever faster rate, this and other long-term datasets will become invaluable sources of knowledge as they instantaneously record how plant populations respond to the changing environment (Robbirt et al. 2011). With the advancement of new data analysis techniques such as matrix models and integral projection models (Jacquemyn et al. 2010; Diez et al. 2014), and the inclusion of eco-evolutionary dynamics in population models (Williams et al. 2015), we are starting to get a better grip on understanding the complex demography of orchids and how it is affected by the environment. Williams et al. (2015), for example, used stochastic integral projection models to investigate whether and how climate change affected the life history of the lady orchid (Orchis purpurea). Their analysis shows that with the increasing frequency of droughts the species will inevitably decline. On the other hand, milder winters and wetter springs will have a positive impact on the long-term viability of populations of the species, so it is still difficult to predict how the species will behave in the future.

Almost 150 years after Darwin published the first edition of his book on orchids, orchids keep on fascinating ecologists and evolutionary biologists. This Virtual Issue of papers published in Journal of Ecology demonstrates the vivid interest of the scientific community in the complex ecological processes that affect the population dynamics of these fascinating species and illustrates how ecologists are advancing our understanding of the ecology and evolution of orchids. We very much hope you enjoy reading these papers brought together in this collection and that orchids continue to be a rich inspiration for future ecological and evolutionary researchers. We also hope that the results of these studies may be of interest to the wider public fascinated by orchids and especially to the practitioners and conservation managers so that they may be used to establish appropriate management regimes that will contribute to the long-term conservation of these species.

Hans Jacquemyn
Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology

Literature cited

Diez, J.M. (2007) Hierarchical patterns of symbiotic orchid germination linked to adult proximity and environmental gradients. Journal of Ecology, 95, 159-170.

Diez, J.M., Giladi, I., Warren, R. & Pulliam, H.R. (2014) Probabilistic and spatially variable niches inferred from demography. Journal of Ecology, 102, 544-554.

Hutchings, M.J. (2010) The population biology of the early spider orchid Ophrys sphegodes Mill. III. Demography over three decades. Journal of Ecology, 98, 867-878.

Jacquemyn, H., Wiegand, T., Vandepitte, K., Brys, R., Roldán-Ruiz, I. & Honnay, O. (2009) Multigenerational analysis of spatial structure in the terrestrial, food-deceptive orchid Orchis mascula. Journal of Ecology, 97, 206-216.

Jacquemyn, H., Brys, R. & Jongejans, E. (2010) Size-dependent flowering and costs of reproduction affect population dynamics in a tuberous perennial woodland orchid. Journal of Ecology, 98, 1204-1215.

Jacquemyn, H., Lievens, B., Brys, R. & Wiegand, T. (2012) Spatial variation in below-ground seed germination and divergent mycorrhizal associations correlate with spatial segregation of three co-occurring orchid species. Journal of Ecology, 100, 1328-1337.

Kéry, M. & Gregg, K.B. (2003) Effects of life-state on detectability in a demographic study of the terrestrial orchid Cleistes bifaria. Journal of Ecology, 91, 265-273.

Kéry, M. and Gregg, K.B. (2004) Demographic analysis of dormancy and survival in the terrestrial orchid Cypripedium reginae. Journal of Ecology, 92, 686-695.

Robbirt, K.M., Davy, A.J., Hutchings, M.J. & Roberts, D.L. (2011) Validation of biological collections as a source of phenological data for use in climate change studies: a case study with the orchid Ophrys sphegodes. Journal of Ecology, 99, 235-241.

Shefferson, R.P. & Tali, K. (2007) Dormancy is associated with decreased adult survival in the burnt orchid, Neotinea ustulata. Journal of Ecology, 95, 217-225.

Shefferson, R.P. & Simms, E.L. (2007) Costs and benefits of fruiting to future reproduction in two dormancy-prone orchids. Journal of Ecology, 95, 865-875.

Williams, J.L., Jacquemyn, H., Ochocki, B.M., Brys, R. & Miller, T.E.X. (2015) Life history evolution under climate change and its influence on the population dynamics of a long-lived plant. Journal of Ecology, 103, 798-808.

Editor’s Choice 103:5

Why aren’t cushion plants always the best facilitators? Consequences of eco-evo processes in alpine systems.

In recent decades facilitation in plant communities has moved from being largely neglected to a well-established phenomenon (Brooker et al. 2008). However, the simple picture of greater facilitation in stressful environments is gradually fading. Not only does abiotic stress change along environmental gradients, facilitators change too. It appears that foundation species such as cushion plants in alpine systems vary in their growth form along environmental stress gradients and exert different effects on subordinate species occupying the cushions (Michalet et al. 2011; Al Hayek et al. 2014). Do cushion plants respond plastically to environmental variation or do they locally adapt to different environments? What are the consequences of plastic and heritable growth form differences for the species attempting to establish inside these cushions? Al Hayek et al. designed a clever reciprocal transplant experiment to resolve these questions and focus on the interface between ecological and evolutionary processes.

The two experimental sites (convex site on the left, and concave site on the right).

The two experimental sites (convex site on the left, and concave site on the right).

They collected distinct individuals of Festuca gautieri from two microhabitats in a subalpine community – tight cushions from dry convex outcrops and loose cushions from wet concave slopes –propagated them in common conditions and reciprocally transplanted them back to convex and concave microhabitats in adjacent common gardens. They found that plants collected from different habitats were morphologically distinct after four years of propagation and grew best in their home environments, suggesting that tight and loose growth forms reflect local adaptation to high-stress and low-stress microenvironments, respectively. However, plants were also highly responsive to their environment and showed plastic changes in multiple traits, towards tight growth forms in high-stress and loose growth forms in low-stress common gardens. Thus, variation in cushion growth form along the stress gradient reflects both heritable differences and plastic responses.

The two phenotypes of Festuca gautieri in their natural habitats at La Pierre Saint Martin (Atlantic Pyrenees, France): tight cushion in rocky convex topography (upper cushion) and loose cushion in concave topography (lower cushion).

The two phenotypes of Festuca gautieri in their natural habitats at La Pierre Saint Martin (Atlantic Pyrenees, France): tight cushion in rocky convex topography (upper cushion) and loose cushion in concave topography (lower cushion).

The results also showed that a high-stress environment generally reduces plant growth and shifts interactions from competitive to facilitative, but it also selects for compact growth forms in facilitators. When seedling survival and richness of establishing subordinate species was examined, it was the loose cushions that showed a facilitative effect on seedlings, while the tight cushions, which are typical of high-stress microenvironments, generally suppressed seedling establishment. In other words, subordinate seedlings get the worst facilitators when they need them most! This raises a question regarding the driving force behind selection for tight growth forms in high-stress habitats. Is it merely due to selection for avoidance of drought stress? Could a tight growth form also be a result of selection for reduced facilitating characteristics and an enhanced ability to physically preclude the establishment of potential competitors?

These are not all of the thought-provoking results that Al Hayek et al. have uncovered. Read on to learn more.

Marina Semchenko
Associate Editor,  Journal of Ecology


Al Hayek, P., Touzard, B., Le Bagousse-Pinguet, Y. & Michalet, R. (2014) Phenotypic differentiation within a foundation grass species correlates with species richness in a subalpine community. Oecologia, 176, 533–544.

Brooker, R.W., Maestre, F.T., Callaway, R.M., Lortie, C.L., Cavieres, L.A., Kunstler, G. et al. (2008) Facilitation in plant communities: the past, the present, and the future. Journal of Ecology, 96, 18–34.

Michalet, R., Xiao, S., Touzard, B., Smith, D.S., Cavieres, L.A., Callaway, R.M. et al. (2011) Phenotypic variation in nurse traits and community feedbacks define an alpine community. Ecology Letters, 14, 433–443.

Some ESA 2015 afterthoughts on Population Ecology, Twitter and BronyCon

The annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America took place a bit over a week ago (Aug 8-14th 2015) in the city of Baltimore, MD. The centennial of largest national ecological society in the world was no joke, and I can’t imagine how much work must have gone behind the scenes for the impeccable conference ESA pulled off, as usual, but this time with over 4,000 delegates. Once again, I initially approached this conference with a “less is more” philosophy… which I rather quickly had to trash as I started browsing online in the ESA conference personal scheduler app, realizing I wish I could produce ramets and send them to different co-occurring talks. This is what my week ended up looking like… pretty sure I wasn’t the only one, based on how many people I saw running from one room to another along that long corridor.

Fig 1_Rob S-G

Fig. 1. A typical (?) ESA schedule: trying to be in four different places at the same time

Indeed, this ESA was packed with plenty of exciting stuff… and the readers of the blog of Journal of Ecology must forgive me for devoting this paragraph to the unexpected partial overlap with another conference: BronyCon. I had just landed in Baltimore, and my jetlag and I were faced with adults and teenagers alike dressed as “My Little Pony” and other fun-looking costumes checking into hotels and taking over the downtown. *I am but left with the question: what do bronies talk about in their meetings? Do they give talks like we do? Are the effects of “My Little Pony” herbivory on prairies a concern to them? Perhaps stamping and fertilization on grassland community composition and diversity? Or the efficiency behind the physiology of flying vs. trotting? Have they implemented a lightening talk format like ESA has (I gave one this year and it was fun)? The only thing I was able to discover (yep, I snuck into their side of the convention center for a coffee from that kilometric queue) was that some of them play Street Fighter-like “My Little Pony”videogames. Interesting, to say the least.

*You are encouraged to read the rest of this paragraph with the narrating voice of Sir David Attenborough in your mind.

Fig. 2. A BronyCon delegate… speechless!

Fig. 2. A BronyCon delegate… speechless!

The opening of the ESA was particularly motivating, as the invited speakers and accomplished awardees did an excellent job at narrating the history of 100 years of progress of American (and international) ecology. It is clear to anybody in ecology that we are finally moving from descriptive to predictive, and that part of that has been facilitated by classical theories, advanced stats, and the “R revolution” (below). A big surprise during the opening was Obama’s video congratulating the Society.

The annual meeting came with a large number of great symposia and organized oral sessions, and population ecology was every where. I particularly enjoyed the lightening talk symposium on “Advances, Frontiers, Applications, and Challenges within and Across Ecological Disciplines: A Celebration of ESA’s Centennial, and a Roadmap for the Next 100 Years”. Deborah Goldberg, recently honored as Eminent Ecologist virtual issue in Journal of Ecology, gave a killer talk on the past, present and some suggestions for future directions for community ecology… all of that in 5 minutes and on auto-advanced slides!

The conference was full of events I wasn’t able to attend, and I must highlight very especially the workshops put together by Naupaka Zimmerman and collaborators on R for intro-users, R for community ecology analyses, and R for scientific plotting. The reason I couldn’t attend those is that my colleagues and I were busy running two workshops on comparative demography with the recently launched new version of COMPADRE, and another on integral projection models. There seems to be quite a bit of interest in demography at large and population ecology in specific at ESA, as showcased by two organized oral sessions. One of them, co-organized by Norma Fowler, Tom Miller, Eelke Jongejans and myself, now offers the scripts used to develop the science behind the talks fully open access. Our hope is that the usage of this tool in novel ways to address a wide repertoire of ecological and evolutionary questions will trigger other potential users’ imagination to use it even in more creative ways.

Fig. 3. Orou Gaoue (Univ Hawai’i) explains his approach to model the demographic effects of on non-timber forest products at the individual level at our “Demography gone wild: applications of integral projection models in molecular ecology, functional ecology, community ecology and conservation biology”.

Fig. 3. Orou Gaoue (Univ Hawai’i) explains his approach to model the demographic effects of on non-timber forest products at the individual level at our “Demography gone wild: applications of integral projection models in molecular ecology, functional ecology, community ecology and conservation biology”.

The symposium on “A century of structured population models in ecology” organized by Hal Caswell and Andre de Roos was a must-attend and it was packed. This event contained some very interesting new ramifications of structured population models for microbes, dispersal, individual heterogeneity, sex-ratio evolution and infectious diseases, to mention a few, given mostly by early career researchers (e.g., Kristen Hunter-Cervera, Will Petry, Jess Metcalf, Allison Shaw).

Other events I highly enjoyed included an organized poster session on “Drones for Ecology: New Sampling Tools for Personal Remote Sensing of Ecosystems”, the symposium “Scaling in Ecology: Building a Synthetic and Predictive Science for the Next 100 Years” organized by Brian Enquist et al., and several presentations by other early career ecologists on “Modeling stochastic within-host pathogen growth to predict host growth and life history tradeoffs” by Arietta Fleming-Davies, “Linking nutritional condition to population performance in a shifting climate: Approaching the holy grail” by Thomas Stephenson, and “Low-assumption fitting of interaction kernels: Spline models for neighborhood competition” by Collin Edwards. The latter constitutes what I think is a breakthrough in the way we incorporate inter- and intra-specific relationships in population models; it seems a rather computational demanding approach, based on splines and IPMs, but I can’t wait to read the publication once it comes out (I hope that the authors send it to Journal of Ecology!).

Final thought: I am not sure if this is now an ESA conference official policy, but in a series of organized oral sessions and symposia, the presider reminded the attendees that we should assume that the presenters would prefer not to have their presentations photographed or tweeted –unless otherwise stated by the speaker– and to act consequently by not taking photos or using Twitter… in my humble opinion**, this is a (huge) step backwards, and a rather anachronistic one, if we consider the recent foundation of the Open Science Section of the ESA. Just as with the principle of presumption of innocent, I humbly suggest that open-access should be the default assumption, unless the author explicitly asks not to take photos/tweet about the presentation. An opt-out option could be made available in the online abstract submission, or perhaps a symbol could be created to append to the talks so it is visually obvious to the attendees when not to photograph/tweet about the talk. After all, in most cases, why else would one present one’s research at the largest national ecological conference like ESA, but to get the word out?

**This is my very own opinion, and in no way it represents necessarily the views of the BES or Journal of Ecology.

Fig. 4. Some tweets on the no-photo/no-tweet controversy at ESA.

Fig. 4. Some tweets on the no-photo/no-tweet controversy at ESA.

Next year, the ESA takes place in Fort Lauderdale. I’m already looking forward to the trip to Florida and to keep on engaging with such a vibrant community of ecologists around the world! Hopefully no announcements will be necessary on photos/twiter. Too bad that BronyCon will not take place there… will we at least get a One Direction concert too?!

Rob Salguero-Gómez

Associate Editor of Journal of Ecology

The Eco-evolutionary Dilemma

This is a guest post by Associate Editor Richard P. Shefferson, who recently also guest-edited a Special Feature for Journal of Ecology.

The most recent issue of Journal of Ecology (July 2015) includes a Special Feature on Eco-evolutionary Dynamics in Plants. The Special Feature consists of five research papers and an editorial, and the themes covered include genetic variation (Shaw et al., 2015, Lamit et al., 2015), adaptive plasticity (Metcalf et al., 2015), community structure (Lamit et al., 2015), herbivore evolution (Utsumi, 2015), inbreeding (Shaw et al., 2015), density dependence (Williams et al., 2015, Metcalf et al., 2015)and climate change (Williams et al., 2015), all from the eco-evo perspective. Although this is not the first special issue of a major ecological journal on this topic, it is nonetheless the first to highlight the role of and opportunities offered by plant ecological research in this rather new field.

The essential realization that has led to the development of this sub-discipline of evolutionary ecology is that evolution is not necessarily slow, as has often been supposed by both ecologists and evolutionary biologists alike, but that it may be – and actually often is – quite rapid. In fact, as many others have pointed out, it is rapid enough to occur at the same pace as many other ecological processes (Hairston Jr. et al., 2005). This overlapping timescale yields more questions than answers, and causes a fundamental reassessment of assumptions in ecological and evolutionary analyses (Shefferson and Salguero-Gómez, 2015). For example, phylogenetic analysis assumes that macroevolution is a fundamentally slow process that does not feed back onto ecological systems except at long timescales. But, as we now know, this may not be fair. How do overlapping timescales affect our understanding of macroevolution (Shefferson and Salguero-Gómez, 2015)?

The roots of eco-evolutionary dynamics are diverse, and rather than present a list of names and their contributions, I will direct the reader both to the editorial for this special feature (Shefferson and Salguero-Gómez, 2015), which includes a short history of the field, and a few other important papers with some of the history detailed (Reznick, 2013, Pelletier et al., 2009, Hairston Jr. et al., 2005). However, I do wish to use this opportunity to present the contributions to the field of an evolutionary biologist who has exerted a major influence without necessarily being recognized for his importance. That individual is John B. S. Haldane, who is quoted at the beginning of the editorial.

Haldane was most certainly an important evolutionary biologist, known most for his contributions to the Darwinian Synthesis. He is also rather well-known for his staunch support of socialism and communism, his naturalization to India, and his criticism of the influence of money in science. However, among his most interesting writings are those that relate to the speed of evolution. Haldane often thought about how quickly natural selection can act, and suggested that rapid evolution might be quite rare. There were several reasons for this statement, most famously those dealing with the since resolved “Haldane’s dilemma”, which suggested that multiple traits in the same organism were not likely to evolve quickly via natural or even artificial selection because of the requirement of strong, consistent genetic correlations among those traits, combined with potentially harsh selection that would dramatically reduce the overall population growth rate (Haldane, 1957). Theoretical writings such as this and others by Haldane inspired some great research on the speed of evolution, and influenced even conservation via the concept of evolutionary rescue (Haldane, 1939, Carlson et al., 2014). These ideas are very important today, particularly when considered in light of the potential for evolution to interact with ecological processes via eco-evolutionary feedback (Yoshida et al., 2003).

My hope in co-editing this Special Feature is that other evolutionary ecologists will develop new theoretical and empirical systems in order to re-develop the field of evolutionary ecology with the new understanding of the overlapping timescales of ecology and evolution. This is very necessary, particularly because the dilemma facing evolutionary ecologists is not whether or not natural selection can act quickly, as it was in Haldane’s day, but rather that we know that it can and often does act quickly, yet do not understand the resulting consequences.

Rich Shefferson
Special Feature Guest Editor
Associate Editor – Journal of Ecology


Carlson, S. M., Cunningham, C. J. & Westley, P. A. H. (2014) Evolutionary rescue in a changing world. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 29, 521-530.

Hairston Jr., N. G., Ellner, S. P., Geber, M. A., Yoshida, T. & Fox, J. A. (2005) Rapid evolution and the convergence of ecological and evolutionary time. Ecology Letters, 8, 1114-1127.

Haldane, J. B. S. (1939) The effect of variation of fitness. The American Naturalist, 71, 337-349.

Haldane, J. B. S. (1957) The cost of natural selection. Journal of Genetics, 55, 511-524.

Lamit, L. J., Busby, P. E., Lau, M. K., Compson, Z. G., Wojtowicz, T., Keith, A. R., Zinkgraf, M. S., Schweitzer, J. A., Shuster, S. M., Gehring, C. A. & Whitham, T. G. (2015) Tree genotype mediates covariance among diverse communities from microbes to arthropods. Journal of Ecology, 103, 840-850.

Metcalf, C. J. E., Burqhardt, L. & Koons, D. N. (2015) Avoiding the crowds: the evolution of plastic responses to seasonal cues in a density dependent world. Journal of Ecology, 103, 819-828.

Pelletier, F., Garant, D. & Hendry, A. P. (2009) Eco-evolutionary dynamics. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364, 1483-1489.

Reznick, D. N. (2013) A critical look at reciprocity in ecology and evolution: introduction to the symposium. The American Naturalist, 181, S1-S8.

Shaw, R. G., Wagenius, S. & Geyer, C. j. (2015) The susceptibility of Echinacea angustifolia to a specialist aphid: eco-evolutionary perspective on genotypic variation and demographic consequences. Journal of Ecology, 103, 809-818.

Shefferson, R. P. & Salguero-Gómez, R. (2015) Eco-evolutionary dynamics in plants: interactive processes at overlapping timescales and their implications. Journal of Ecology, 103, 789-797.

Utsumi, S. (2015) Feeding evolution of a herbivore influences an arthropod community through plants: implications for plant-mediated eco-evolutionary feedback loop. Journal of Ecology, 103, 829-839.

Williams, J. L., Jacquemyn, H., Ochocki, B. M., Brys, R. & Miller, T. E. X. (2015) Life history evolution under climate change and its influence on the population dynamics of a long-lived plant. Journal of Ecology, 103, 798-808.

Yoshida, T., Jones, L. E., Ellner, S. E., Fussmann, G. F. & Hairston Jr., N. G. (2003) Rapid evolution drives ecological dynamics in a predator-prey system. Nature, 424, 303-306.