Meet the Team at ESA 2016

The annual ESA meeting is fast approaching. This year it’s in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and I’ll be heading across the pond, along with Catherine Hill, our Head of Publications and Hazel Norman, our Executive Director, to chat to delegates about Journal of Ecology, as well as our other journals and the BES as a whole.

ESA 2016

ESA, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 7th -12th August 2016

The Journal of Ecology Executive Editor David Gibson will also be attending the meeting as will several of our very hard working Associate Editors. I’m looking forward to a productive meeting with all of them and also to thanking them in person for their help towards making Journal of Ecology the success that it is.

If you’re attending ESA and are a reader of the journal, thinking of submitting, or would like to make suggestions for improvements or content, please come and find me, Catherine or Hazel at the BES stand for a chat. We’ll be at stand number 202-204.

In addition to the three of us, David Gibson along with Alan Knapp, one our sister journal Functional Ecology’s Senior Editors will be at the stand during the Wednesday 10th August poster session to answer your questions about publishing in our journals.

Finally, if you’re interested in finding out about the great work the BES does to communicate and promote ecological knowledge around the world, come and meet our amazing President Sue Hartley at our stand on Tuesday 9 August between 4.30pm and 6.30pm.

When we’re not at the stand you’ll mainly find us outside enjoying the only sun we’re likely to get this year, before heading back to grey old London!

Emilie Aimé
Managing Editor

No functional redundancy in freshwater bacterial community

New lay summary wrote by Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo about his paper”Lack of functional redundancy in the relationship between microbial diversity and ecosystem functioning” published in the last issue (July) of Journal of Ecology. Happy reading! 

The shape of the relationship between microbial diversity and ecosystem function (BEF) remains unclear, which limits our capacity to assess the impact of microbial diversity depletion on key ecosystem functions for human well-being, such as CO2 respiratory fluxes and toxin degradation. This knowledge is, moreover, key to predicting ecosystem functions under changing environment and formulating sustainable natural resource management and conservation policies. Here we conducted three independent microcosm experiments to assess the shape of the bacterial BEF relationship in multiple freshwater ecosystems from Australia and United Kingdom.

Our results provide solid evidence that unlike the positive but decelerating BEF relationship observed most frequently in plants and animals, most evaluated functional measurements were related to bacterial diversity in a non-redundant fashion (e.g. exponentially and/or linearly). Reduced bacterial diversity, even after accounting for biomass, caused a decrease in broad (i.e., CO2 respiratory fluxes: conducted by many microbial communities) and specialized (toxin degradation: conducted by few microbial communities) functions in all cases.

Altogether, our results indicate that any loss of freshwater bacterial diversity can disproportionately promote high losses in ecosystem functioning; thus the consequences of declining microbial diversity on ecosystem functioning and human welfare have likely been considerably underestimated.

Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo
Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment
Western Sydney University


Adaptation: an invasion mechanism adopted by an alien seaweed

Mahasweta Saha and collaborators have an interesting paper published in the last issue (July) of Journal of Ecology titled “Rapid adaptation to controlling new microbial epibionts in the invaded range promotes invasiveness of an exotic seaweed“. The lead author of this article, Mahasweta Saha, wrote a blog post below describing the context and results of her research.

Along with ocean warming and habitat and biodiversity loss, invasive species are one of the important components of global change. Rabbits are classic examples of invasive species from the terrestrial environment. According to a news article published in The Guardian in 2010, “Britain’s 40m rabbits cost more than £260m a year in damage to crops, businesses and infrastructure”. Even if we disregard the damage that they cause at national and international level, I know from my personal experience that these cute little bunnies are not welcomed at all!

My neighbours in Suchsdorf (Kiel, Germany) do not appreciate the local rabbit population as these rabbits frequently munch on their plants causing damage to their beautiful garden. In response, my neighbours installed electric wire around the garden to stop wild rabbits from entering. Initially, this appeared to be working but to our surprise, the bunnies turned out to be very smart. To cope with the new challenge of the electric wire, I observed that they simply adjusted their hop’s height and made higher hops compared to their usual ones. Thus, the smart bunnies simply adapted themselves to the new challenge that they faced in their life.

This story is very much applicable to my study published in Journal of Ecology, entitled “Rapid adaptation to controlling new microbial epibionts in the invaded range promotes invasiveness of an exotic seaweed” which involved a model seaweed Gracilaria vermiculophylla adopting a similar strategy to survive and thrive in a new invaded environment. This East Asian red algae is actually one of the top most alien seaweed species that has been introduced to Europe. It was first detected in significant amounts along the Kiel Fjord (Baltic sea) in 2005, followed by a ‘bust’ and subsequent regrowth of their population in the following years. Looking for the reasons, we analyzed the defense mechanisms of native (South Korean population) and alien Gracilaria (German and Danish population) against bacterial enemies originating from respective local habitats.


Red algae Gracilaria vermiculophylla growing attached in stones in Nordstand (North Sea)

By an elegant experimental approach, which included a crosswise testing of alien and native populations of the algal host and co-occuring bacteria, we showed that the native and alien populations of Gracilaria were equally well defended in their actual habitat, but weakly defended when confronted to potentially harmful bacterial enemies from the other habitats. This means that, within a few years, the alien population lost its defence capacities against its old foes but acquired potent defenses against the new ones.

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M. Saha with Gracilaria vermiculophylla in the climate chamber of GEOMAR

Our study is novel and exciting because it is the first study demonstrating the role of defence adaptation to new bacterial enemies in contributing to the success of an alien plant invasion. Such adaptation dynamics could be also applicable to other types of host plants, enemy interaction in general, and for cases of shifting plant and enemy interactions under climate change.

Mahasweta Saha
Department of Experimental Ecology
Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research

Ecological Inspirations: soils, herbivores, and chronosequences


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Richard Bardgett is Professor of Ecology at The University of Manchester (UK) and Senior Editor of Journal of Ecology. His research is concerned with understanding the role of interactions between plant and soil communities in regulating the structure and function of terrestrial ecosystems, and their response to global change. In his blog post below, Richard shares with us the ecological inspirations that have guided his research over many years.


Selecting an ecological inspiration from the literature is a difficult task. The work of many ecologists has inspired and guided my research, and these inspirations have changed with time. During my early years as a PhD student, I was strongly influenced by the work of David Coleman of the University of Georgia, a pioneer of the ecological exploration of soil. David’s research provided some of the earliest demonstrations of the significance of belowground trophic interactions for ecosystem processes (e.g., Coleman et al 1983; Ingham et al. 1985), which is now a dominant theme in ecology populating many pages of the Journal of Ecology. What excited me about David’s work, and that of others working on soil ecology at that time, was that it brought ecology to the study of soil, and below-ground ecology to the above-ground world.

Following my PhD, the work of Sam McNaughton from Syracuse provided me with much inspiration. I was especially inspired by his work on the influence of large herbivores on Serengeti grasslands, including their soils. What excited me about Sam McNaughton’s work was that it highlighted the importance of links between plants and soil processes in the real world, in his case for understanding how large herbivores modify grassland ecosystems. Many of Sam’s papers have guided my work, but if I had to choose one it would be his 1997 study published in Science (McNaughton et al. 1997). This was a simple, but elegant study that demonstrated that large, free-ranging mammalian grazers accelerate nutrient cycling in a way that alleviates soil nutrient deficiencies and, in doing so, enhances the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. This discovery speaks for itself, but what also stands out about this paper is the eloquence of the writing, which is fluent and tells a captivating story. I still use this paper as a case study in my lectures to undergraduates, and I also urge postgraduate students to read it as an excellent example of how to write a scientific paper.

 In 1998, I was fortunate to visit Alaska to work on the classic chronosequence formed in deglaciated terrain at Glacier Bay. I travelled to Glacier Bay to carry out fieldwork as part of a larger study with David Wardle and Lars Walker exploring causes of forest decline. But the reason I mention this trip is because it made me aware of another ecological inspiration: Crocker and Major’s 1955 study of soil development in relation to vegetation and surface age at Glacier Bay, published in Journal of Ecology. This study used a classic chronosequence approach, as others have since done at this site, to demonstrate the rapid rate of soil nitrogen accumulation during early succession, and how it relates to the distribution and development of vegetation. The importance of their study was that it highlighted the role of interactions between plants and soils as drivers of primary succession. In doing so, it paved the way for future explorations of the belowground mechanisms contributing to ecosystem development, including our own.


Field work on recently deglaciated terrain, Muir Glacier, Alaska (credit: Richard Bardgett)

Crocker and Major’s paper on soil development at Glacier Bay has clearly had far-reaching impact. It is among the most cited papers in Journal of Ecology and continues to be cited to this day, some 60 years after it was published. But aside its scientific impact, what I really like about the paper is that it is a fascinating read. Not only do the authors detail the problems that they encountered during their fieldwork, which I know from working at Glacier Bay can be significant, but they also elaborate on how they overcame them. As an example, they describe the laborious and frustrating process of identifying sites for sampling soil, which was made difficult by the coarseness and stoniness of the glacial till. They also detail how, because of these unexpected problems, they abandoned their original lines of investigation and employed “a more elastic, more selective” approach. I know from my own experience that this is often the case when working in the field; what you plan on paper doesn’t always work out in the field. But what I like is the way they detail the inherent problems encountered in their exploration of Glacier Bay, which would probably not be given space today. With this in mind, I often think that there should be an outlet to enable authors to elaborate on the challenges encountered while carrying out their research, especially when done under harsh conditions in the field.

Maybe something to bring up at the next Editor’s meeting!

Richard Bardgett
Senior Editor, Journal of Ecology

How light availability and plant age affect responses to herbivory?

Philip Hahn and John Orrock have an interesting paper accepted in Journal of Ecology titled “Ontogenetic responses of four plant species to additive and interactive effects of land-use history, canopy structure, and herbivory“. The authors have provided a lay summary and a picture of their research below.

Herbivory can have destructive effects on a plant’s ability to survive, grow, and reproduce. Many plants are able to counteract the negative effects of herbivory by regrowing new leaves following attacks by herbivores. Typically, it is assumed that plants growing in rich habitats with plenty of light and nutrients are better able to tolerate herbivory (Maschinski & Whitham 1989). There is also some evidence for the opposite, that plants growing in resource-poor habitats are better able to tolerate herbivory (Hilbert et al. 1981).

We tested these possible outcomes using a landscape experiment that harvested trees in large patches, creating habitats that differed dramatically in environmental conditions (i.e., sunny vs. shady habitats). Within these experimental patches, we planted thousands of seeds and seedlings of four perennial herbaceous plant species and protected half of the plants with cages to exclude grasshopper herbivores. Over two years we measured growth, survival, reproduction and herbivore damage on each plant.

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Longleaf pine ecosystem (South Carolina, USA). Top: Satellite image of one experimental plot showing a two hectare thinned patch surrounded by dense longleaf pine forest (Google Earth). Bottom: Thinned patch (left) and unthinned patch (right). (photo credit: PG Hahn)

Our landscape experiment is unique in that we found support for both models of how plants might respond to herbivory in different resource environments, but this depended on the age of the plants. Interestingly, young plants were more affected by herbivory in shady habitats (i.e., low-resource),whereas older plants were more affected by herbivory in sunny habitats (i.e., high-resource). These findings contribute to understanding when herbivores will negatively affect plants and help to resolve some of the previously conflicting results.

Philip G Hahn
Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

New Faces Behind the Scenes

The Journal of Ecology team is pleased to welcome Emilie Aimé and James Ross, two new faces to Charles Darwin House, the London-based BES Office. Below is a short bio penned by each of them. Authors and reviewers will mostly be working with James who has replaced Lauren Sandhu as Assistant Editor. We were sad to see Lauren leave, albeit for a fantastic new job, but are happy to welcome James on board. As she notes below, Emilie is covering for Andrea with responsibilities that include strategic development and cross-journal coordination.



Emilie Aimé

I joined Journal of Ecology as Managing Editor in November last year, just under a month before the BES annual meeting in Edinburgh (nothing like throwing me in at the deep end!). I am providing maternity cover for Andrea Baier, who has worked on the journal for several years so I’m aware I have big shoes to fill!

Prior to joining the BES I worked for the Royal Society in their publishing team. My academic background is in ecology and so I am very excited to be working for the BES. The first few months in the job have been really enjoyable. My first BES annual meeting, whilst being hectic, was a fantastic opportunity to meet lots of journal editors and authors and really get a feel for how the organisation works. I’m really impressed with how friendly and welcoming the Journal team and the wider BES community are. They’re a great bunch!

I’m really looking forward to contributing to Journal of Ecology’s continued success – so if you have any suggestions do get in touch!

Outside of work I enjoy highbrow(ish) literature, lowbrow (completely) tv and travel (I’m hoping to have a good look around Florida before the ESA meeting this year).

James Ross

I started working with the BES in June 2016 as the Assistant Editor for Journal of Ecology. I have very much enjoyed my time at the BES so far, and am excited to be working on such a well-established and prestigious journal.

I have a fairly assorted background – a Biological Sciences degree from the University of Birmingham, which included an industrial placement year as a Lab Assistant for a diagnostics company also based in Birmingham. I then taught English as foreign language in Costa Rica for a year and travelled in Central America for a few months, before starting my career in publishing at BioMed Central, an Open Access publisher, where I worked for just over a year.

In my free time you’ll find me playing/watching cricket in the summer and playing/watching football during the winter months.

You can get in touch with me anytime through email or tweet the journal @JEcology.

The Biological Flora of the British Isles: 75 years and blooming

Did you know that The Biological Flora of the British Isles celebrates its 75th anniversary this year? The long running and popular series is published in Journal of Ecology alongside the Journal’s other articles, and has featured hundreds of species accounts to date.

Editor Tony Davy has written a piece that was published in the Society’s quarterly magazine for June, The Bulletin, which you can find more information about here.

Readers of the Journal of Ecology will be familiar with the single-species accounts of British plant species that can be found tucked away at the back of most issues. However, after the Journal of Ecology itself (1913) and the Journal of Animal Ecology (1932), the ‘BFBI’ is the British Ecological Society’s longest-running project. It was in 1941 at the bleak height of the Second World War that  Council revived a prescient proposal, made by E.J. (later Sir Edward) Salisbury back in 1928, to publish a series of autecological accounts of British plants (Salisbury 1928). As it had become so  difficult to do new research, they decided that the energies of such ecologists as were still available could be deployed usefully thus: ‘It is felt that the present wartime circumstances, which are unfavourable to long-term investigation and to much field work, may not be so unfavourable to the sorting out of data which have, for the most part, already been collected’ (Foreword 1941). Council resolved that the accounts should be published in the Journal of Ecology and gave responsibility for them to a small committee, including the editors, Arthur (Roy) Clapham and Paul Richards, assisted by a zoologist, O.W Richards, to oversee the anticipated lists of animal feeders. War may have been the practical trigger but the BFBI was also an idea whose time had come. Although a focus on describing vegetation had continued to prevail for much of the first half of the 20th century (Anker 2001), there was now a growing perception of the need for a more experimental approach that would integrate with the findings of plant physiology and animal ecology to explain the distributions of plants, as Clapham recalled later in his Presidential Address (Clapham 1956).

Continue reading

Editor’s Choice 104:4

Issue 104:4 is now online and the Editor’s Choice paper from this issue is Latitudinal variation in herbivory: hemispheric asymmetries and the role of climatic drivers by Zhang et al.

Associate Editor Richard Shefferson has written a post about the paper below.


The Big Bang and thereafter, across latitude

The Earth is a celestial object, and its position in the universe in many ways creates the conditions that have allowed intelligent life to develop here. Astronomy is currently enjoying a golden age of discovery, with astronomers now having found thousands of planets in other parts of the universe. The connection between biology and astrophysics is therefore of great importance to our understanding of life’s origins. However, our place in the universe also impacts the world’s ecological patterns. Although to many people, ecology and astronomy seem incompatible fields, nonetheless some of ecology’s longest standing questions have concerned patterns that are clearly due to some aspects of the Earth’s unique characteristics within the Solar System, and even the Milky Way galaxy. Continue reading

Video Podcast – Harper Prize Highly Commended Paper 2015: Carbon use patterns in marine macrophytes

In the second video podcast dedicated to the highly commended papers of the Harper Prize 2015, Courtney Stepien is presenting the research findings of her paper entitled: “Impacts of geography, taxonomy and functional group on inorganic carbon use patterns in marine macrophytes”. The video is available below and can also be found on the Journal of Ecology YouTube channel.

courtneystepien.jpgCourtney Stepien recently obtained her PhD from the University of Chicago with the project entitled “The role of evolutionary history and ecological interactions in the maintenance of a high-diversity algal assemblage”, supervised by Dr. Catherine Pfister. Courtney’s research explores the roles of evolutionary history and functional diversity in coastal communities, and the response of such communities to disturbance along environmental gradients. More particularly, she is studying carbon uptake by seaweeds, which are the principal actors of carbon cycling in the nearshore coastal areas. This was the research topic of her paper published in Journal of Ecology, in which she highlights the impacts of geography, taxonomy and functional group of marine macrophytes on carbon use patterns. Courtney is currently expanding her study of inorganic carbon usage in marine macrophytes to investigate the evolutionary history of carbon uptake patterns in seaweed and how these patterns may have evolved in response to historic atmospheric changes. 

Pierre Mariotte
Blog Editor, Journal of Ecology

Video Podcast – Harper Prize Highly Commended Paper 2015: Jewelweed’s defense against deer herbivory

Last week, we published a blog post written by the winner of the Harper Prize 2015 Yuuya Tachiki, that you can find here. Each year, as well as selecting an overall winner, the Editors of Journal of Ecology also select two highly commended papers. This year we had two fantastic highly commended papers by Laura Martin et al. and Courtney Stepien et al. This week we want to highlight their research and share with you their novel and interesting results through video podcasts.

In the first video podcast, Laura Martin is presenting the findings of her highly commended paper entitled “Historically browsed jewelweed populations exhibit greater tolerance to deer herbivory than historically protected populations”. The video is available below and can also be found on the Journal of Ecology YouTube channel.


Laura Martin is currently a Ziff Environmental Fellow in the Harvard University Center for the Environment and the Department of the History of Science. She recently obtained her PhD from Cornwell University with the project entitled “Natural and National Recovery: Ecological Restoration in the United States, 1930-1975”. Laura’s research aims at understanding how humans intentionally and unintentionally shape the distribution and diversity of other species. She is thus working at the interplay between environmental history, social and ecological science. Her publications have explored topics as diverse as invasive plants, the indoor biome, and the history of linear regression. In this highly commended Journal of Ecology article, Laura and her colleagues investigate whether a plant that is native and thriving in the eastern United States, jewelweed, has rapidly evolved tolerance to deer herbivory. Laura is currently writing a book on the history of ecological restoration. 

Stay tuned for the second video podcast staring Courtney Stepien and her research on geography, taxonomy and functional group effects on inorganic carbon use patterns in marine macrophytes.

Pierre Mariotte
Blog Editor, Journal of Ecology