Understanding the role of interspecific interactions in shaping ecological communities is one of the central goals in community ecology. In fungal communities, measuring interspecific interactions directly is challenging because these communities are composed of large numbers of species, many of which are unculturable. An indirect way of assessing the role of interspecific interactions in determining community structure is to identify the species co-occurrences that are not constrained by environmental conditions. In this study, we investigated co-occurrences among root-associated fungi, asking whether fungi co-occur more or less strongly than expected based on the environmental conditions and the host plant species examined. We generated molecular data on root-associated fungi of five plant species evenly sampled along an elevational gradient at a high arctic site. We analysed the data using a joint species distribution modelling approach that allowed us to identify those co-occurrences that could be explained by the environmental conditions and the host plant species, as well as those co-occurrences that remained unexplained and thus more probably reflect interactive associations. Our results indicate that not only negative but also positive interactions play an important role in shaping microbial communities in arctic plant roots. In particular, we found that mycorrhizal fungi are especially prone to positively co-occur with other fungal species. Our results bring new understanding to the structure of arctic interaction networks by suggesting that interactions among root-associated fungi are predominantly positive.
Many empirical studies of metacommunities have focused on the classification of observational patterns into four contrasting paradigms characterized by different levels of movement and habitat heterogeneity. However, deeper insight into the underlying local and regional processes may be derived from a combination of long-term observational data and experimental studies. With the aim of exploring forces structuring the insect metacommunity on oak, we fit a hierarchical Bayesian state-space model to data from observations and experiments. The fitted model reveals large variation in species-specific dispersal abilities and basic reproduction numbers, R0. The residuals from the model show only weak correlations among species, suggesting a lack of strong interspecific interactions. Simulations with model-derived parameter estimates indicate that habitat configuration and species attributes both contribute substantially to structuring insect communities. Overall, our findings demonstrate that community-level variation in movement and life history are key drivers of metacommunity dynamics.
While recent studies have elucidated many of the factors driving parasite dynamics during the growing season, the ecological and evolutionary dynamics during the off-season (i.e. the period between growing seasons) remain largely unexplored. We combined large-scale surveys and detailed experiments to investigate the overwintering success of the specialist plant pathogen Podosphaera plantaginis on its patchily distributed host plant Plantago lanceolata in the Åland Islands. Twelve years of epidemiological data establish the off-season as a crucial stage in pathogen metapopulation dynamics, with c. 40% of the populations going extinct during the off-season. At the end of the growing season, we observed environmentally mediated variation in the production of resting structures, with major consequences for spring infection at spatial scales ranging from single individuals to populations within a metapopulation. Reciprocal transplant experiments further demonstrated that pathogen population of origin and overwintering site jointly shaped infection intensity in spring, with a weak signal of parasite adaptation to the local off-season environment. We conclude that environmentally mediated changes in the distribution and evolution of parasites during the off-season are crucial for our understanding of host-parasite dynamics, with applied implications for combating parasites and diseases in agriculture, wildlife and human disease systems.
How community-level specialization differs among groups of organisms, and changes along environmental gradients, is fundamental to understanding the mechanisms influencing ecological communities. In this paper, we investigate the specialization of root-associated fungi for plant species, asking whether the level of specialization varies with elevation. For this, we applied DNA barcoding based on the ITS region to root samples of five plant species equivalently sampled along an elevational gradient at a high arctic site. To assess whether the level of specialization changed with elevation and whether the observed patterns varied between mycorrhizal and endophytic fungi, we applied a joint species distribution modeling approach. Our results show that host plant specialization is not environmentally constrained in arctic root-associated fungal communities, since there was no evidence for changing specialization with elevation, even if the composition of root-associated fungal communities changed substantially. However, the level of specialization for particular plant species differed among fungal groups, root-associated endophytic fungal communities being highly specialized on particular host species, and mycorrhizal fungi showing almost no signs of specialization. Our results suggest that plant identity affects associated mycorrhizal and endophytic fungi differently, highlighting the need of considering both endophytic and mycorrhizal fungi when studying specialization in root-associated fungal communities.
Climate change is known to shift species' geographical ranges, phenologies and abundances, but less is known about other population dynamic consequences. Here, we analyse spatio-temporal dynamics of the Glanville fritillary butterfly (Melitaea cinxia) in a network of 4000 dry meadows during 21 years. The results demonstrate two strong, related patterns: the amplitude of year-to-year fluctuations in the size of the metapopulation as a whole has increased, though there is no long-term trend in average abundance; and there is a highly significant increase in the level of spatial synchrony in population dynamics. The increased synchrony cannot be explained by increasing within-year spatial correlation in precipitation, the key environmental driver of population change, or in per capita growth rate. On the other hand, the frequency of drought during a critical life-history stage (early larval instars) has increased over the years, which is sufficient to explain the increasing amplitude and the expanding spatial synchrony in metapopulation dynamics. Increased spatial synchrony has the general effect of reducing long-term metapopulation viability even if there is no change in average metapopulation size. This study demonstrates how temporal changes in weather conditions can lead to striking changes in spatio-temporal population dynamics.
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