Special Features

Read the latest Special Features from Functional Ecology:

Special feature: Defensive Symbiosis
Guest edited by Keith Clay Volume 28, Issue 2

Defensive symbioses are indirect interactions that involve at least three species (host, symbiont and enemy) where the net benefits of symbiosis are contingent on the presence of enemies. Protective or defensive mutualisms have long been recognized, and while a few systems have been well studied, our knowledge of the diversity, distribution, mechanisms and ecological consequences of defensive symbioses is limited. This is despite increasing scientific interest and technological innovations enabling rapid discovery and novel research directions in symbiotic systems. Most macro-organisms support diverse microbial communities, but we have limited understanding of how microbes interact with each other within hosts and with enemies of the host. The results of research on defensive symbiosis have many implications for ecological communities and ecosystems, agriculture and human health.

The goal of this Special Feature is to explore the diversity, mechanisms and consequences of defensive symbiosis mediated by micro-organisms to help organize and interpret the growing body of work and place it within a broader ecological and evolutionary context of mutualism and symbiosis. In the accompanying papers, leading researchers in the field synthesize their own and related research on defensive symbiosis and provide independent perspectives on the current state of the field and future directions – including identifying defensive symbiosis, especially difficult in complex communities of macro- and micro-organisms where it is non-trivial challenge to obtain direct evidence of defensive symbiosis, but also looking at mechanisms of defence, costs and benefits of microbial symbiosis vs. innate defensive mechanisms, dynamics of defensive symbiosis, mechanisms of symbiont transmission and community and ecosystem consequences of defensive symbiosis.

Read all the papers free to download from volume 28, issue 2. You also read all the lay summaries here.

Special feature: Climate Change and Species Range Shifts
Guest edited by Joseph K. Bailey Volume 28, Issue 1

Research indicates that the global climate is rapidly changing, effecting patterns of temperature and precipitation at many geographical scales and that these changes are being caused by human activity. Since future rates of climate change may be greater than those that occurred over the evolutionary history of many terrestrial species, there is an increased need for studies on the evolutionary potential of species to adapt to new environments and an understanding of the traits that are likely to respond. Research questions that arise from this are challenging to answer due to the diversity of disciplines that inform them, including quantitative and molecular genetics, eco-physiology, mathematical modelling, climate science, biogeography as well as community and ecosystem ecology. In climate change research, it is important as well to incorporate an evolutionary perspective and acknowledge that traits are likely to vary throughout a species range and move beyond climate and climate alone as the primary driver of species range shifts. For most species the potential for adaptive evolution in functional traits has been largely overlooked by models that focus instead on niche conservatism and bioclimate envelopes to predict future species ranges.

The implications are that future climate changes have the potential to greatly modify species ranges and/or alter the ability of plants to adapt to future changes .The study of genetic divergence along ecological gradients is fundamental to understanding adaptive evolution and diversification. While much research has focused on the evolutionary diversification of species, there is little understanding of how evolutionary dynamics may impact contemporary ecological interactions or ecosystem processes. Evolution has generally been taught and thought of as a slow process resulting from the accumulation of small genetic changes that may ultimately lead to genetic divergence and speciation. In fact, contemporary rapid evolution has resulted in changes to life-history traits, physiological traits, morphological traits, behavioural traits and even species interactions across many different species. This change in perspective is largely due to three points that are also fundamental to the argument for incorporating an evolutionary perspective into climate change research: rapid evolution is common, genetic divergence occurs along a variety of gradients, including those affected by global change, and genetic divergence in a variety of species can impact ongoing species interactions, community structure, biodiversity and ecosystem function.

Species provide ecosystem services that support the foundation of life on this planet and many of the raw materials that drive global economies. Genetic variation within a species, as well as species' interactions with other species, can impact the ecosystem services that species provide, so it is important to understand the effects of a variable climate on the geographical boundaries and trait variation of populations. We must develop a deeper perspective on how a rapidly changing environment may affect genetic variation, functional traits, species interactions and ultimately, the genetically based services those ecosystems provide. This Special Feature heralds a new direction in climate change research and broadens our perspectives on the consequences of gradients to eco-evolutionary dynamics in a changing world.

Read all the papers free to download from volume 28, issue 1. You also read all the lay summaries here.

Special feature: Mechanisms of Plant Competition
Guest edited by David Robinson, Clare J. Trinder and Rob W. Brooker Volume 27, Issue 4

It is sometimes argued that competition is now such a familiar aspect of ecology that we can learn little more about it that is truly valuable or surprising. But if that were true, why do ecologists still spend so much time arguing about it? Ecology has barely begun to understand competition, either in terms of how it happens between particular individuals in specific locations or, most certainly, in terms of its long-term, large-scale significance. The basic processes of plant competition have been known for a long time, at least at a conceptual, macroscopic level, but characterizing the precise cause-and-effect relationships that allow those and associated processes to occur, quantifying their interactions with others and, crucially, revealing their impacts (if any) on population dynamics or community structure have proven to be fraught with practical difficulties.

The current position is one in which ‘competition’ is as much a part of the plant ecology furniture as it is of ecology generally, not because it is fully understood, but because it is a theoretically useful concept. New evidence and insights now being obtained about the mechanisms by which plants compete will move us closer to achieving the big breakthrough on competition ecology is still waiting for. This Special Feature brings together some of the latest ideas and evidence about how plants compete with one another and points to better ways of addressing the many still-unanswered questions on plant competition.

Read all the papers free to download from volume 27, issue 4. You also read all the lay summaries here.

Extended Spotlight Responses to global climate change: insights from organismal physiology
Guest edited by Steven L. Chown and Ary A. Hoffmann Volume 27, Issue 4
The successful management of biodiversity for conservation, agriculture, or human health-related purposes will depend on improvements to both the accuracy and precision of local-scale ecological forecasting. In this Extended Spotlight, four papers present recent developments in this area, illustrating the importance of what can be termed an ecophysiological forecasting approach. The collection of papers presented here highlights ecophysiological forecasting as a means to improve substantially our current ability to make taxon and area-specific forecasts, especially given brisk developments in understanding of the ways in which ecological interactions can be incorporated into similar approaches. These papers also emphasize the rapidly growing importance of being able to integrate large environmental, trait-based and genomic datasets

Read all the papers free to download from volume 27, issue 4. You also read all the lay summaries here and an accompanying Virtual Issue on Ecophysiological forecasting: predicting adaptation and limits to adaptation.

Special feature: Plant-Microbe-Insect Interactions
Guest edited by Arjen Biere and Alison Bennett Volume 27, Issue 3

The study of “Plant-Microbe-Insect” (PMI) interactions is a relatively young field, but one which has seen huge growth in the past twenty years. Research on PMI interactions has gradually bridged the traditionally separated sub-disciplines of plant pathology, insect pathology, and entomology, and as such represents a broad research field, both in terms of the disciplines involved (from molecular biology to community ecology) and in terms of the diversity of types of interactions that it embodies. Besides their ecological and evolutionary implications, PMI interactions also have implications for fields of economic importance such as agriculture, biological invasions, and conservation.

In this special feature, Arjen Biere and Alison Bennett bring together eight papers reviewing different aspects of these recent advances in the field of Plant-Microbe-Insect interactions, with papers highlighting the ecological and evolutionary importance of three-way interactions between plants, microbes and insects as well as some of the vast progress in unravelling the molecular mechanisms underlying plant responses to beneficial and pathogenic microbes and insects, and their modulation by the abiotic environment. Such insight is important for understanding how plants prioritize their defence responses and cope with multiple stress, but also for understanding patterns of cross-induced resistance and susceptibility between microbes and insects, and for predicting how PMI interactions will respond to environmental change.

The contributions in this issue give a detailed insight in the mechanisms and ecological and evolutionary roles of PMI interactions, that will hopefully inspire the readers to join this young, developing interdisciplinary field.

Read all the papers free to download from volume 27, issue 3. You can also read all the lay summaries for the issue here.

Special feature: The Ecology of Stress
Guest edited by Rudy Boonstra Volume 27, Issue 1

In vertebrates, a key response to life's difficulties is the activation of the stress axis. The study of this axis is one of the best windows we have to see under the surface of the animal into the functional mechanisms it uses to cope. The major reason for this is that glucocorticoids, the key circulating steroid hormones of the stress axis, influence the expression of about 10% of the genome, including genes controlling metabolism, growth, repair, reproduction and the management of resource allocation. At the individual level, the stress axis plays a key role in allowing animals to respond to change and challenge in the face of both environmental certainty and uncertainty. At the species level, the stress axis plays a central role in evolutionary adaptations to particular ecological pressures, such that an understanding of the differences among species is essential to understanding life-history adaptation. This axis plays a role, not just during life's difficulties, but all the time, mediating the relationship of the organism to its environment.

The broad sweep of papers included in this special feature summarizes the breadth and depth of research on the ecology of stress in wild vertebrates. It is an extremely vigorous area of research, where we have made significant headway, but these reviews have also identified controversies of methods and interpretation that future work will have to resolve. They identify the key gaps in our knowledge that link the impact of stress on individuals to population and community processes. They also highlight the complexity of the stress response and the species-specific solutions to the problem of existence. To understand how vertebrates interact with their environment, we must understand how the stress axis functions and its integrative role in adaptation. These papers provide a solid foundation for this understanding.

Read all the papers free to download from volume 27, issue 1. You can also read all the lay summaries for the issue here.

Special feature: Invasions and Infections
Guest edited by Alison M. Dunn and Sarah E. Perkins
Volume 26, Issue 6
Invasive species disrupt native communities worldwide, affecting biodiversity, community structure and processes across a range of ecosystems. Invasions can have devastating impacts on natural communities, on agriculture and on human health. Understanding, predicting and managing biological invasions represents a global challenge.
From individuals to ecosystems, parasites are pervasive. Parasites, by definition, cause harm to their hosts. There is growing evidence that parasites and pathogens can affect the success of an invasion, both though loss of the parasitic biome and also by spill-over effects on the native community.
Here we investigate, across scales, the role of parasites and pathogens and the infections they cause in invasion ecology. The need to synthesise, and to predict and understand ‘Invasions and Infections’, brought leading ecologists together at the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting (UK 2011). In this special issue of Functional Ecology, we bring together a series of seven papers, stimulated by this meeting, that consider the wide ranging effects of parasites in biological invasions.
Read all the papers free to download from volume 26, issue 6. You can also read the lay summaries for this special feature here.

Special feature: Evolutionary Ecology of Plant Defences against Herbivores
Guest edited by Marc T J Johnson
Volume 25, Issue 2
Plants and herbivores represent two of the most diverse groups of organisms on earth and their interactions are fundamental to both basic and applied problems in biology. The articles in this special feature review the recent theoretical, experimental and methodological progress that has been made on the evolutionary ecology of plant defences against herbivores. In some cases, these reviews support long-standing theories with new analyses, whereas in other instances conventional wisdom is called into question and popular hypotheses are rejected.
Overall, this special feature provides a state-of-the-art look at the recent advances and a roadmap for future research on the ecology and evolution of plant-herbivore interactions.  Read all the papers in volume 25, issue 2.

Special feature: Ecological Immunology
Guest edited by Lynn B Martin, Dana Hawley and Daniel Ardia
Volume 25, Issue 1
The immune systems of all organisms vary dynamically with ecological factors and constraints. This special issue on Ecological Immunology aims to unite concepts in this growing field (including tolerance, the role of epistatic and epigenetic constraints, and patterns of disease susceptibility for humans and wildlife) that have the potential to cross taxonomic boundaries and thereby provide a stronger conceptual framework for the study of immune variation over space and time. Read all the papers from this special feature in volume 25, issue 1.

Special feature: The Ecology of Antioxidants & Oxidative Stress in Animals
Guest edited by Kevin McGraw, Peeter Hõrak, David Costantini and Alan Cohen
Volume 24, Issue 5
Studies of antioxidants and oxidative stress were traditionally relegated to biochemical and medical disciplines. However, in the past two decades, these two research areas have been embraced by ecologists and exploded into the new fields of antioxidant ecology and oxidative-stress. This special feature aims to capture the spirit of these emerging fields and dedicated efforts to marry mechanistic and functional perspectives to a fundamental challenge for life on Earth - an oxygen-rich environment.
We highly recommend reading the virtual issue Anitoxidants & Oxidative Stress in Animals in conjunction with this special feature. 

Special feature: Adaptive foragers and community ecology
Guest edited by Andrew Beckerman, Owen Petchey and Peter Morin.
Volume 24, Issue 1
This Special Feature contains five papers that together support a vision for the future of food-web research centred on adaptive behaviour. They are authored by people who might be considered grand masters of the field as well as people just entering academia. Importantly, they provide perspective and insight while stimulating thought about the use and importance of traits across various scales.
Further papers published by Functional Ecology in the field of Food Webs can be read in Andrew & Owen's virtual issue which accompanied this special feature.

Special feature: Floral scent in a whole plant context

Guest edited by Robert Raguso from Cornell University.  
Volume 23, Issue 5
This special feature from Functional Ecology addressed the need to explore the full range of fitness consequences of floral VOC variation, and the need to understand how plants use floral VOCs to consolidate their reproductive and defensive imperatives. To read the full introduction and all the papers on Wiley Online Library published in the October 2009 issue of Functional Ecology.

Special feature: Nutritional Ecology
Guest edited by David Raubenheimer and Carol Boggs
Volume 23, Issue 1
Our first issue of 2009 saw the publication of a new special feature  comprising eight invited peer-reviewed articles presenting the most up-to-date research in Nutritional Ecology. This special feature was accompanied by a virtual issue of papers from the same theme. Click here to read the virtual issue introduction and selected nutritional ecology papers. 

Special feature: Towards a Predictive Understanding of Belowground Process Responses to Climate Change
Guest edited by Elise Pendall, Lindsay Rustad and Josh Schimel
Volume 22, Issue 6
The December 2008 issue of Functional Ecology included a guest editorial and 7 papers on belowground process responses to climate change.   The guest editors highlighted some of the advances being made and provided directions for future research.  

Special feature:  The Evolutionary Ecology of Senescence
Guest edited by Pat Monaghan, Anne Charmantier, Dan Nussey and Rob Ricklefs
Volume 22, Issue 3
The June 2008 issue included seven influential review articles on the evolutionary ecology of senescence.  Monaghan et al selected papers which considered the underlying causes of senescence looking at the evolutionary ecology of the ageing process summarising the principal mechanisms thought to be involved. 

Special feature: Sexual Selection, Physiology and Performance
Guest edited by Duncan Irschick, Raoul van Damme and Anthony Herrel
Volume 21, Issue 4
This was the second of Functional Ecology's 2007 special features. Papers in this feature focused on a functional approach to sexual selection.  The issue includes 6 papers and a introduction by Irschick et al.

Special feature: Evolution on Ecological Time-scales
Guest edited by Andrew Hendry, Scott Carroll and David Reznick
Volume 21, Issue 3
Hendry et al brought together 7 papers for this special feature looking at factors that influence evolution on ecological time-scales and to assess the consequences of such evolution.  

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