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Emma Sayer and Ken Thompson talk about Emma's virtual issue: Making the Most of Microbes. Microorganisms carry out a large number of fundamental processes that underpin ecosystem function. The enormous diversity and high functional overlap of soil microbes in particular makes this an exciting but challenging area of research in functional ecology. Due consideration of microbial communities and function is particularly important for assessing changes in ecosystem elemental cycling, species interactions, and successional patterns. Technological advances have greatly improved our understanding of microbial processes but more fundamental research on microbial communities and functions will help us better comprehend ecosystem responses to change. This virtual issue takes a look at some of the advances in ecosystem research made possible by considering microbial processes and populations within the bigger picture of ecosystem function.
Thomas Hasper and Johan Uddling talk to FE Editor Alan Knapp about their recent paper "Water use by Swedish boreal forests in a changing climate. The ongoing increases in atmospheric CO2 and temperature have the potential to alter the flux of water vapor through plant leaf stomata, but relatively little is known about the water-use responses of boreal forests. In this study, Hasper et al examined the water-use responses of Swedish boreal forests to climate change by using long-term monitoring as well as experimental data. They used climate and runoff data of large-scale boreal landscapes from the past 50 years to explore historical trends and patterns, as well as we examining explicit tree water-use responses to elevated [CO2] and/or air temperature in a whole-tree chamber experiment using mature Norway spruce trees. Their findings have important implications for projections of the future hydrology of European boreal coniferous forests, indicating that changes in precipitation and standing biomass are more important than effects of elevated [CO2] or temperature on tree transpiration rates. Hasper, T. B., Wallin, G., Lamba, S., Hall, M., Jaramillo, F., Laudon, H., Linder, S., Medhurst, J. L., Räntfors, M., Sigurdsson, B. D. and Uddling, J. (2015), Water use by Swedish boreal forests in a changing climate. Funct Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2435.12546
Robbie Wilson talks to Amy Hahs about using urban ecosystems to expand fundamental ecological knowledge. Amy Hahs guest-edited our latest Special Feature: Ecology of Organisms in Urban Environments with Karl Evans. You can read the Special Feature here.
Alan Knapp talks to Anita Narwani and Patrick Vernail about their new Extended Spotlight: Community Phylogenetics and Ecosystem Functioning.
Read the Extended Spotlight online here.
In this study, Isabelle Marechaux and her co-authors looked at leaf water potential at wilting or turgor loss point (πtlp), which determines tolerance of leaves to drought stress. By using a new method based on a demonstrated association between πtlp and another trait, the leaf osmotic water potential at full hydration, they were able to estimate πtlp for 165 trees of 71 species, at three sites within forests in French Guiana. This dataset is a significant increase in information for tropical tree species and indicates a potential for highly diverse species responses to drought within given forest communities. Given the weak correlations between πtlp and traditionally measured plant functional traits, vegetation models seeking to predict forest response to drought should integrate improved quantification of comparative drought tolerance among tree species.
Read the full paper online here: Maréchaux, I., Bartlett, M. K., Sack, L., Baraloto, C., Engel, J., Joetzjer, E., Chave, J. (2015), Drought tolerance as predicted by leaf water potential at turgor loss point varies strongly across species within an Amazonian forest. Functional Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12452 or the lay summary here.
Duncan Irschick talks to Coleman M. Sheehy III about how arboreality and the associated gravitational stress on blood circulation have influenced the evolution of tail length in snakes. Since their evolutionary origins about 100 million years ago, snakes have diversified into a wide variety of aquatic, burrowing, terrestrial, and arboreal habitats where they experience various levels of gravitational stress on blood circulation. These stresses range from low to none in fully aquatic species living in essentially “weightless” environments, to relatively high in climbing species, especially arboreal forms specialized for climbing trees. As a result, arboreal snakes exhibit many adaptations for countering the effects of gravity on blood circulation, including relatively tight tissue compartments in the tail. However, patterns of tail length in relation to arboreal habitats and gravity have not been previously studied. You can read Sheehy et al's article here.
Alan Knapp talks to the 2014 Haldane Prizewinner Scott Ferrenberg about his paper, "Smooth bark surfaces can defend trees against insect attack: resurrecting a ‘slippery’ hypothesis". The concept of smooth bark on trees and shrubs acting as an anatomical defence against epiphytic vegetation and phytophagous insects has, for some time, fallen out of favour. Ferrenberg and Mitton, in a study of bark beetle attack on Pinus flexilis – a pine species that exhibits both smooth and rough bark surfaces – set out to test the role of bark defence against insects.
Ken Thompson talks to Katie Field about her Virtual Issue Mycorrhizal networks in ecosystem structure and functioning. The vast majority of land plants form mutualistic symbioses with soil-dwelling fungi known as mycorrhizas, which can link many plants through fungal hyphae in a common mycelial network. This Virtual Issue highlights three major themes in mycorrhizal research: the movement of plant-fixed carbon, reciprocal exchange of nutrients, and the wider impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem function.
Survival of the weakest seems an unlikely title for an ecology paper, but that is exactly what Haldane prizewinner Kyle Demes and his co-authors found in their, as Kyle Demes explains in this podcast on his papaerDemes, K. W., Pruitt, J. N., Harley, C. D.G., Carrington, E. (2013), Survival of the weakest: increased frond mechanical strength in a wave-swept kelp inhibits self-pruning and increases whole-plant mortality. Functional Ecology, 27: 439–445. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12067
In this podcast, Alan Knapp talks to Lara Reichman about the implications of her paper, now published in the latest issue of Functional Ecology.
Read the full paper online here:Reichmann, L. G., Sala, O. E. (2014), Differential sensitivities of grassland structural components to changes in precipitation mediate productivity response in a desert ecosystem. Functional Ecology, 28: 1292–1298. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12265 or the lay summary here
In this podcast, Robbie Wilson discusses a recent paper showing that long term exposure to a neonicotinoid pesticide ca damage bees’ ability to forage for pollen – and may be changing their choices of which flowers to visit – with co-author Nigel Raine.
Read the full paper online here:Gill, R. J., Raine, N. E. (2014), Chronic impairment of bumblebee natural foraging behaviour induced by sublethal pesticide exposure. Functional Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12292 or the lay summary here
Cynthia Chang talks with Alan Knapp about why naturally co-occurring genotypes coexist, how genetic diversity within dominant plant species is maintained and how this can affect important ecosystem processes. Read the full paper here: Chang, C. C., Smith, M. D. (2014), Resource availability modulates above- and below-ground competitive interactions between genotypes of a dominant C4 grass. Functional Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12227
Liesje Mommer's keynote speech for the Mechanisms of Plant Competition symposium on using molecular techniques to look at below-ground plant competition and facilitation. For other journal-sponsored symposia and workshops from INTECOL, check out the playlist here.
As part of our new Mechanisms of Plant Competition Special Feature, Susan Schwimming talks to Alan Knapp about plant competition in water-limited environments.
Water is the primary factor limiting the growth and productivity of land plants, and fluctuations in plant-available water are ubiquitous in most terrestrial environments, due to variable and unpredictable rainfall. Evolution has produced numerous strategies of compromise between the conflicting goals of maximizing growth and reproduction when water is available and minimizing the risk of mortality when it is not. Because no species is able to pre-empt all opportunities for water and nutrient uptake, many plant species can coexist. However, the mechanisms responsible for making this stable, competitive coexistence possible are often hidden and difficult to study experimentally.
Understanding and predicting how plant communities will respond to contemporary climate change remains a challenge to science, but one that can be guided by addressing the fundamental ways in which fluctuations in plant-available water interact with competition, between either adults or seedlings.
Schwinning, S., Kelly, C. K. (2013), Plant competition, temporal niches and implications for productivity and adaptability to climate change in water-limited environments. Functional Ecology, 27: 886–897. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12115
Ken Thompson, senior editor for Functional Ecology, discusses Simon Pierce's new paper, "Implications for biodiversity conservation of the lack of consensus regarding the humped-back model of species richness and biomass production.quot;
Pierce, S. (2013), Implications for biodiversity conservation of the lack of consensus regarding the humped-back model of species richness and biomass production. Functional Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12147.
Understanding animal movements involves a complex association of factors. In addition to anatomical constraints and factors like the surrounding environment, more cryptic factors can play a role-- such as an animal's internal, physiological state, or navigational capacity. Complex movement models have been constructed in an attempt to infer an animal's internal state based on movement behaviours, but direct studies of the effect of an individual’s internal state on movement behaviour have been lacking.
African elephants are known to alter their behaviour in response to their physiological state, with elevated stress hormone concentrations being associated with reclusive behaviour and aggression towards humans. A better understanding of the link between internal, physiological state and the use of space in relation to the proximity of environmental features and refugia is important in mitigating human-elephant conflict. Read the lay summary for more information, or read the article online: Jachowski, D. S., Montgomery, R. A., Slotow, R., Millspaugh, J. J. (2013), Unravelling complex associations between physiological state and movement of African elephants. Functional Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12118.
Recent analysis of global datasets has shown that plants are constrained in how they allocate resources to their leaves, with trade-offs between building sturdy leaves with a long lifespan that are inefficient in capturing light or building flimsy leaves with a short lifespan and high efficiency. However, it is unknown whether similar patterns occur at more local scales, particularly when you consider the same plant species growing under different conditions. In this study, Justin P. Wright talks with Alan Knapp about the surprising results of examining the effects of varying nitrogen availability and water table depth on the form and function of leaves of over 20 species of wetland plants and what that means for ecologists looking to predict how the addition or subtraction of species will affect the way that ecosystems function. Read the lay summary for more information, read the article online:Wright, J. P., Sutton-Grier, A. (2012), Does the leaf economic spectrum hold within local species pools across varying environmental conditions?. Functional Ecology, 26: 1390–1398. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12001
Coping with stress: some species survive by breaking the rules, Lanna Desantis explains in this interview with Robbie Wilson. This podcast is part of the Special Feature: The Ecology of Stress .
For more information, read the article online: Desantis, L. M., Delehanty, B., Weir, J. T., Boonstra, R. (2013), Mediating free glucocorticoid levels in the blood of vertebrates: are corticosteroid-binding proteins always necessary?. Functional Ecology, 27: 107–119. doi: 10.1111/1365-2435.12038
Alan Knapp interviews Brad Butterfield about his paper "A functional-comparative approach to facilitation between and its context-dependence", part of an upcoming Special Feature on Mechanisms of Plant Competition, and the importance of taking a trait-based approach to plant facilitation. A great deal of research has been conducted on the mechanisms and outcomes of plant competition, what traits help plants compete, but less well understood is how such traits affect the outcome of positive interactions among plants.
In this latest podcast, Alan Knapp, Editor of Functional Ecology, interviews Ryan Sponseller and his co-authors on their paper 'Variation in monsoon precipitation drives spatial and temporal patterns of Larrea tridentata growth in the Sonoran Desert'.
Julia Cooke is the Haldane Prize Winner for 2011. In this podcast, Alan Knapp, Editor, Functional Ecology interviews Julia Cooke about her paper: Silicon concentration and leaf longevity: is silicon a player in the leaf dry mass spectrum?
Read the paper:
Cooke, J., Leishman, M. R. (2011), Silicon concentration and leaf longevity: is silicon a player in the leaf dry mass spectrum?
For more details about the journal's Haldane Prize, Julia Cooke and past winners visit the British Ecological Society's website.
Alan Knapp interviews Amy Austin about her paper co-authored with Victoria Marchesini where they examined how a massive bamboo flowering event, which occurred in 2001 over 200,000 hectares in Patagonia, Argentina , impacted carbon and nutrient cycling in a native old-growth forest. Listen to the podcast at soundcloud and read the paper online:
Austin, A. T. and Marchesini, V. A. (2011), Gregarious flowering and death of understorey bamboo slow litter decomposition and nitrogen turnover in a southern temperate forest in Patagonia, Argentina.
Functional Ecology's First Podcast September 2011
In Functional Ecology's first podcast, Phil Hulme talks to Alan Knapp, about his study which is the first comparison testing for consistency in flowering phenology of species established in the wild in both their native Europe and as introduced aliens in North America.
Read the paper:
Hulme, P. E. (2011), Consistent flowering response to global warming by European plants introduced into North America. Functional Ecology, 25: 1189–1196.
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