From patterns to processes and back: analysing density-dependent responses to an abiotic stressor by statistical and mechanistic modelling.
ABSTRACT: Our knowledge about population-level effects of abiotic stressors is limited, largely due to lack of appropriate time-series data. To analyse interactions between an abiotic stressor and density-dependent processes, we used experimental time-series data for stage-structured populations (the blowfly Lucilia sericata) exposed to the toxicant cadmium through 20 generations. Resource limitation results in competition both in the larval and the adult stages. The toxicant has only negative effects at the organism level, but nevertheless, there were positive population-level effects. These are necessarily indirect, and indicate overcompensatory density-dependent responses. A non-parametric model (generalized additive model) was used to investigate the density-dependent structures of the demographic rates, without making assumptions about the functional forms. The estimated structures were used to develop a parametric model, with which we analysed effects of the toxicant on density-dependent and density-independent components of the stage-specific demographic rates. The parameter estimates identified both synergistic and antagonistic density-toxicant interactions. It is noteworthy that the synergistic interaction occurred together with a net positive effect of the toxicant. Hence, the effects of such interactions should be considered together with the capacity for compensatory responses. The combination of the two modelling approaches provided new insight into mechanisms for compensatory responses to abiotic stressors.
Project description:Coral cover has been declining in recent decades due to increased temperatures and environmental stressors. However, the extent to which different stressors contribute both individually and in concert to bleaching and mortality is still very uncertain. We develop and use a novel regression approach, using non-linear parametric models that control for unobserved time invariant effects to estimate the effects on coral bleaching and mortality due to temperature, solar radiation, depth, hurricanes and anthropogenic stressors using historical data from a large bleaching event in 2005 across the Caribbean. Two separate models are created, one to predict coral bleaching, and the other to predict near-term mortality. A large ensemble of supporting data is assembled to control for omitted variable bias and improve fit, and a significant improvement in fit is observed from univariate linear regression based on temperature alone. The results suggest that climate stressors (temperature and radiation) far outweighed direct anthropogenic stressors (using distance from shore and nearby human population density as a proxy for such stressors) in driving coral health outcomes during the 2005 event. Indeed, temperature was found to play a role ~4 times greater in both the bleaching and mortality response than population density across their observed ranges. The empirical models tested in this study have large advantages over ordinary-least squares-they offer unbiased estimates for censored data, correct for spatial correlation, and are capable of handling more complex relationships between dependent and independent variables. The models offer a framework for preparing for future warming events and climate change; guiding monitoring and attribution of other bleaching and mortality events regionally and around the globe; and informing adaptive management and conservation efforts.
Project description:Toxicants have both sub-lethal and lethal effects on aquatic biota, influencing organism fitness and community composition. However, toxicant effects within ecosystems may be altered by interactions with abiotic and biotic ecosystem components, including biological interactions. Collectively, this generates the potential for toxicant sensitivity to be highly context dependent, with significantly different outcomes in ecosystems than laboratory toxicity tests predict. We experimentally manipulated stream macroinvertebrate communities in 32 mesocosms to examine how communities from a low-salinity site were influenced by interactions with those from a high-salinity site along a gradient of salinity. Relative to those from the low-salinity site, organisms from the high-salinity site were expected to have greater tolerance and fitness at higher salinities. This created the potential for both salinity and tolerant-sensitive organism interactions to influence communities. We found that community composition was influenced by both direct toxicity and tolerant-sensitive organism interactions. Taxon and context-dependent responses included: (i) direct toxicity effects, irrespective of biotic interactions; (ii) effects that were owing to the addition of tolerant taxa, irrespective of salinity; (iii) toxicity dependent on sensitive-tolerant taxa interactions; and (iv) toxic effects that were increased by interactions. Our results reinforce that ecological processes require consideration when examining toxicant effects within ecosystems.This article is part of the theme issue 'Salt in freshwaters: causes, ecological consequences and future prospects'.
Project description:Under global change, the ion concentration of aquatic ecosystems is changing worldwide. Many freshwater ecosystems are being salinized by anthropogenic salt inputs, whereas many naturally saline ones are being diluted by agricultural drainages. This occurs concomitantly with changes in other stressors, which can result in additive, antagonistic or synergistic effects on organisms. We reviewed experimental studies that manipulated salinity and other abiotic stressors, on inland and transitional aquatic habitats, to (i) synthesize their main effects on organisms' performance, (ii) quantify the frequency of joint effect types across studies and (iii) determine the overall individual and joint effects and their variation among salinity-stressor pairs and organism groups using meta-analyses. Additive effects were slightly more frequent (54%) than non-additive ones (46%) across all the studies (n = 105 responses). However, antagonistic effects were dominant for the stressor pair salinity and toxicants (44%, n = 43), transitional habitats (48%, n = 31) and vertebrates (71%, n = 21). Meta-analyses showed detrimental additive joint effects of salinity and other stressors on organism performance and a greater individual impact of salinity than the other stressors. These results were consistent across stressor pairs and organism types. These findings suggest that strategies to mitigate multiple stressor impacts on aquatic ecosystems should prioritize restoring natural salinity concentrations.This article is part of the theme issue 'Salt in freshwaters: causes, ecological consequences and future prospects'.
Project description:In addition to natural stressors, populations are increasingly exposed to chemical pollutants released into the environment. We experimentally demonstrate the loss of resilience for Daphnia magna populations that are exposed to a combination of natural and chemical stressors even though effects on population size of a single stressor were cryptic, i.e. hard to detect statistically. Data on Daphnia population demography and along with model-based exploration of our predator-prey system revealed that direct trophic interactions changed the population size-structure and thereby increased population vulnerability to the toxicant which acts in a size selective manner. Moreover, population vulnerability to the toxicant increases with predator size and predation intensity whereas indirect trait-mediated interactions via predator kairomones may buffer chemical effects to a certain extent. Our study demonstrates that population size can be a poor endpoint for risk assessments of chemicals and that ignoring disturbance interactions can lead to severe underestimation of extinction risk.
Project description:Abiotic global change drivers affect ecosystem structure and function, but how they interact with biotic factors such as invasive plants is understudied. Such interactions may be additive, synergistic, or offsetting, and difficult to predict. We present methods to test the individual and interactive effects of drought and plant invasion on native ecosystems. We coupled a factorial common garden experiment containing resident communities exposed to drought (imposed with rainout shelters) and invasion with a field experiment where the invader was removed from sites spanning a natural soil moisture gradient. We detail treatments and their effects on abiotic conditions, including soil moisture, light, temperature, and humidity, which shape community and ecosystem responses. Ambient precipitation during the garden experiment exceeded historic norms despite severe drought in prior years. Soil moisture was 48% lower in drought than ambient plots, but the invader largely offset drought effects. Additionally, temperature and light were lower and humidity higher in invaded plots. Field sites spanned up to a 10-fold range in soil moisture and up to a 2.5-fold range in light availability. Invaded and resident vegetation did not differentially mediate soil moisture, unlike in the garden experiment. Herbicide effectively removed invaded and resident vegetation, with removal having site-specific effects on soil moisture and light availability. However, light was generally higher in invader-removal than control plots, whereas resident removal had less effect on light, similar to the garden experiment. Invasion mitigated a constellation of abiotic conditions associated with drought stress in the garden experiment. In the field, where other factors co-varied, these patterns did not emerge. Still, neither experiment suggested that drought and invasion will have synergistic negative effects on ecosystems, although invasion can limit light availability. Coupling factorial garden experiments with field experiments across environmental gradients will be effective for predicting how multiple stressors interact in natural systems.
Project description:In population ecology, there has been a fundamental controversy about the relative importance of competition-driven (density-dependent) population regulation vs. abiotic influences such as temperature and precipitation. The same issue arises at the community level; are population sizes driven primarily by changes in the abundances of cooccurring competitors (i.e., compensatory dynamics), or do most species have a common response to environmental factors? Competitive interactions have had a central place in ecological theory, dating back to Gleason, Volterra, Hutchison and MacArthur, and, more recently, Hubbell's influential unified neutral theory of biodiversity and biogeography. If competitive interactions are important in driving year-to-year fluctuations in abundance, then changes in the abundance of one species should generally be accompanied by compensatory changes in the abundances of others. Thus, one necessary consequence of strong compensatory forces is that, on average, species within communities will covary negatively. Here we use measures of community covariance to assess the prevalence of negative covariance in 41 natural communities comprising different taxa at a range of spatial scales. We found that species in natural communities tended to covary positively rather than negatively, the opposite of what would be expected if compensatory dynamics were important. These findings suggest that abiotic factors such as temperature and precipitation are more important than competitive interactions in driving year-to-year fluctuations in species abundance within communities.
Project description:Density dependence plays an important role in population regulation and is known to generate temporal fluctuations in population density. However, the ways in which density dependence affects spatial population processes, such as species invasions, are less understood. Although classical ecological theory suggests that invasions should advance at a constant speed, empirical work is illuminating the highly variable nature of biological invasions, which often exhibit nonconstant spreading speeds, even in simple, controlled settings. Here, we explore endogenous density dependence as a mechanism for inducing variability in biological invasions with a set of population models that incorporate density dependence in demographic and dispersal parameters. We show that density dependence in demography at low population densities-i.e., an Allee effect-combined with spatiotemporal variability in population density behind the invasion front can produce fluctuations in spreading speed. The density fluctuations behind the front can arise from either overcompensatory population growth or density-dependent dispersal, both of which are common in nature. Our results show that simple rules can generate complex spread dynamics and highlight a source of variability in biological invasions that may aid in ecological forecasting.
Project description:Environmental stressors often interact, but most studies of multiple stressors have focused on combinations of abiotic stressors. Here we examined the potential interaction between a biotic stressor, the vermetid snail Ceraesignum maximum, and an abiotic stressor, high sedimentation, on the growth of reef-building corals. In a field experiment, we subjected juvenile massive Porites corals to four treatments: (i) neither stressor, (ii) sedimentation, (iii) vermetids or (iv) both stressors. Unexpectedly, we found no effect of either stressor in isolation, but a significant decrease in coral growth in the presence of both stressors. Additionally, seven times more sediment remained on corals in the presence (versus absence) of vermetids, likely owing to adhesion of sediments to corals via vermetid mucus. Thus, vermetid snails and high sedimentation can interact to drive deleterious effects on reef-building corals. More generally, our study illustrates that environmental factors can combine to have negative interactive effects even when individual effects are not detectable. Such 'ecological surprises' may be easily overlooked, leading to environmental degradation that cannot be anticipated through the study of isolated factors.
Project description:Abiotic stressors such as extreme temperatures and pesticide exposure can impair stored sperm viability within queen honey bees, but little is known about how these stressors may directly impact queen performance or other quality metrics. Here, in a blind field trial, we exposed queens to cold temperatures (4 C, 2 h), hot temperatures (42 C, 2 h), a pesticide cocktail of xenobiotic compounds commonly found in wax, a solvent control, and a handling control. We used proteomics to investigate potential vertical effects of heat stress on embryos, as well as to measure the abundance of previously determined protein markers for abiotic stressors in the spermathecal fluid.