Evolution isn’t so simple

To steal a line from the paper that I’m about to talk about: “Herbivores have fed on plants for more than 400 million years”. I thought this was a pretty striking way to start a paper; it suggests that these interactions might play a really important role in how plants and herbivores evolve. And indeed countless papers have discussed the effects of herbivores in driving the evolution of plant defenses … Continue reading

An Ecological Approach to Invasion Resistance – Insights from the World of Fashion

Old fashions are often recycled by new generations of young people attempting to stand out and be unique (just like everyone else!). Bell bottomed jeans, the paragon of 1970s fashion, saw a (thankfully brief) resurgence in the late 1980s. More recently, the leg warmers and popped collars of the 1980s were suddenly cool again. Strangely enough, ideas in ecology often reappear on a similar 15-20 year cycle. In the case … Continue reading

Guilty as charged? Invasive species may not be that bad for biodiversity

Invasive species are accused of being one of the major causes of modern species extinctions and biodiversity loss, on par with climate change and habitat destruction. A few charismatic examples implicate invasive predators and disease in native species extinctions. For example, the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis), introduced to Guam in 1952, is implicated in the extinction of 9 of the 11 forest bird species, 5 of which were endemic … Continue reading

Can Invaders Become Darwinian Demons?

There are two things I think are really cool and drive most of what I think about (well, I’ll pretend there are only two). The first is trade-offs. They’re pervasive in ecological and evolutionary thinking. The basic idea is that everybody is good at doing something, but also bad at doing something else. This comes into play in ecology because each species has its own little niche in the world, … Continue reading

Consider the Ocean

A recent paper in Ecological Applications put a classic theory to the test, with a twist. The theory of island biogeography was one of the first conceptual frameworks to provide guidance for the conservation of biodiversity on a landscape scale. It’s pretty intuitive stuff. Changes in species diversity on ecological time scales (i.e., over decades) in any habitat are the result of colonizing species minus species extinctions. MacArthur and Wilson … Continue reading

Do invasive species shift their niche to invade?

Invasive species are able to take over and vastly change the ecosystems where they invade. On par with climate change and habitat destruction, they are one of the top threats to biodiversity. A recent example in the news, Asian carp, threatens to invade the Great Lakes and decimate fish populations – this species alone could cause a $7 billion fishing industry to collapse, so we can see why it is … Continue reading

Communities Can Be Keystone Too

Since Paine’s classic work in the rocky intertidal describing the effects of Pisaster  starfish on the community as a keystone predator species, the concept has become huge to ecology. A keystone species is one with an important role in the community and has a larger effect on the community than would be expected by its abundance. In the rocky intertidal, when starfish were removed from the system, the population size … Continue reading

Novelty Can’t Last Forever

Novelty Can’t Last Forever–Rapid Evolution in the Face of Invasion The introduction of a novel organism into a community has many consequences, including generating novel evolutionary relationships between species. Considering the ubiquity of invasive species in ecosystems around the world, examining the evolutionary relationships between native and invasive species and how they can affect ecological patterns is of great interest. Richard Lankau recently published a paper in PNAS titled “Coevolution between … Continue reading

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies (or how tarweeds lure fruit flies to their doom and use the poor unsuspecting victims to bribe predator defenders) Smell is the sense of memory, and anyone who has walked through a Californian grassland in the heat of summer will never forget the scent of tarweeds. That scent oozes from thousands of glandular trichomes that produce the characteristic sticky stink, and a big question is WHY? … Continue reading