Past seminar lectures in reverse order

2024 Spring semester

Mark McPeek (Dartmout): Can Mutualists Foster Coexistence Among Resource Competitors? Mechanistic Analyses Of Various Mutualisms

16 April, 2024  Video PDF

Almost all species in nature engage in mutualistic interactions with other species.  However, ecologists have only recently begun to explore the role that mutualisms play in broader patterning of community structure among interacting species.  Mutualisms are mechanistically a highly diverse class of species interactions, and so exploring their role in structuring communities will require developing mechanistic models for each mechanism.  In this seminar, I will present recent work exploring whether two different types of mutualists can foster the coexistence of two plant species that themselves compete for a single limiting environmental nutrient.  The two mutualisms to be considered separately are (1) a pollinator species that interacts with both plant species, and (2) a mycorrhizal fungus species that interacts with both plant species.  Analyses of these models predict that pollinator and mycorrhizal mutualisms have very different likelihoods of fostering the coexistence of resource competitors.  Understanding how different types of mutualisms influence community structure will require careful exploration of the mechanistic effects of each type.

McPeek, M. A., S. J. McPeek, and J. L. Bronstein. 2022. Nectar dynamics and the coexistence of two plants that share a pollinator and compete for one resource. Oikos 2022:e08869.

McPeek, M. A., and C. Hicks Pries. 2024. Modeling the complex circuitry of interactions that determine coexistence among plants and a mycorrhizal fungus across resource gradients. Ecology 2024:e4281.

Anuraag Bukkuri (Moffit Cancer Center): The Polyaneuploid Cancer Cell State and Therapeutic Resistance: Models of State-Structured Populations

2 April, 2024

Despite billions of dollars poured into cancer research each year, outcomes for advanced cancers remain dismal. Why? Turns out cancers can evolve. In this talk, I will show how the eco-evolutionary theory of structured populations led to an improved understanding of how plasticity and genetic evolution interact to promote resistance in cancer, and even inspired drug development efforts.

Robin Snyder (Case Western): The role of luck in reproductive skew and individual success

26 March, 2024  Video PDF

Warning. It is Summer Time already in North America, but not in Europe. As usual, we start at 9 am Pacific, but it is 4 p.m. in London and 5 p.m. in Paris.

In many species, a few individuals produce most of the next generation. How much of this reproductive skew is driven by variation among individuals in fixed traits, how much by external factors, and how much by random chance? And what does it take to have truly exceptional lifetime reproductive output (LRO)? Here we explain how to partition LRO skewness itself into contributions from fixed trait variation; four forms of “demographic luck” (birth state, fecundity luck, survival trajectory luck, and growth trajectory luck); and two kinds of “environmental luck” (birth environment, and environment trajectory). Each of these is further partitioned into contributions at different ages. We also determine what we can infer about individuals with exceptional LRO.

Holly Moeller (UCSB): Trade, Borrow, or Steal: Combining math and experiments to understand acquired metabolism

5 March, 2024  Video PDF

While biologists typically think of an organism’s metabolism as hard-wired in its DNA, in reality a vast array of species gain access to additional forms of metabolism through interactions with other species. This acquired metabolism can be obtained through interactions ranging from mutualism to predation, creating opportunities for niche expansion and, ultimately, evolutionary diversification. I’ll focus on two examples of acquired metabolism—tree-fungal mutualisms and chloroplast-stealing marine microbes—to illustrate how our research group seeks to combine mathematical and empirical approaches to understand how these acquisitions become established and proliferate throughout ecological communities.

Axel Rossberg (Queen Mary): Ecological Structural Instability everywhere

20 February, 2024  Video PDF

Ecological Structural Instability (ESI) denotes a high sensitivity of ecological communities to press perturbations, a limit to robust co-existence. Beyond a certain threshold in species richness, ESI becomes very strong. As this threshold is approached from below, extirpations become more likely. The presentation will recall the intellectual history of the concept and highlight a plethora of evidence demonstrating that ESI is the primary mechanism controlling species richness and related macroecological patterns in nature.

Chris Terry (Oxford) Can coexistence theory fulfil its promise in real settings?

6 February, 2024  Video PDF

The theoretical understanding of species coexistence is deep and increasingly detailed, particularly for pairwise cases. While valuable in its own right, a key test will be application to real ecological systems, past, present and future. Potential obstacles span both ‘internal’ problems of appropriately applying theoretical frameworks to inevitably noisy data, and more ‘existential’ problems around the assumptions embedded in theory such as infinite time and space horizons). I will highlight some of the challenges of applying modern coexistence theory to empirical situations, some potential resolutions and discuss a validatory test of applying modern coexistence theory to predict extinction under rising temperatures using Drosophila community mesocosms. 

Shripad Tuljapurkar (Stanford): Pulses, Presses, and Nonlinear Response

23 January, 2024  Video PDF

The response to a pulse (i.e., one time) disturbance of a population is analyzed in terms of transients, while a press (i.e., persistent) disturbance is not. But a press, as I discuss, can also be analyzed in a closely related way. Also the response to a press disturbance is intimately linked to local nonlinearity. These connections apply more broadly, e.g., to multispecies systems with point equilibria. This work is done in collaboration with several people at Stanford & Oxford.

2023 Fall semester

Vadim Karatayev (Kansas & Maryland): Understanding ecological resilience and synchrony at regional scales

28 November, 2023  Video

I will take a foray on connecting some of our favorite population dynamics – catastrophes, chaos, & space – with large-scale data. An immediate challenge is: how does environmental variability interplay with internal dynamics? I will use classical and emerging (attractor reconstruction) techniques and time series data spanning 40 species and 1000s of km to understand giant kelp forest collapse and fisheries synchrony under present and future climates. An emerging theme is that as datasets and statistical tools expand, multiple attractors, chaos, and spatial heterogeneity in population dynamics appear more common.

Hanna Kokko (Mainz): Life history theory: sometimes intuitive, sometimes not

14 November, 2023  Video PDF

If lifespans are often cut short – in other words, if an organism lives in a hazardous environment, either for biotic or abiotic reasons – one might expect the optimal life history scheduling to change. Theoretical work seems to sometimes provide strong support for this idea and sometimes not, and theoreticians working on this end up talking a lot about population regulation and density dependence – which at first sight seem to be phenomena that are only distantly related to fast and slow life histories. In my talk I will attempt to clarify why this connection plays such a crucial role in deriving predictions.

Elisa Thebault (IEES Paris): Emerging niche clustering results from both competition and predation

7 November, 2023  Video PDF

Understanding species coexistence has been a central question in ecology for decades, and the notion that competing species need to differ in their ecological niche for stable coexistence has dominated. Recent theoretical and empirical work suggests differently. Species can also escape competitive exclusion by being similar, leading to clusters of species with similar traits. This theory has so far only been explored under competition. By combining mathematical and numerical analyses, we reveal that competition and predation are equally capable to promote clusters of similar species in prey–predator communities, their relative importance being modulated by resource availability. We further show that predation has a stabilizing effect on clustering patterns, making the clusters more diverse. Our results merge different ecological theories and bring new light to the emergent neutrality theory by adding the perspective of trophic interactions. These results open new perspectives to the study of trait distributions in ecological interaction networks.

Tanya Rogers (NOAA): Chaos and intermittent instability in ecological systems

17 October, 2023  Video PDF

Chaotic dynamics are thought to be rare in natural populations, but this may be due to methodological and data limitations, rather than the inherent stability of ecosystems. Following extensive simulation testing, we applied multiple chaos detection methods to a global database of 172 population time series and found evidence for chaos in >30%. Chaos prevalence and Lyapunov exponents displayed patterns related to taxonomic group, generation time, and body mass. We then explored how chaotic dynamics and temporal patterns in local instability varied geographically and at different taxonomic resolutions using a compilation of plankton time series from 17 lakes and 4 marine sites. Overall, the results demonstrate that chaos is not rare in natural populations, indicating that there may be intrinsic limits to ecological forecasting and cautioning against the use of steady-state approaches to conservation and management. Our results also suggest that prediction accuracy, sensitivity to change, and management efficacy may be greater at certain times of year and that prediction may be more feasible for taxonomic aggregates.

Eric Pedersen (Concordia University, Montreal):

How do we define a patch? Deriving subpopulation structure from movement models using random-walk-based distance metrics

3 October, 2023 Video

The metapopulation framework is a cornerstone tool for modelling spatially structured populations. A Metapopulation is defined as a set of subpopulations living in well-mixed patches, connected by inter-patch movement. However, there is currently no clear single definition of what constitutes a “patch” of habitat in fragmented and heterogeneous landscape. In this talk, I argue that we should define patches based on synchronization of population dynamics driven by local interactions between individuals. Further, when interaction is driven by individual patterns of movement and individual movement follows a Markov random walk, I show that it is possible to derive a measure of lifetime encounter probabilities between individuals inhabiting the landscape. This can be used to define a consistent metric for clustering locations on a landscape based on patterns of encounter probability. I demonstrate an eigenvector-decomposition-based approach to approximating this metric for large landscapes, and show how this approach works for clustering simulated landscapes and spatially structured marine habitat of Northern Shrimp in northern Atlantic waters in Canada.

Claus Rüffler (Uppsala): Community Assembly and Complex Life Cycles

26 September, 2023 Video PDF

Most animals undergo ontogenetic niche shifts during their life. Yet, standard ecological theory builds on models that ignore this complexity. Here, we study how complex life cycles, where juvenile and adult individuals each feed on different sets of resources, affect community richness. Two different modes of community assembly are considered: gradual adaptive evolution and immigration of new species with randomly selected phenotypes. We find that under gradual evolution complex life cycles can lead to both higher and lower species richness when compared to a model of species with simple life cycles that lack an ontogenetic niche shift. Thus, complex life cycles do not per se increase the scope for gradual adaptive diversification. However, complex life cycles can lead to significantly higher species richness when communities are assembled trough immigration, as immigrants can occupy isolated peaks of the dynamic fitness landscape that are not accessible via gradual evolution.

2023 Spring semester

Simon Levin (Princeton): Ecosystems and the Biosphere as Complex Adaptive Systems:
Scaling, collective phenomena and governance

20 June, 2023 Video PDF

Phil Anderson, in a landmark essay, highlighted the challenges in understanding the emergent properties of what were later termed “complex adaptive systems,” and the need to go beyond reductionistic approaches, themes later echoed in another brilliant essay, by Francois Jacob, approaching the challenge through a very different lens.  No problem facing us better exemplifies these issues than that of achieving a sustainable future for humanity.

The continual increase in the human population, magnified by increasing per capita demands on Earth’s limited resources, raise the urgent mandate of understanding the degree to which these patterns are sustainable. The scientific challenges posed by this simply stated goal are enormous, and cross disciplines.  What measures of human welfare should be at the core of definitions of sustainability, and how do we discount the future and deal with problems of intra-generational and inter-generational equity?  How do environmental and socioeconomic systems become organized as complex adaptive systems, and what are the implications for dealing with public goods at scales from the local to the global?  How does the increasing interconnectedness of coupled natural and human systems affect the robustness of aspects of importance to us, and what are the implications for management.  What is the role of social norms, and how do we achieve cooperation at the global level?  All of these issues have parallels in evolutionary biology, and this lecture will explore what lessons can be learned from ecology and evolutionary theory for addressing the problems posed by achieving a sustainable future.

Lutz Fromhage (University of Jyväskylä): The balance model of honest sexual signalling

28 March, 2023 Video PDF

Costly mating signals are often described as wasteful ‘handicaps’, which only high-quality males can afford bear. Here I offer an alternative interpretation which makes no reference to wastefulness. First, I show that the multiplicative nature of fitness selects for roughly balanced investments in mating success and viability under broad conditions. Then, I show how this balancing tendency manifests in signals that reveal their bearer’s quality.

Chrissy Hernandez (Cornell): Life Table Response Experiments

14 March, 2023 Video PDF

In the study of matrix population models, Life Table Response Experiments (LTREs) are comparative analyses that decompose the realized difference or variance in population growth rate into contributions from the differences or variances in the vital rates. We have derived an exact LTRE method, which includes interactions among vital rates. We will present the method, show how it compares with the classical (approximate) method, and discuss advantages and limitations to interpreting interactions among vital rates.

Jürg Spaak: Modern Non-coexistence theory: When invasion growth rates fail

7 March, 2023 Video  PDF

Modern coexistence theory is viewed as one of the most influential theories to understand species richness. Yet, most of the empirical and theoretical work done under the framework of modern coexistence theory focuses on two-species communities. Unfortunately, it is unclear how much of the insight gained from these simple communities also applies to more realistic and species rich communities found in nature. This drawback of modern coexistence theory is rooted in its dependence on invasion growth rates, which are most useful in two-species communities. In this talk I will present how permanence theory, a more robust approach to invasion growth rates, allows the analysis of species rich communities. I will first present the theoretical advancements and then show how these can help us analyse communities which were previously outside of the graphs of modern coexistence theory.

William Godsoe (Lincoln University, New Zeeland): Reconnecting the mechanisms and measurements of biodiversity change

28 February, 2023 Video  PDF

Ecologists have long been interested understanding the mechanisms through which biodiversity changes. At present it can be challenging to link the mechanism which affect organisms (e.g. competition) with measurements of biodiversity (e.g. Shannon entropy or Hill numbers). In this talk I’ll show how analyses of selection among species can help to bridge this gap. This connection helps to clarify what we can learn by studying diversity and the easiest ways to study diversity change in nature.

Jonas Wickman (Michigan): A theoretical framework for trait-based eco-evolutionary dynamics: population structure, intraspecific variation, and community assembly

14 February, 2023 Video  PDF

How is trait diversity in a community apportioned between and within co-evolving species? Disruptive selection may result in either a few species with large intraspecific trait variation (ITV) or many species with different mean traits but little ITV. Similar questions arise in spatially structured communities: heterogeneous environments could result in either a few species that exhibit local adaptation or many species with different mean traits but little local adaptation. To date, theory has been well-equipped to either include ITV or to dynamically determine the number of coexisting species, but not both. Here, we devise a theoretical framework that combines these facets, and apply it to the above questions of how trait variation is apportioned within and between species in unstructured and structured populations, using two simple models of Lotka-Volterra competition. For unstructured communities, we find that as the breadth of the resource spectrum increases, ITV goes from being unimportant to crucial for characterizing the community. For spatially structured communities on two patches, we find no local adaptation, symmetric local adaptation, or asymmetric local adaptation depending on how much the patches differ. Our framework provides a general approach to incorporate ITV in models of eco-evolutionary community assembly.

John Harte (Berkeley): The Micro-Macro Dialogue: A New Look at Ecosystems Far from Steady State

31 January, 2023

The information-theoretic maximum entropy principle, yields remarkably accurate macroecological predictions for systems in steady state. But if the state variables are changing in time, as in a highly disturbed ecosystem, these predictions are observed to fail dramatically The dynamics of disturbed systems are especially complex if the macro-level variables influence the interactions among the micro-level agents, yet are also sums or averages over suitable distributions over those micro-level variables. After reviewing the static, top-down, theory, I present a novel way to hybridize top-down and bottom-up theories to describe the behavior of disturbed complex systems. A simple example illustrates general concepts and generates many of the rich behaviors emerging from the theory.

2022 Fall semester

Lynn Govaert (Berlin): Eco-evolutionary dynamics: toward a multi-species perspective

29 Nov, 2022  Video  PDF

Unprecedented environmental changes induce strong selection pressures on species. Studies have shown that species can respond to these changes via ecological and evolutionary processes. In addition, there is an increasing amount of studies showing that ecological and evolutionary processes can occur at similar temporal and spatial scales and might thus frequently interact. This has raised the awareness that these processes should not be studied in isolation from each other, but instead should be integrated if we attempt to better understand species responses to environmental change. Even more so, species are embedded within communities. Hence, environmental change does not act on single species, but acts simultaneously on all species within the community, giving rise to potentially complex eco-evolutionary dynamics occurring within communities. I will present a conceptual framework to address and study eco-evolutionary dynamics within communities based on the work by M. Vellend which showed that community ecology can be organized along analogous processes of evolutionary biology (i.e., selection, migration, drift and diversification). I argue that by explicitly considering interactions between these processes of evolutionary biology and community ecology, it may facilitate our understanding of eco-evolutionary dynamics in multi-species communities. Focusing on interactions between processes of evolutionary biology and community ecology may enable explorations of the full range of eco-evolutionary community dynamics, may provide a way forward to reveal generalities and formulate hypotheses about eco-evolutionary community dynamics and guide the design of novel theoretical models that explicitly take these interactions into account.

Mike Fowler (Swansea University): How does coloured environmental variation affect stable & unstable interacting populations?

22 Nov, 2022  Video PDF

Abstract: Classical theory shows us how deterministic (biological) and stochastic (environmental) processes interact to drive observed fluctuations in population abundances, generally resulting in positive Diversity–Stability relationships in ecological communities. However, much of this theory assumes that each species has (asymptotically) stable deterministic dynamics. I explore what happens when we relax this assumption to include species with stable, cycling and more complex dynamics in the communities.

Matthew Spencer (University of Liverpool): Is there only one type of ecosystem? Axioms for community ecology

8 Nov, 2022 Video PDF

AbstractClements believed that ecosystems can be naturally classified into distinct types, while Gleason argued that there is no such natural classification. Who was right? To answer this, we define the set of ecosystems using a small number of axioms about the permitted structure of two-species ecosystems, and a few rules for constructing new ecosystems from existing ones. We also argue that all the properties by which we might classify ecosystems into types are continuous functions from the set of ecosystems to some other set such as the real numbers. We show that the image under any continuous function of the set of ecosystems constructed from our axioms is connected. Thus with our axioms, there is only one type of ecosystem, supporting Gleason rather than Clements. However, it is possible to construct Clementsian sets of ecosystems under slightly different axioms. We aim to show that an axiomatic approach can lead to a deeper understanding of community and ecosystem ecology.

Melissa Guzman (University of Southern California): Bridging the theory-empirical divide in metacommunity ecology

25 Oct, 2022  Video  PDF

Abstract: Metacommunity theory has expanded tremendously in the past few decades, but some metacommunity models are hard to connect to empirical systems due to the large number of parameters in these models. Here I will show (i) a way that we can parameterize metacommunity models in a trophic metacommunity, (ii) a data synthesis that can allow us to narrow down simulation scenarios in trophic metacommunity models, and (iii) how I have used metacommunity simulations to better understand competitive metacommunity patterns.

Roberto Salguero-Gomez (Oxford): Three axes of life history strategies to rule them all

11 Oct, 2022 Video PDF

Abstract: All species are faced with the same dilemma: how to invest limiting resources into survival, development, and reproduction in a way that maximises their fitness? Classical efforts in life history theory to classify and predict species properties based on this dilemma have led to the widely accepted “fast-slow continuum” as the leading axis of life history variation. Here, I will discuss recent developments in my group, which encompass variation along key moments in the reproductive strategies of organisms, and how individual vital rates vary through time as a response to the environment. I will introduce a three-dimensional “period table of the elements”, strongly founded on life history theory, and discuss its predictive abilities.

2022 Spring semester

Sonia Kefi (Montpellier): The multiplexity of ecological communities

14 June, 2022 Video PDF

In natural communities, species form complex networks of interdependencies that mediate their response to perturbations. So far, ecological network studies have typically focused on one (or a few) interaction types at a time, but data and models of webs including different interaction types simultaneously have recently become available. How and when does the diversity of interactions matter for the dynamics and resilience of ecological systems? I will present recent efforts in analyzing and understanding ecological networks including different types of interactions. I will argue that moving beyond unidimensional analyses of ecological networks may contribute to improving our understanding and predictive capacity of the way ecological systems respond to disturbances.

Adam Clark (Graz): Measuring ecological stability in systems without static equilibria

31 May, 2022 Video PDF

Ecological systems are typically characterized by complex dynamics, with central tendencies that vary greatly over time. However, most empirically tractable metrics used to measure stability in ecological systems assume the opposite – i.e. that dynamics are simple, and centred around a single static equilibrium. Here, I suggest a heuristic approach for analysing complex ecological dynamics by separately quantifying effects of observation error, process noise, and deterministic dynamics.

Chris Klausmeier (Michigan State, w/ Thomas Koffel, Brian Lerch & Akshata Rudrapatna): Towards a Unified Framework for Metacommunity Ecology

17 May, 2022 Video

Metacommunity ecology extends the metapopulation concept to provide a theoretical framework for understanding multi-species interactions in spatially subdivided landscapes.  Despite the widespread interest in metacommunity ecology, the theory is currently loosely organized into disjunct paradigms such as species sorting, patch dynamics, mass effects, and neutral theory.  Reconciling these diverse models in a unified framework requires inclusion of three fundamental ecological processes: selection (niche-based processes), ecological drift (stochasticity), and dispersal.  In this talk I will present a competitive Lotka-Volterra metacommunity model that includes all of these processes.  First we look at open systems, where immigrants come from a mainland source population.  Then we look at true metacommunities, where immigrants come from other patches in the landscape.  Using efficient numerical techniques to calculate equilibria and invasion criteria, we determine how the regional outcome of competition depends on local interactions, dispersal, and local population size.  Finally, we conclude with prospects for future theoretical development.

Lauren Hallett (Oregon): Integrating population and community synchrony across scales

3 May, 2022 Video PDF

Fluctuations in the abundance of populations – either of a single species across spatially disjunct locations, or of multiple species within a single location – are often correlated through time. Despite conceptual similarities, these two types of synchrony— population and community synchrony, respectively— have been studied as separate processes. In this talk I link theory and methods from population and community synchrony to explore community dynamics and stability across spatial and temporal scales.

Lauren Shoemaker (Wyoming): Persistence and coexistence in variable environments: Leveraging abiotic and biotic variation to maintain ecological diversity

19 April, 2022 Video PDF

Environmental variability and species interactions are two cornerstones in our longstanding effort to understand species coexistence and the mechanisms that maintain biodiversity. Recently, it has become increasingly evident that these two factors are not independent, but rather that environmental variability mediates species interactions. In this talk I examine: how do direct effects of environmental variability versus indirect effects mediated by species interactions (i.e., competition) alter species persistence and coexistence? How can we use modern coexistence theory to inform restoration efforts and possible mitigation strategies? 

Frederik De Laender (Namur): Simple rules predict effects of environmental change on coexistence

22 March, 2022 PDF

Finding generality in environmental change effects is an important scientific objective. Yet, a main obstacle is specificity: different species respond differently to different environmental factors, and different ecology would then scale up these direct responses to the community level in a different way. Here, I present theory and simulations showing that impacts on coexistence are predictable from simple summary statistics of direct species responses and of the system’s ecology prior to environmental change. My analyses focus on bi- and tritrophic communities and consider the case where feasibility (all species achieve a positive equilibrium) implies coexistence. I illustrate these results with two relevant environmental factors (temperature and pollution) and discuss consequences for predicting effects of regional environmental change on site occupancy.

Bruno Travassos de Britto (São Paulo): Towards a pragmatic view of theories in ecology

Invited commenter: Liz Pásztor (Eötvös University, Budapest)

8 March, 2022 Video BrunoPDF LizPDF

From a pragmatic view of theories, knowledge is generated as researchers exchange, combine and use models of their choice to learn more about phenomena, even without a prior conceptual unification of these models. Such a context-dependent use of models leads to specific characteristics in pragmatic theories, which are easily identified in ecology. For this reason, we argue that ecology is a science that develops pragmatically, which brings interesting consequences to how we conceive theoretical synthesis.

John DeLong (Nebraska): Evolution of functional responses

22 February, 2022 Video PDF

Functional responses describe the process of energy flow through food webs by way of consumption. The parameters of a functional response reflect a wide range of predator and prey traits (arising from past evolution) but also set the stage for future evolution by influencing predator energy gain and prey mortality. But beyond a simple “get better at predation or avoiding predation” expectation, how should functional responses change in dynamic and diverse food webs? Here I try to 1) evaluate whether adding more prey types can change selection on predator functional response traits and 2) assess whether patterns of co-evolution follow different paradigms such as an arms race, Red Queen, or tug-of-war pattern given variation in population dynamics and prey generation time.

Axel Rossberg (Queen Mary): Evolution of prudent predation in complex food webs

8 February, 2022 Video

Everybody who modelled consumer-resource population dynamics since A. J. Nicholson (1933, will have spent a moment wondered why predators in nature appear to be “prudent” in the sense of having attack rates high enough to sustain their populations but not as high as to undermine their populations’ survival by resource overexploitation. After considering and dismissing some historical alternative explanations, I will describe a process leading to evolution of prudent predation in complex model food webs (doi: 10.1111/ELE.13979, in press). This process does not require vigorous boom-bust dynamics (which are rarely seen). Instead, it has two other unique population-dynamical signatures, and these are often observed. So it appears that indeed there is a route for the evolution of prudent predation consistent with observations.

Brian J. McGill (Maine): Can probabilistic sampling from a regional pool explain community ecology patterns?

25 January, 2022 Video PDF

A common null model for community assembly is a random sample from the regional list of species. It usually doesn’t work very well and is easy to reject. How much biology do we have to add back in to produce realistic community structure? I will present a framework based on a probabilistic occurrence function as a central tool, show that most community ecology patterns can be written as a function of the occurrence function, and and identify the critical parameters needed in the occurrence function to match empirical data, and hence explore how much biology we need to include.

2021 Fall semester

Ehud Meron (Ben-Gurion): Linking spatial self-organization to community assembly in dryland plant communities

7 December, 2021 Video PDF

Increasing water stress can result in community shifts towards stress-tolerant plant species but may also trigger spatial self-organization in vegetation patterns, which relaxes this stress. Using a mathematical model to study the interplay between these two response forms, we find that spatial self-organization acts to buffer community-structure changes along environmental gradients.

Jeremy W. Fox (University of Calgary): Higher order interactions don’t matter in species-rich communities

23 November, 2021 Video PDF

Higher order interactions arise when the per-capita effect of one species on another depends on the density of a third species. For instance, the presence of a predator might cause an herbivore species to forage less, thereby altering the herbivore’s effect on the plants it consumes. Many ecologists have worried that higher order interactions make it impossible to predict community dynamics. Here I show they needn’t have worried. Here I show that, in sufficiently species-rich communities, ubiquitous higher order interactions cancel one another out. Species achieve equilibrium densities similar to those they would’ve achieved in the absence of any higher order interactions. Like several other macroecological patterns, cancellation of higher order interactions in species-rich communities is a “statistical attractor”.

Robert D. Holt (University of Florida): COVID-19 meets the Hutchinsonian niche

9 November, 2021 Video

I will discuss some updates of ideas I sketched in ‘Bringing the Hutchinsonian niche into the 21st century: Ecological and evolutionary perspectives’ (Holt 2009, PNAS), and apply them to aspects of the current pandemic, as illustrated in work from my lab on how the interplay of movement and spatiotemporal variation in transmission degrades pandemic control.

Rachel Germain (UBC): Theory in service of empirical research: examples from experiments on the ecology and evolution of species coexistence

26 October, 2021 Video PDF

Science operates through a healthy feedback between theory and experiments. As an empiricist who uses theory for different purposes, I will begin by describing some barriers to more fully integrating theory into empirical research in ecology and evolution (and how to overcome those barriers). I will then describe two applications of theory in my own work: 1. how empirical findings have inspired new questions to be addressed theoretically, and, 2. how ecological theories guide the questions I ask and the experiments I design (and some challenges to doing so). Within this overarching framework, I will focus on several projects, including: how spatial scale has counter intuitive effects on the evolution of life history strategies, how species coexistence evolves on microevolutionary and macroevolutionary timescales, and how coexistence theory can provide insights for speciation.

Laura Dee (Colorado Boulder): Putting ecological theory to work for conservation

12 October, 2021 Video

Two grand challenges of our time are climate change and biodiversity loss. This talk focuses on the fundamental question of: to what extent can ecological theory help us understand the consequences of these global changes to inform conservation?  I will present two examples investigating this larger question: 1) the consequences of extreme events in boreal forests for ecological stability versus ecosystem services outcomes’ and the 2) vulnerability of food webs versus ecosystem services to species losses in coastal food webs.  In the first case, commonly used ecological measures also fall short of predicting disturbance impacts on forest ecosystem services–  exhibiting low correlations or systematic biases. In the other case, food web robustness is strongly related to ecosystem service robustness in aggregate, but different types of ecosystem services vary dramatically in their robustness to species’ losses. Together, this work highlights that the complex nature of socioeconomic and ecological systems create challenges for extrapolating ecological theory to understand threats from global change for conservation goals .  Thus, I will highlight exciting research avenues for discussion on how ecological theory to contribute to conservation and interdisciplinary research in our inherently socio-environmental systems. 

Mathew Leibold (University of Florida): Linking process to pattern in community assembly in diverse metacommunities

28 September, 2021 Video

I’m interested in exploring the degree to which theory on ‘disordered systems’ to community assembly can be linked to statistical methods of pattern analysis. Here, I hope to describe the problem and outline some possible approaches and answers. By doing so, I hope to generate interest and discussion on possible solutions.

Jacob D. O’Sullivan (Queen Mary): The emergent macroecology of Lotka-Volterra metacommunities

14 September, 2021 Video PDF

For decades Lotka-Volterra community models have been used to try to understand how ecological interactions may drive community-scale properties such as species richness, network structure, and species abundance distributions; in short the various dimensions of biodiversity. Here I show how extending the basic community models into spatially and environmentally heterogeneous landscapes can help us understand how local scale ecological processes – abiotic and biotic filtering, and dispersal – can propagate up the organisational hierarchy to determine regional scale patterns in biodiversity.

2021 Spring semester

Rafael D’Andrea (Stony Brook): Counting niches: Can spatial patterns reveal niche partitioning in tropical forests?

29 June, 2021, Video PDF

We investigate the idea that tropical biodiversity is maintained by a combination of niche segregation and niche sharing among species by asking whether tree species in Barro Colorado Island, Panama, fall into groups differing by the local conditions where they typically occur. We first group together species often found near each other, then show that the resulting three groups are statistically associated with distinct local nutrient levels. Finally, we find clear distinctions among those groups in traits associated with life history strategies.

Neo Martinez (Indiana University): Predicting Ecosystem Metaphenome from Community Metagenome: A Grand Challenge for Environmental Biology

15 June, 2021, Video

Theoretical ecology has investigated a series of concepts from stability and complexity through biodiversity and ecosystem function to coexistence and tipping points for which empirical data typically plays a less-than-satisfying role. To coax theoretical ecology towards increased empirical relevance and broader scientific synthesis, I propose that environmental biologists focus on predicting key characteristics of an ecosystem from the genotypes within its constituent communities. Such metagenomes effectively identify the organisms and their interactions within ecosystems. Following the first of several “virtual cells” built by systems biologists that predicts a human pathogen’s phenotype from its genotype, powerful social (e.g., structured collaborations), scientific (e.g., networks of networks) and technical (e.g., computer and data science) concepts for accomplishing the proposed task will be described along with a plausible workflow based on allometric trophic network theory. Anticipated benefits include more integrated, mechanistic, and predictive theory of how ecosystem structure and function emerge from organisms interacting within a habitat.

Chuliang Song (McGill University): An environment-dependent framework to study ecological networks

1 June, 2021, Video

Ecological networks—how species interactions are organized within ecological communities—are highly structured, which has motivated generations of ecologists to elucidate how these structures affect species coexistence. Unfortunately, we still do not have a clear and consistent answer about the link between network structure and species coexistence. A possible explanation is that most of the studies do not take into account that the environment affects both network structure and species coexistence due to the multidimensional and changing nature of environmental factors. In this context, the structural stability approach provides a theoretical framework grounded on biological realism to quantitatively link network structure, species coexistence, and environmental factors. In this talk, I will introduce the theoretical framework and computational tools of the structural stability approach, and present the empirical validation using field and experimental observations.

Cinzia Soresina (University of Gratz): The influence of cross-diffusion in pattern formation: multistability and Hopf bifurcations

18 May, 2021, Video

The Shigesada-Kawasaki-Teramoto model (SKT) was proposed to account for stable inhomogeneous steady states exhibiting spatial segregation, which describes a situation of coexistence of two competing species. Even though the reaction part does not present the activator-inhibitor structure, the cross-diffusion terms are the key ingredient for the appearance of spatial patterns. We provide a deeper understanding of the conditions required on both the cross-diffusion and the reaction coefficients for non-homogeneous steady states to exist, by combining a detailed linearised and weakly non-linear analysis with advanced numerical bifurcation methods via the continuation software pde2path. In particular, we study the role of the additional cross-diffusion term in pattern formation, showing that the bifurcation diagram undergoes major deformations leading to multistability regions. The presence of time-periodic spatial pattern appearing via Hopf bifurcation points is also investigated.

Masato Yamamichi (Brisbane): How does rapid evolution promote species coexistence?

4 May, 2021, Video

Previous studies have revealed that microevolution (i.e., temporal changes in allele frequencies) is pervasive in the wild and may be an important factor for understanding various ecological dynamics. Here, I show how rapid evolution can promote species coexistence via density-dependent sexual and social selection (intraspecific adaptation load: Yamamichi et al. 2020 Trends Ecol. Evol.) and resource-dependent adaptive foraging in limit cycles (relative nonlinearity: Yamamichi & Letten 2021 Ecol. Lett.). Then I will discuss the potential synthesis of theories on species coexistence and eco-evolutionary dynamics.

Priyanga Amarasekare (UCLA): Predicting the effects of climate warming: from chemistry to evolution

20 April, 2021, Video

I want to make the argument that understanding life on earth requires developing theory that integrates across levels of information, from chemistry to evolution. I am going to focus on temperature variation and phenotypic plasticity, not least because temperature is integral to all life processes, and climate warming poses one of the greatest threats to life on earth. Predicting the effects of warming requires knowing whether organisms have sufficient plasticity to respond to current levels of warming, and whether plasticity can evolve fast enough to keep pace with warming. But, existing plasticity is the result of past evolution, while future plasticity is the result future evolution. My thesis is that chemistry is integral to both understanding past evolution and predicting future evolution. I will present theory and data to support this idea and discuss future research directions.

György Barabás (Linköping University): Coexistence and parameter sensitivity in stationary aperiodic environments

6 April, 2021 Video

First, I present a method for calculating how average population densities respond to parameter perturbations when the dynamics are periodic, and show that this practical problem holds a strong connection with basic questions of coexistence. I then generalize this result to stationary nonperiodic density fluctuations. I finish by discussing the connection with existing formalisms for understanding coexistence in variable environments.

Theresa Ong (Dartmouth): Complex hysteretic patterns: hidden loops and ecological traps

23 March, 2021, Video

Critical transitions whereby small changes in conditions can cause large and irreversible changes in ecosystem states are a cause of increasing concern in ecology. Here, I focus on the irreversibility of these transitions, formally known as hysteresis. I will discuss a variety of complicated hysteretic patterns derived from theory and experiments, which include “unattainable” stable states that once lost may never be recovered.

Géza Meszéna (Eötvös University): Coexistence, niche, adaptation and all that…

9 March, 2021, Video

Why are there so many animals? According an old idea, it is because there are so many different possibilities for life to adapt to. I’ll argue that it is still true, and truer than the suggested alternatives. The challenge is to establish the precise mathematical treatment at this level of generality without losing the reach to the phenomenal complexity of ecosystems.

James O’Dwyer (University of Illinois): Cooperation, Resource Exchange, and Stability

23 February, 2021, Video

Models of microbial interactions have been developed in recent years, drawing from taxonomic abundances via amplicon sequencing. Many of these models assume that dynamics through time are primarily driven by pairwise interactions between taxa, but with the drawback that how these interaction strengths may change with environmental context is less than clear. Here we model the consumption and exchange of resources explicitly, and show that these processes imply new results and principles for the stability of ecological communities.

Thomas Koffel (Michigan State): A niche theory of positive interactions

9 February, 2021, Video

Niche Theory has traditionally focused on competitive interactions. In this talk, we propose a general framework that expands the theory to positive interactions, such as facilitation and mutualism, using angular metrics of niche difference. We develop novel niche concepts such as the Allee niche and niche expansion, and illustrate them using a diverse set of theoretical examples.

Stephen Ellner (Cornell): An invitation to spatial coexistence theory

26 January, 2021, Video

Previously in this series Sebastian Schreiber reviewed stochastic coexistence theory for infinite population models, based on long-term population growth rates of (infinitesimally) rare invaders. Nadav Shnerb presented progress on the challenges posed by demographic stochasticity, in finite populations of discrete individuals. Today we add one more complication: spatial structure and local movement, so that invader populations are clumped, and locally common even when globally rare.

Camille Carpentier (University of Namur): A new link-species relationship connects ecosystem structure and stability

12 January, 2021, Video

How does an ecosystem’s structure determine its capacity to cope with species removal and perturbations of species densities? To answer this question, we develop a network-specific approach to the link-species relationship, and demonstrate that it formally predicts a robustness-resilience trade-off, both theoretically and in empirical networks.

2020 Fall semester

Nadav Shnerb (Bar Ilan University): Quantifying coexistence

8 December, 2020, Video

Modern coexistence theory employs mutual invasibility as a coexistence criterion and mean growth rate when rare as an invasibility criterion. When implemented as quantitative metrics, both criteria have shortcomings: persistence time may decline when the chance of invasion grows, and invasibility may decrease as the mean growth rate increases in magnitude. I will discuss an alternative framework and introduce a new metric for invasibility under both demographic and environmental stochasticity.

Stefano Allesina (University of Chicago): A metapopulation model in which patches have memory

24 November, 2020, Video

Levins’ metapopulation model has been extended in numerous ways. Here we analyze a model in which species have distinct colonization rates that depend on which species previously occupied the patch. We connect this model to the Janzen-Connell hypothesis and show some surprising behavior for a simplified version of the model.

Sebastian Schreiber (UC Davis): General theorems for coexistence and extinction in stochastic models

9 November, 2020, Video

In the 1980s, Josef Hofbauer introduced a criterion for mathematically verifying coexistence using per-capita growth rates of species when rare i.e. Lyapunov exponents. This criterion ensures coexistence is robust to large perturbations of the community state (i.e. permanence) and small structural perturbations of the governing equations (i.e. robust permanence). Originally developed for deterministic models without population structure, Hofbauer’s criterion has been extended in the past decade to models allowing for auxiliary variables and environmental stochasticity. In this talk, I review the key ingredients of this theory and illustrate its use in multi-species models with intransitivities, eco-evolutionary feedbacks, sexual dimorphisms, autocorrelated environmental fluctuations, or spatial structure.

André M. de Roos (University of Amsterdam): Towards a general theory of coexistence: Lyapunov exponents, auxiliary variables, and Hofbauer’s criterion

27 October, 2020, Video

Dynamic models of ecological communities that neglect within-population structure predict that stability depends on substantial self-limitation of species. Using a stage-structured food web model I show that differences between juveniles and adults result in diverse ecological communities that are stable or exhibit limited-amplitude fluctuations, despite that only a single basal species is self-regulated. Eigenvalue analysis reveals that community stability results from dynamic changes in within-population stage-structure that override destabilising effects induced by the species interaction network.

Vadim Karatayev (University of Guleph), with Vadim Karatayev, Marissa Baskett, Egbert van Nes, Marten Scheffer: Species heterogeneity can reduce the potential for alternative stable states in food webs

13 October, 2020, Video

Can alternative stable states arise when food webs dissipate feedbacks across many species in diverse systems like coral reefs? Although consumer loss often characterizes degraded ecological states, food web resilience theory predominantly focuses on specific systems and few-species models. After developing a generalized model of consumer collapse, we show that alternative stable states dominated by either consumer or resource guilds can arise when consumer species improve conditions in the same way, for instance when different herbivore species promote habitat-forming corals by limiting the total cover of macroalgae. Conversely, specialized feedbacks where size refugia or group defense make individual resource species inedible are less likely to drive many-species alternative stable states because losing the most vulnerable consumers cascades into a guild-wide collapse.

Éva Kisdi (Helsinki): The evolution of habitat choice facilitates niche expansion

29 September, 2020, Video

Matching habitat choice and local adaptation are two key factors that control the distribution and diversification of species. We study their joint evolution in a structured metapopulation model with a continuous distribution of habitats. Habitat choice follows from dispersal with non-random immigration, a process always acknowledged yet rarely incorporated into theoretical models. For fixed local adaptation, we find the evolutionarily stable habitat choice as a function linking the probability of settlement to the local environment. When the local adaptation trait co-evolves, the metapopulation can become polymorphic. Our main result shows that coexisting strains with only slightly different local adaptation traits evolve substantially different habitat choice. In turn, different habitat use selects for divergent local adaptations. We thus propose that under wide conditions, the joint evolution of habitat choice and local adaptation can facilitate niche expansion via diversification.

Guy Bunin (Technion, Haifa): Phase-transitions as signatures of complex communities

15 September, 2020, Video

 What characterizes species-rich communities with complex species interactions–for example, competing over many niches? Models predict sharp transitions, as conditions are changed, between qualitatively different dynamical behaviors. These include the abrupt appearance of a vast number of alternative steady-states; and the onset of persistent abundance fluctuations, nearly uncorrelated between species. We discuss these phenomena, and how they differ from related low-dimensional behavior.