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  1. Abstract

    Habitat fragmentation remains a major focus of research by ecologists decades after being put forward as a threat to the integrity of ecosystems. While studies have documented myriad biotic changes in fragmented landscapes, including the local extinction of species from fragments, the demographic mechanisms underlying these extinctions are rarely known. However, many of them—especially in lowland tropical forests—are thought to be driven by one of two mechanisms: (1) reduced recruitment in fragments resulting from changes in the diversity or abundance of pollinators and seed dispersers or (2) increased rates of individual mortality in fragments due to dramatically altered abiotic conditions, especially near fragment edges. Unfortunately, there have been few tests of these potential mechanisms due to the paucity of long‐term and comprehensive demographic data collected in both forest fragments and continuous forest sites. Here we report 11 years (1998–2009) of demographic data from populations of the Amazonian understory herbHeliconia acuminata(LC Rich.) found at Brazil's Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (BDFFP). The data set comprises >66,000 plant × year records of 8586 plants, including 3464 seedlings established after the first census. Seven populations were in experimentally isolated fragments (one in each of four 1‐ha fragments and one in each of three 10‐ha fragments), with the remaining six populations in continuous forest. Each population was in a 50 × 100 m permanent plot, with the distance between plots ranging from 500 m to 60 km. The plants in each plot were censused annually, at which time we recorded, identified, marked, and measured new seedlings, identified any previously marked plants that died, and recorded the size of surviving individuals. Each plot was also surveyed four to five times during the flowering season to identify reproductive plants and record the number of inflorescences each produced. These data have been used to investigate topics ranging from the way fragmentation‐related reductions in germination influence population dynamics to statistical methods for analyzing reproductive rates. This breadth of prior use reflects the value of these data to future researchers. In addition to analyses of plant responses to habitat fragmentation, these data can be used to address fundamental questions in plant demography and the evolutionary ecology of tropical plants and to develop and test demographic models and tools. Though we welcome opportunities to collaborate with interested users, there are no restrictions on the use of this data set. However, we do request that those using the data for teaching or research purposes inform us of how they are doing so and cite this paper and the data archive when appropriate. Any publication using the data must also include a BDFFP Technical Series Number in the Acknowledgments. Authors can request this series number upon the acceptance of their article by contacting the BDFFP's Scientific Coordinator or E. M. Bruna.

     
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  2. Abstract

    Habitat loss is often considered the greatest near‐term threat to biodiversity, while the impact of habitat fragmentation remains intensely debated. A key issue of this debate centers on the problem of scale–landscape or patch–at which to assess the consequences of fragmentation. Yet patterns are often confounded across scales, and experimental designs that could solve this scaling problem remain scarce. We conducted two field experiments in 30 experimental landscapes in which we manipulated habitat loss, fragmentation, and patch size for a community of four insect herbivores that specialize on the cactusOpuntia. In the first experiment, we destroyed 2088Opuntiapatches in either aggregated or random patterns and compared the relative effects of landscape‐scale loss and fragmentation to those of local patch size on species occurrence. This experiment focused on manipulating the relative separation of remaining patches, where we hypothesized that aggregated loss would disrupt dispersal more than random loss, leading to lower occurrence. In the second experiment, we destroyed 759Opuntiapatches to generate landscapes that varied in patch number and size for a given amount of habitat loss and assessed species occurrence. This experiment focused on manipulating the subdivision of remaining habitat, where we hypothesized that an increase in the number of patches for a given amount of loss would lead to negative effects on occurrence. For both, we expected that occurrence would increase with patch size. We find strong evidence for landscape‐scale effects of habitat fragmentation, with aggregated loss and a larger number of patches for a given amount of habitat loss leading to a lower frequency of patches occupied in landscapes. In both experiments, occurrence increased with patch size, yet interactions of patch size and landscape‐scale loss and fragmentation drove species occurrence in patches. Importantly, the direction of effects were consistent across scales and effects of patch size were sufficient to predict the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation across entire landscapes. Our experimental results suggest that changes at both the patch and landscape scales can impact populations, but that a long‐standing pattern—the patch‐size effect—captures much of the key variation shaping patterns of species occurrence.

     
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  3. McConkey, Kim (Ed.)
    Abstract Although dispersal is generally viewed as a crucial determinant for the fitness of any organism, our understanding of its role in the persistence and spread of plant populations remains incomplete. Generalizing and predicting dispersal processes are challenging due to context dependence of seed dispersal, environmental heterogeneity and interdependent processes occurring over multiple spatial and temporal scales. Current population models often use simple phenomenological descriptions of dispersal processes, limiting their ability to examine the role of population persistence and spread, especially under global change. To move seed dispersal ecology forward, we need to evaluate the impact of any single seed dispersal event within the full spatial and temporal context of a plant’s life history and environmental variability that ultimately influences a population’s ability to persist and spread. In this perspective, we provide guidance on integrating empirical and theoretical approaches that account for the context dependency of seed dispersal to improve our ability to generalize and predict the consequences of dispersal, and its anthropogenic alteration, across systems. We synthesize suitable theoretical frameworks for this work and discuss concepts, approaches and available data from diverse subdisciplines to help operationalize concepts, highlight recent breakthroughs across research areas and discuss ongoing challenges and open questions. We address knowledge gaps in the movement ecology of seeds and the integration of dispersal and demography that could benefit from such a synthesis. With an interdisciplinary perspective, we will be able to better understand how global change will impact seed dispersal processes, and potential cascading effects on plant population persistence, spread and biodiversity. 
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  4. A variety of landscape models are used to conceptualize and interpret human impacts on ecosystems and their biodiversity. The simplest, a ‘patch‐matrix’ model, is rooted in island biogeography theory and assumes a dichotomy between generic, easily‐defined habitat patches and a surrounding matrix that is completely inhospitable. This dichotomy between patch and matrix habitats has been recently relaxed, with the ‘continuum’ model taking this relaxation to its extreme and logical endpoint – a species‐based model with no a priori definition of habitat or matrix, but rather focusing on ecological gradients. Yet, because few empirical comparisons of these bookending models exist, we lack understanding of their relative utility or the merits of hybrid approaches that combine attributes of patch‐matrix and continuum models. To guide such considerations, we first develop a decision‐making framework for the application of patch‐matrix, continuum, and hybrid models. The framework takes into account study objectives, attributes of the landscape, and species traits. We then evaluate this framework by empirically comparing how continuum, patch‐matrix, and hybrid models explain beetle distributions across two contrasting fragmented landscapes, for species differing in trophic level and habitat specificity. Within the Hope River Forest Fragmentation Project, a system with strong landscape contrast and distinct (‘hard’) structural edges between forest fragments and grassland, we find broad support for hybrid models, particularly those incorporating surrounding landscape structure. Conversely, within the Wog Wog Habitat Fragmentation Experiment, a system with weak landscape contrast and ‘soft’ structural edges between natural and plantation forest, we find co‐support for continuum and hybrid models. We find no support in either system for patch‐matrix, relative to continuum and hybrid models. We conclude by considering key questions and areas of research for advancing the application of models to understand species responses and biodiversity patterns associated with land‐use change.

     
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  5. Abstract

    Synthesis research in ecology and environmental science improves understanding, advances theory, identifies research priorities, and supports management strategies by linking data, ideas, and tools. Accelerating environmental challenges increases the need to focus synthesis science on the most pressing questions. To leverage input from the broader research community, we convened a virtual workshop with participants from many countries and disciplines to examine how and where synthesis can address key questions and themes in ecology and environmental science in the coming decade. Seven priority research topics emerged: (1) diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ), (2) human and natural systems, (3) actionable and use‐inspired science, (4) scale, (5) generality, (6) complexity and resilience, and (7) predictability. Additionally, two issues regarding the general practice of synthesis emerged: the need for increased participant diversity and inclusive research practices; and increased and improved data flow, access, and skill‐building. These topics and practices provide a strategic vision for future synthesis in ecology and environmental science.

     
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