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  1. Extreme weather events perturb ecosystems and increasingly threaten biodiversity1. Ecologists emphasize the need to forecast and mitigate the impacts of these events, which requires knowledge of how risk is distributed among species and environments. However, the scale and unpredictability of extreme events complicate risk assessment1–4—especially for large animals (megafauna), which are ecologically important and disproportionately threatened but are wide-ranging and difficult to monitor5. Traits such as body size, dispersal ability and habitat affiliation are hypothesized to determine the vulnerability of animals to natural hazards1,6,7. Yet it has rarely been possible to test these hypotheses or, more generally, to link the short-term and long-term ecological effects of weather-related disturbance8,9. Here we show how large herbivores and carnivores in Mozambique responded to Intense Tropical Cyclone Idai, the deadliest storm on record in Africa, across scales ranging from individual decisions in the hours after landfall to changes in community composition nearly 2 years later. Animals responded behaviourally to rising floodwaters by moving upslope and shifting their diets. Body size and habitat association independently predicted population-level impacts: five of the smallest and most lowland-affiliated herbivore species declined by an average of 28% in the 20 months after landfall, while four of the largest and most upland-affiliated species increased by an average of 26%. We attribute the sensitivity of small-bodied species to their limited mobility and physiological constraints, which restricted their ability to avoid the flood and endure subsequent reductions in the quantity and quality of food. Our results identify general traits that govern animal responses to severe weather, which may help to inform wildlife conservation in a volatile climate. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 23, 2024
  2. Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 1, 2024
  3. Determining whether and how evolution is predictable is an important goal, particularly as anthropogenic disturbances lead to novel species interactions that could modify selective pres- sures. Here, we use a multigeneration field experiment with brown anole lizards (Anolis sagrei) to test hypotheses about the predictabil- ity of evolution. We manipulated the presence/absence of predators and competitors of A. sagrei across 16 islands in the Bahamas that had preexisting brown anole populations. Before the experiment and again after roughly five generations, we measured traits related to locomotor performance and habitat use by brown anoles and used double-digest restriction enzyme–associated DNA sequencing to estimate genome-wide changes in allele frequencies. Although previous work showed that predators and competitors had characteristic effects on brown anole behavior, diet, and population sizes, we found that evolutionary change at both phenotypic and genomic levels was difficult to forecast. Phenotypic changes were contingent on sex and hab- itat use, whereas genetic change was unpredictable and not measur- ably correlated with phenotypic changes, experimental treatments, or other environmental factors. Our work shows how differences in ecological context can alter evolutionary outcomes over short timescales and underscores the difficulty of forecasting evolutionary responses to multispecies interactions in natural conditions, even in a well-studied system with ample supporting ecological information. 
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  4. Amidst global shifts in the distribution and abundance of wildlife and livestock, we have only a rudimentary understanding of ungulate parasite communities and parasite-sharing patterns. We used qPCR and DNA metabarcoding of fecal samples to characterize gastrointestinal nematode (Strongylida) community composition and sharing among 17 sympatric species of wild and domestic large mammalian herbivore in central Kenya. We tested a suite of hypothesis-driven predictions about the role of host traits and phylogenetic relatedness in describing parasite infections. Host species identity explained 27–53% of individual variation in parasite prevalence, richness, community composition and phylogenetic diversity. Host and parasite phylogenies were congruent, host gut morphology predicted parasite community composition and prevalence, and hosts with low evolutionary distinctiveness were centrally positioned in the parasite-sharing network. We found no evidence that host body size, social-group size or feeding height were correlated with parasite composition. Our results highlight the interwoven evolutionary and ecological histories of large herbivores and their gastrointestinal nematodes and suggest that host identity, phylogeny and gut architecture—a phylogenetically conserved trait related to parasite habitat—are the overriding influences on parasite communities. These findings have implications for wildlife management and conservation as wild herbivores are increasingly replaced by livestock. 
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  5. Austin, A (Ed.)
    Sympatric large mammalian herbivore species differ in diet composition, both by eating different parts of the same plant and by eating different plant species. Various theories proposed to explain these differences are not mutually exclusive, but are difficult to reconcile and confront with data. Moreover, whereas several of these ideas were originally developed with reference to within-plant partitioning (i.e., consumption of different tissues), they may analogously apply to partitioning of plant species; this possibility has received little attention. Plant functional traits provide a novel window into herbivore diets and a means of testing multiple hypotheses in a unified framework. We used DNA metabarcoding to characterize the diets of 14 sympatric large-herbivore species in an African savanna and analyzed diet composition in light of 27 functional traits that we measured locally for 204 plant species. Plant traits associated with the deep phylogenetic split between grasses and eudicots formed the primary axis of resource partitioning, affirming the generality and importance of the grazer-browser spectrum. A secondary axis comprised plant traits relevant to herbivore body size. Plant taxa in the diets of large-bodied species were lower on average in digestible energy and protein, taller on average (especially among grazers), and tended to be higher in tensile strength, zinc, stem-specific density, and potassium (and lower in sodium, stem dry matter content, and copper). These results are consistent with longstanding hypotheses linking body size with forage quality and height, yet they also suggest the existence of undiscovered links between herbivore body size and a set of rarely considered food-plant traits. We also tested the novel hypothesis that the leaf economic spectrum (LES), a major focus in plant ecology, is an axis of resource partitioning in large-herbivore assemblages; we found that the LES was a minor axis of individual variation within a few species, but had little effect on interspecific dietary differentiation. Synthesis. These results identify key plant traits that underpin the partitioning of food-plant species in large-herbivore communities and suggest that accounting for multiple plant traits (and tradeoffs among them) will enable a deeper understanding of herbivore-plant interaction networks. 
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