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  1. Mitri, Sara (Ed.)
    The persistence of virtually every single species depends on both the presence of other species and the specific environmental conditions in a given location. Because in natural settings many of these conditions are unknown, research has been centered on finding the fraction of possible conditions (probability) leading to species coexistence. The focus has been on the persistence probability of an entire multispecies community (formed of either two or more species). However, the methodological and philosophical question has always been whether we can observe the entire community and, if not, what the conditions are under which an observed subset of the community can persist as part of a larger multispecies system. Here, we derive long-term (using analytical calculations) and short-term (using simulations and experimental data) system-level indicators of the effect of third-party species on the coexistence probability of a pair (or subset) of species under unknown environmental conditions. We demonstrate that the fraction of conditions incompatible with the possible coexistence of a pair of species tends to become vanishingly small within systems of increasing numbers of species. Yet, the probability of pairwise coexistence in isolation remains approximately the expected probability of pairwise coexistence in more diverse assemblages. In addition, we found that when third-party species tend to reduce (resp. increase) the coexistence probability of a pair, they tend to exhibit slower (resp. faster) rates of competitive exclusion. Long-term and short-term effects of the remaining third-party species on all possible specific pairs in a system are not equally distributed, but these differences can be mapped and anticipated under environmental uncertainty. 
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  2. Abstract

    Understanding how communities respond to perturbations requires us to consider not only changes in the abundance of individual species but also correlated changes that can emerge through interspecific effects. However, our knowledge of this phenomenon is mostly constrained to situations where interspecific effects are fixed. Here, we introduce a framework to disentangle the impact of species correlated responses on community sensitivity to perturbations when interspecific effects change over time due to cyclic or chaotic population dynamics. We partition the volume expansion rate of perturbed abundances (community sensitivity) into contributions of individual species and of species correlated responses by converting the time‐varying Jacobian matrix containing interspecific effects into a time‐varying covariance matrix. Using population dynamics models, we demonstrate that species correlated responses change considerably across time and continuously alternate between reducing and having no impact on community sensitivity. Importantly, these alternating impacts depend on the abundance of particular species and can be detected even from noisy time series. We showcase our framework using two experimental predator–prey time series and find that the impact of species correlated responses is modulated by prey abundance—as theoretically expected. Our results provide new insights into how and when species interactions can dampen community sensitivity when abundances fluctuate over time.

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  3. Spatial dynamics have long been recognized as an important driver of biodiversity. However, our understanding of species’ coexistence under realistic landscape configurations has been limited by lack of adequate analytical tools. To fill this gap, we develop a spatially explicit metacommunity model of multiple competing species and derive analytical criteria for their coexistence in fragmented heterogeneous landscapes. Specifically, we propose measures of niche and fitness differences for metacommunities, which clarify how spatial dynamics and habitat configuration interact with local competition to determine coexistence of species. We parameterize our model with a Bayesian approach using a 36-y time-series dataset of three Daphnia species in a rockpool metacommunity covering >500 patches. Our results illustrate the emergence of interspecific variation in extinction and recolonization processes, including their dependencies on habitat size and environmental temperature. We find that such interspecific variation contributes to the coexistence of Daphnia species by reducing fitness differences and increasing niche differences. Additionally, our parameterized model allows separating the effects of habitat destruction and temperature change on species extinction. By integrating coexistence theory and metacommunity theory, our study provides platforms to increase our understanding of species’ coexistence in fragmented heterogeneous landscapes and the response of biodiversity to environmental changes. 
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  4. Pollination plays a central role in both crop production and maintaining biodiversity. However, habitat loss, pesticides, invasive species and larger environmental fluctuations are contributing to a dramatic decline of pollinators worldwide. Different management solutions require knowledge of how ecological communities will respond following interventions. Yet, anticipating the response of these systems to interventions remains extremely challenging due to the unpredictable nature of ecological communities, whose nonlinear behaviour depends on the specific details of species interactions and the various unknown or unmeasured confounding factors. Here, we propose that this knowledge can be derived by following a probabilistic systems analysis rooted on non-parametric causal inference. The main outcome of this analysis is to estimate the extent to which a hypothesized cause can increase or decrease the probability that a given effect happens without making assumptions about the form of the cause–effect relationship. We discuss a road map for how this analysis can be accomplished with the aim of increasing our system-level causative knowledge of natural communities. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Natural processes influencing pollinator health: from chemistry to landscapes’. 
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  5. Abstract

    Microbes form multispecies communities that play essential roles in our environment and health. Not surprisingly, there is an increasing need for understanding if certain invader species will modify a given microbial community, producing either a desired or undesired change in the observed collection of resident species. However, the complex interactions that species can establish between each other and the diverse external factors underlying their dynamics have made constructing such understanding context-specific. Here we integrate tractable theoretical systems with tractable experimental systems to find general conditions under which non-resident species can change the collection of resident communities—game-changing species. We show that non-resident colonizers are more likely to be game-changers than transients, whereas game-changers are more likely to suppress than to promote resident species. Importantly, we find general heuristic rules for game-changers under controlled environments by integrating mutual invasibility theory with in vitro experimental systems, and general heuristic rules under changing environments by integrating structuralist theory with in vivo experimental systems. Despite the strong context-dependency of microbial communities, our work shows that under an appropriate integration of tractable theoretical and experimental systems, it is possible to unveil regularities that can then be potentially extended to understand the behavior of complex natural communities.

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  6. null (Ed.)
    Finding a compromise between tractability and realism has always been at the core of ecological modelling. The introduction of nonlinear functional responses in two-species models has reconciled part of this compromise. However, it remains unclear whether this compromise can be extended to multispecies models. Yet, answering this question is necessary in order to differentiate whether the explanatory power of a model comes from the general form of its polynomial or from a more realistic description of multispecies systems. Here, we study the probability of feasibility (the existence of at least one positive real equilibrium) in complex models by adding higher-order interactions and nonlinear functional responses to the linear Lotka–Volterra model. We characterize complexity by the number of free-equilibrium points generated by a model, which is a function of the polynomial degree and system’s dimension. We show that the probability of generating a feasible system in a model is an increasing function of its complexity, regardless of the specific mechanism invoked. Furthermore, we find that the probability of feasibility in a model will exceed that of the linear Lotka–Volterra model when a minimum level of complexity is reached. Importantly, this minimum level is modulated by parameter restrictions, but can always be exceeded via increasing the polynomial degree or system’s dimension. Our results reveal that conclusions regarding the relevance of mechanisms embedded in complex models must be evaluated in relation to the expected explanatory power of their polynomial forms. 
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