Gradient and scale are two key concepts in ecology and evolution that are closely related but inherently distinct. While scale commonly refers to the dimensional space of a specific ecological/evolutionary (eco–evo) issue, gradient measures the range of a given variable. Gradient and scale can jointly and interactively influence eco–evo patterns. Extensive previous research investigated how changing scales may affect the observation and interpretation of eco–evo patterns; however, relatively little attention has been paid to the role of changing gradients. Here, synthesizing recent research progress, we suggest that the role of scale in the emergence of ecological patterns should be evaluated in conjunction with considering the underlying environmental gradients. This is important because, in most studies, the range of the gradient is often part of its full potential range. The difference between sampled (partial) versus potential (full) environmental gradients may profoundly impact observed eco–evo patterns and alter scale–gradient relationships. Based on observations from both field and experimental studies, we illustrate the underlying features of gradients and how they may affect observed patterns, along with the linkages of these features to scales. Since sampled gradients often do not cover their full potential ranges, we discuss how the breadth and the starting and ending positions of key gradients may affect research design and data interpretation. We then outline potential approaches and related perspectives to better integrate gradient with scale in future studies.
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Moderate severity disturbances, those that do not result in stand replacement, play an essential role in ecosystem dynamics. Despite the prevalence of moderate severity disturbances and the significant impacts they impose on forest functioning, little is known about their effects on forest canopy structure and how these effects differ over time across a range of disturbance severities and disturbance types.
Using longitudinal data from the National Ecological Observatory Network project, we assessed the effects of three moderate severity press disturbances (beech bark disease, hemlock woolly adelgid and emerald ash borer, which are characterized by continuous disturbance and sustained mortality) and three moderate severity pulse disturbances (spring cankerworm moth, spongy moth and ground fire, which are associated with discrete and relatively short mortalities) on temperate forest canopy structure in eastern US. We studied (1) how light detection and ranging (LiDAR)‐derived metrics of canopy structure change in response to disturbance and (2) whether initial canopy complexity offsets impact of disturbances on canopy structure over time. We used a mixed‐effects modelling framework which included a non‐linear term for time to represent changes in canopy structure caused by disturbance, and interactions between time and both disturbance intensity and initial canopy complexity.
We discovered that high intensity of both press and pulse disturbances inhibited canopy height growth while low intensity pulse disturbances facilitated it. In addition, high intensity pulse disturbances facilitated increases in the complexity of the canopy over time. Concerning the impact of initial canopy complexity, we found that the initial canopy complexity of disturbed plots altered the effects of moderate disturbances, indicating potential resilience effects.
Synthesis. This study used repeated measurements of LiDAR data to examine the effects of moderate disturbances on various dimensions of forest canopy structure, including height, openness, density and complexity. Our study indicates that both press and pulse disturbances can inhibit canopy height growth over time. However, while the impact of press disturbances on other dimensions of canopy structure could not be clearly detected, likely because of compensatory growth, the impact of pulse disturbances over time was more readily apparent using multi‐temporal LiDAR data. Furthermore, our findings suggest that canopy complexity might help to mitigate the impact of moderate disturbances on canopy structures over time. Overall, our research highlights the usefulness of multi‐temporal LiDAR data for assessing the structural changes in forest canopies caused by moderate severity disturbances.
Establishments of non‐native forest pests (insects and pathogens) continue to increase worldwide with growing numbers of introductions and changes in invasion pathways. Quantifying spatio‐temporal patterns in establishment locations and subsequent invasion dynamics can provide insight into the underlying mechanisms driving invasions and assist biosecurity agencies with prioritizing areas for proactive surveillance and management.
United States of America.
Major taxa studied
Insecta, plant pathogens.
Using locations of first discovery and county‐level occurrence data for 101 non‐native pests across the contiguous USA, we (a) quantified spatial patterns in discovery points and county‐level species richness with spatial point process models and spatial hotspot analyses, respectively, and (b) identified potential proxies for propagule pressure (e.g., human population density) associated with these observed patterns.
Discovery points were highly aggregated in space and located in areas with high densities of ports and roads. Although concentrated in the north‐eastern USA, discovery points also occurred farther west and became less aggregated as time progressed. Invasion hotspots were more common in the north‐east. Geographic patterns of discovery points and hotspots varied substantially among pest origins (i.e., global region of pests’ native ranges) and pest feeding guilds. Significant variation in invasion richness was attributed to the patterns of first discovery locations. Data and shapefiles comprising analyses are provided.
Use of spatial point pattern analyses provided a quantitative characterization of the central role of human activities in establishment of non‐native pests. Moreover, the decreased aggregation of discovery points through time suggests that invasion pathways to certain areas in the USA have either been created or intensified by human activities. Overall, our results suggest that spatio‐temporal variability in the intensity of invasion pathways has resulted in marked geographic patterns of establishment and contributed to current macroscale patterns of pest invasion in the USA.
Biodiversity is believed to be closely related to ecosystem functions. However, the ability of existing biodiversity measures, such as species richness and phylogenetic diversity, to predict ecosystem functions remains elusive. Here, we propose a new vector of diversity metrics, structural diversity, which directly incorporates niche space in measuring ecosystem structure. We hypothesize that structural diversity will provide better predictive ability of key ecosystem functions than traditional biodiversity measures. Using the new lidar-derived canopy structural diversity metrics on 19 National Ecological Observation Network forested sites across the USA, we show that structural diversity is a better predictor of key ecosystem functions, such as productivity, energy, and nutrient dynamics than existing biodiversity measures (i.e. species richness and phylogenetic diversity). Similar to existing biodiversity measures, we found that the relationships between structural diversity and ecosystem functions are sensitive to environmental context. Our study indicates that structural diversity may be as good or a better predictor of ecosystem functions than species richness and phylogenetic diversity.
Impact assessment is an important and cost‐effective tool for assisting in the identification and prioritization of invasive alien species. With the number of alien and invasive alien species expected to increase, reliance on impact assessment tools for the identification of species that pose the greatest threats will continue to grow. Given the importance of such assessments for management and resource allocation, it is critical to understand the uncertainty involved and what effect this may have on the outcome. Using an uncertainty typology and insects as a model taxon, we identified and classified the causes and types of uncertainty when performing impact assessments on alien species. We assessed 100 alien insect species across two rounds of assessments with each species independently assessed by two assessors. Agreement between assessors was relatively low for all three impact classification components (mechanism, severity, and confidence) after the first round of assessments. For the second round, we revised guidelines and gave assessors access to each other’s assessments which improved agreement by between 20% and 30% for impact mechanism, severity, and confidence. Of the 12 potential reasons for assessment discrepancies identified a priori, 11 were found to occur. The most frequent causes (and types) of uncertainty (i.e., differences between assessment outcomes for the same species) were as follows: incomplete information searches (systematic error), unclear mechanism and/or extent of impact (subjective judgment due to a lack of knowledge), and limitations of the assessment framework (context dependence). In response to these findings, we identify actions that may reduce uncertainty in the impact assessment process, particularly for assessing speciose taxa with diverse life histories such as Insects. Evidence of environmental impact was available for most insect species, and (of the non‐random original subset of species assessed) 14 of those with evidence were identified as high impact species (with either major or massive impact). Although uncertainty in risk assessment, including impact assessments, can never be eliminated, identifying, and communicating its cause and variety is a first step toward its reduction and a more reliable assessment outcome, regardless of the taxa being assessed.
Ecologists—especially those new to the field—are tasked with finding relevant literature matching their research interests and deciding upon a suitable venue for the publication of their work. To provide a roadmap for early career researchers to identify journals aligned with their interests, we analyzed major research themes found across the top 30 ecology journals and three high‐impact multi‐disciplinary journals (
Nature, PNAS,and Science), utilizing an automated content analysis ( ACA) of 84,841 article abstracts, titles, and author keywords published over the last four decades. Journals clustered into 10 distinct groups based on 46 research themes identified by ACA. We examined the frequency of ecological themes in each of these journal groups to identify the journals most associated with each theme. We found three themes ( anthropogenic impacts, disease,and traits) that occurred at a high frequency in the high‐impact multi‐disciplinary journal group containing Nature, PNAS,and Science. Themes that increased in frequency over the last four decades, such as climate change, traits, anthropogenic, and cellular biology, were found more often in journals with higher impact factors, indicating that emerging research themes in ecology will likely become of interest to a broader readership over time. Our study provides a thematic review as a potential roadmap for junior ecologists to browse and publish journal articles.
The physical structure of vegetation is thought to be closely related to ecosystem function, but little is known of its pertinence across geographic regions. Here, we used data from over three million trees in continental North America to evaluate structural diversity – the volumetric capacity and physical arrangement of biotic components in ecosystems – as a predictor of productivity. We show that structural diversity is a robust predictor of forest productivity and consistently outperforms the traditional measure – species diversity – across climate conditions in North America. Moreover, structural diversity appears to be a better surrogate of niche occupancy because it captures variation in size that can be used to measure realized niche space. Structural diversity offers an easily measured metric to direct restoration and management decision making to maximize ecosystem productivity and carbon sequestration.more » « lessFree, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2024
The three‐dimensional (3D) physical aspects of ecosystems are intrinsically linked to ecological processes. Here, we describe structural diversity as the volumetric capacity, physical arrangement, and identity/traits of biotic components in an ecosystem. Despite being recognized in earlier ecological studies, structural diversity has been largely overlooked due to an absence of not only a theoretical foundation but also effective measurement tools. We present a framework for conceptualizing structural diversity and suggest how to facilitate its broader incorporation into ecological theory and practice. We also discuss how the interplay of genetic and environmental factors underpin structural diversity, allowing for a potentially unique synthetic approach to explain ecosystem function. A practical approach is then proposed in which scientists can test the ecological role of structural diversity at biotic–environmental interfaces, along with examples of structural diversity research and future directions for integrating structural diversity into ecological theory and management across scales.more » « lessFree, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2024