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Concept: Charles Sutherland Elton


In theoretical ecology it is well known that the steady state expressions of the variables in a food chain crucially depend on the parity of the length of the chain. This poses a major problem for modeling real food webs because it is difficult to establish their true number of trophic levels, with sometimes rare predators and often rampant pathogens. Similar problems arise in the modeling of chronic viral infections. We review examples where seemingly general interpretations strongly depend on the number of levels in a model, and on its specific equations. This Perspective aims to open the discussion on this problem.

Concepts: Charles Sutherland Elton, Immune system, Thermodynamics, Mathematics, Food chain, Apex predator, Ecology, Trophic level


Hendra virus (HeV) is an emerging pathogen of concern in Australia given its ability to spillover from its reservoir host, pteropid bats, to horses and further on to humans, and the severe clinical presentation typical in these latter incidental hosts. Specific human pressures over recent decades, such as expanding human populations, urbanization, and forest fragmentation, may have altered the ecological niche of Pteropus species acting as natural HeV reservoirs and may modulate spillover risk. This study explored the influence of inter-decadal net human local migration between 1970 and 2000 on changes in the habitat suitability to P. alecto and P. conspicillatus from 1980 to 2015 in eastern Australia. These ecological niches were modeled using boosted regression trees and subsequently fitted, along with additional landscape factors, to HeV spillovers to explore the spatial dependency of this zoonosis. The spatial model showed that the ecological niche of these two flying fox species, the human footprint, and proximity to woody savanna were each strongly associated with HeV spillover and together explained most of the spatial dependency exhibited by this zoonosis. These findings reinforce the potential for anthropogenic pressures to shape the landscape epidemiology of HeV spillover.

Concepts: Population, Ecology, Ecological niche, Human, Invasive species, Demography, Charles Sutherland Elton, World population


Reductions in hunter-gatherer mobility during the Late Pleistocene influenced settlement ecologies, altered human relations with animal communities, and played a pivotal role in domestication. The influence of variability in human mobility on selection dynamics and ecological interactions in human settlements has not been extensively explored, however. This study of mice in modern African villages and changing mice molar shapes in a 200,000-y-long sequence from the Levant demonstrates competitive advantages for commensal mice in long-term settlements. Mice from African pastoral households provide a referential model for habitat partitioning among mice taxa in settlements of varying durations. The data reveal the earliest known commensal niche for house mice in long-term forager settlements 15,000 y ago. Competitive dynamics and the presence and abundance of mice continued to fluctuate with human mobility through the terminal Pleistocene. At the Natufian site of Ain Mallaha, house mice displaced less commensal wild mice during periods of heavy occupational pressure but were outcompeted when mobility increased. Changing food webs and ecological dynamics in long-term settlements allowed house mice to establish durable commensal populations that expanded with human societies. This study demonstrates the changing magnitude of cultural niche construction with varying human mobility and the extent of environmental influence before the advent of farming.

Concepts: Pleistocene, Invasive species, Human, Mouse, Settlements, Sociology, Charles Sutherland Elton, Ecology


Sharks are a diverse group of mobile predators that forage across varied spatial scales and have the potential to influence food web dynamics. The ecological consequences of recent declines in shark biomass may extend across broader geographic ranges if shark taxa display common behavioural traits. By tracking the original site of photosynthetic fixation of carbon atoms that were ultimately assimilated into muscle tissues of 5,394 sharks from 114 species, we identify globally consistent biogeographic traits in trophic interactions between sharks found in different habitats. We show that populations of shelf-dwelling sharks derive a substantial proportion of their carbon from regional pelagic sources, but contain individuals that forage within additional isotopically diverse local food webs, such as those supported by terrestrial plant sources, benthic production and macrophytes. In contrast, oceanic sharks seem to use carbon derived from between 30° and 50° of latitude. Global-scale compilations of stable isotope data combined with biogeochemical modelling generate hypotheses regarding animal behaviours that can be tested with other methodological approaches.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Charles Sutherland Elton, Geography, Apex predator, Ecology, Photosynthesis, Food chain, Trophic level


Ecuador in the northwestern edge of South America is struggling by vector-borne diseases with an endemic-epidemic behavior leading to an enormous public health problem. Malaria, which has a cyclicality in its dynamics, is closely related to climatic, ecological and socio-economic phenomena. The main objective of this research has been to compare three different prediction species models, the so-called Maxent, logistic regression and multi criteria evaluation with fuzzy logic, in order to determine the model which best describes the ecological niche of the Anopheles spp species, which transmits malaria within Ecuador. After performing a detailed data collection and data processing, we applied the mentioned models and validated them with a statistical analysis in order to discover that the Maxent model has been the model that best defines the distribution of Anopheles spp within the territory. The determined sites, which are of high strategic value and important for the increasing national development, will now be able to initiate preventive countermeasures based on this study.

Concepts: Logistic regression, Invasive species, Statistics, Ecological niche, Model, South America, Regression analysis, Charles Sutherland Elton


Unlike other primates, humans exhibit extensive inter-group tolerance and frequently build relationships with out-group members. Despite its common occurrence, little is known about the conditions leading to out-group relationship building in humans. What are the social and ecological factors promoting valuation of out-group members as potential social partners? Do they differ from those promoting valuation of in-group members? We propose that opportunities for non-local resource access and resource buffering, crucial in the human foraging niche, will increase valuation of out-group strangers. Using survey and experimental data collected among three Bolivian horticultural populations, we find that individuals with fewer non-locally available resources and more information about out-groups demonstrate more generosity toward out-group strangers, but not in-group strangers. The effects are specific to subjective resource access, not objective measures of access, and out-group exposure, not stereotypes. Further, depending on the measure, existing network connections affect both out-group and in-group giving, suggesting that new partnerships from both in-groups and out-groups may bolster one’s networks. Our results illustrate how evolved human psychology is sensitive to the costs and benefits of both out-group and in-group relationships, but underscore that the social and ecological factors favoring new relationships with in-group versus out-group strangers may differ.

Concepts: Charles Sutherland Elton, Ecology, Human, Biology, Interpersonal relationship, Psychology, Natural resource, Evolution


Species composition and habitats are changing at unprecedented rates in the world’s oceans, potentially causing entire food webs to shift to structurally and functionally different regimes. Despite the severity of these regime shifts, elucidating the precise nature of their underlying processes has remained difficult. We address this challenge with a new analytic approach to detect and assess the relative strength of different driving processes in food webs. Our study draws on complexity theory, and integrates the network-centric exponential random graph modelling (ERGM) framework developed within the social sciences with community ecology. In contrast to previous research, this approach makes clear assumptions of direction of causality and accommodates a dynamic perspective on the emergence of food webs. We apply our approach to analysing food webs of the Baltic Sea before and after a previously reported regime shift. Our results show that the dominant food web processes have remained largely the same, although we detect changes in their magnitudes. The results indicate that the reported regime shift may not be a system-wide shift, but instead involve a limited number of species. Our study emphasizes the importance of community-wide analysis on marine regime shifts and introduces a novel approach to examine food webs.

Concepts: Ecosystem, Social sciences, Trophic level, Food chain, Charles Sutherland Elton, Baltic Sea, Complexity, Complex system


Bioinformatics tools available for metagenomic sequencing analysis are principally devoted to the identification of microorganisms populating an ecological niche, but they usually do not consider viruses. Only some software have been designed to profile the viral sequences, however they are not efficient in the characterization of viruses in the context of complex communities, like the intestinal microbiota, containing bacteria, archeabacteria, eukaryotic microorganisms and viruses. In any case, a comprehensive description of the host-microbiota interactions can not ignore the profile of eukaryotic viruses within the virome, as viruses are definitely critical for the regulation of the host immunophenotype.

Concepts: Charles Sutherland Elton, Organism, Microorganism, DNA, Eukaryote, Microbiology, Archaea, Bacteria


The group model is a useful tool to understand broad-scale patterns of interaction in a network, but it has previously been limited in use to food webs, which contain only predator-prey interactions. Natural populations interact with each other in a variety of ways and, although most published ecological networks only include information about a single interaction type (e.g., feeding, pollination), ecologists are beginning to consider networks which combine multiple interaction types. Here we extend the group model to signed directed networks such as ecological interaction webs. As a specific application of this method, we examine the effects of including or excluding specific interaction types on our understanding of species roles in ecological networks. We consider all three currently available interaction webs, two of which are extended plant-mutualist networks with herbivores and parasitoids added, and one of which is an extended intertidal food web with interactions of all possible sign structures (+/+, -/0, etc.). Species in the extended food web grouped similarly with all interactions, only trophic links, and only nontrophic links. However, removing mutualism or herbivory had a much larger effect in the extended plant-pollinator webs. Species removal even affected groups that were not directly connected to those that were removed, as we found by excluding a small number of parasitoids. These results suggest that including additional species in the network provides far more information than additional interactions for this aspect of network structure. Our methods provide a useful framework for simplifying networks to their essential structure, allowing us to identify generalities in network structure and better understand the roles species play in their communities.

Concepts: Biology, Trophic dynamics, Food chain, Charles Sutherland Elton, Apex predator, Trophic level, Ecology, Predation


Ecomorphological differentiation is a key feature of adaptive radiations, with a general trend for specialisation and niche expansion following divergence. Ecological opportunity afforded by invasion of a new habitat is thought to act as an ecological release, facilitating divergence and speciation. Here, we investigate trophic adaptive morphology and ecology of an endemic clade of oreochromine cichlid fishes (Alcolapia) that radiated along a herbivorous trophic axis following colonisation of an isolated lacustrine environment, and demonstrate phenotype-environment correlation. Ecological and morphological divergence of the Alcolapia species flock are examined in a phylogenomic context, to infer ecological niche occupation within the radiation. Species divergence is observed in both ecology and morphology, supporting the importance of ecological speciation within the radiation. Comparison with an outgroup taxon reveals large-scale ecomorphological divergence but shallow genomic differentiation within the Alcolapia adaptive radiation. Ancestral morphological reconstruction suggests lake colonisation by a generalist oreochromine phenotype that diverged in Lake Natron to varied herbivorous morphologies akin to specialist herbivores in Lakes Tanganyika and Malawi. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Lake Tanganyika, Fish, Charles Sutherland Elton, Adaptive radiation, Speciation, Ecology, Evolution, Cichlid