Tropical forests are highly diverse systems involving extraordinary numbers of interactions between species, with each species responding in a different way to the abiotic environment. Understanding how these systems function and predicting how they respond to anthropogenic global change is extremely challenging. We argue for the necessity of 'whole-ecosystem' experimental manipulations, in which the entire ecosystem is targeted, either to reveal the functioning of the system in its natural state or to understand responses to anthropogenic impacts. We survey the current range of whole-ecosystem manipulations, which include those targeting weather and climate, nutrients, biotic interactions, human impacts, and habitat restoration. Finally we describe the unique challenges and opportunities presented by such projects and suggest directions for future experiments.
Love darts are hard 'needles' that many snails and slugs use to pierce their partner during mating. In a few species, darts have been shown to play a role in sperm competition. Two new papers, by Davison et al., and Koene and Schulenburg, might further pique researchers' interest, because they show how the full potential of darts can be tapped for studies of sexual selection in hermaphrodites.
We are in a new epoch, the Anthropocene, and research into our closest living relatives, the great apes, must keep pace with the rate that our species is driving change. While a goal of many studies is to understand how great apes behave in natural contexts, the impact of human activities must increasingly be taken into account. This is both a challenge and an opportunity, which can importantly inform research in three diverse fields: cognition, human evolution, and conservation. No long-term great ape research site is wholly unaffected by human influence, but research at those that are especially affected by human activity is particularly important for ensuring that our great ape kin survive the Anthropocene.
Forest canopies are dynamic interfaces between organisms and atmosphere, providing buffered microclimates and complex microhabitats. Canopies form vertically stratified ecosystems interconnected with other strata. Some forest biodiversity patterns and food webs have been documented and measurements of ecophysiology and biogeochemical cycling have allowed analyses of large-scale transfer of CO2, water, and trace gases between forests and the atmosphere. However, many knowledge gaps remain. With global research networks and databases, and new technologies and infrastructure, we envisage rapid advances in our understanding of the mechanisms that drive the spatial and temporal dynamics of forests and their canopies. Such understanding is vital for the successful management and conservation of global forests and the ecosystem services they provide to the world.
We present the results of our tenth annual horizon scan. We identified 15 emerging priority topics that may have major positive or negative effects on the future conservation of global biodiversity, but currently have low awareness within the conservation community. We hope to increase research and policy attention on these areas, improving the capacity of the community to mitigate impacts of potentially negative issues, and maximise the benefits of issues that provide opportunities. Topics include advances in crop breeding, which may affect insects and land use; manipulations of natural water flows and weather systems on the Tibetan Plateau; release of carbon and mercury from melting polar ice and thawing permafrost; new funding schemes and regulations; and land-use changes across Indo-Malaysia.
Ecological effects of alien species can be dramatic, but management and prevention of negative impacts are often hindered by crypticity of the species or their ecological functions. Ecological functions can change dramatically over time, or manifest after long periods of an innocuous presence. Such cryptic processes may lead to an underestimation of long-term impacts and constrain management effectiveness. Here, we present a conceptual framework of crypticity in biological invasions. We identify the underlying mechanisms, provide evidence of their importance, and illustrate this phenomenon with case studies. This framework has potential to improve the recognition of the full risks and impacts of invasive species.