Publications by authors named "Jennifer Firn"

58 Publications

Non-Native Impacts Diversity of Pastures in South-Eastern Australia Even When Native Remains Co-Dominant.

Plants (Basel) 2021 Mar 22;10(3). Epub 2021 Mar 22.

Faculty of Science and the Centre for the Environment, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), 2 George Street, Brisbane, QLD 4001, Australia.

Lowland grassy woodlands in Australia's south-east face reductions in native plant diversity because of invasion by non-native plants. We compared the relative abundance and diversity of plant species among sites dominated by the native Kangaroo grass (KG) with sites co-dominated by the non-native African lovegrass (ALG) and KG. We found significant differences in plant species composition depending on the dominant species. Furthermore, our results revealed differences in several diversity parameters such as a lower species richness and forb diversity on sites co-dominated by ALG and KG. This was the case despite the functional similarity of both ALG and KG-both C perennial tussock grasses of a similar height. Therefore, our results highlight the critical function of the native KG in maintaining and enhancing the target plant species composition and diversity within these grassy woodlands. Herbivore grazing potentially impacts on the abundance of the dominant grass and forb species in various ways, but its impact likely differs depending on their evolutionary origin. Therefore, disentangling the role of individual herbivore groups (native-, non-native mammals, and invertebrates) on the plant community composition of the lowland grassy woodlands is essential to find appropriate grazing regimes for ALG management in these ecosystems.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/plants10030596DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8005164PMC
March 2021

Inter-reef Halimeda algal habitats within the Great Barrier Reef support a distinct biotic community and high biodiversity.

Nat Ecol Evol 2021 05 1;5(5):647-655. Epub 2021 Mar 1.

Oceans and Atmosphere, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Tropical marine biodiversity studies have been biased towards more accessible coastal habitats and shallow coral reefs, while deeper inter-reef habitats are less studied due to different survey challenges. One such inter-reef habitat is the 'bioherms' dominated by the calcareous Halimeda macroalgae. In the northern section of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, Halimeda algal bioherms occupy >6,000 km of the inter-reef seabed, more than twice the area of adjacent shallow coral reefs. Here, we describe the biodiversity of the plant, vertebrate and invertebrate communities inhabiting Halimeda bioherms. By combining previous spatial mapping with legacy benthic biodiversity datasets, we find that Halimeda bioherms are a critically important complex habitat that hosts higher average species richness and diversity for both plants and invertebrates than the surrounding inter-reef (non-coral reef) seascape. Furthermore, at the community level, the structure of the bioherm-associated biotic assemblage is distinct from the non-bioherm community, with 40% of Halimeda bioherm-associated species not recorded at any non-bioherm sites. These findings improve estimates of the biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef and elevate Halimeda bioherms as a critically important inter-reef habitat. Regular long-term monitoring is required to detect potential impacts to inter-reef biodiversity and ecosystem structure and function under future climate change scenarios.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-021-01400-8DOI Listing
May 2021

Seedling diversity in actively and passively restored tropical forest understories.

Ecol Appl 2021 04 1;31(3):e02286. Epub 2021 Mar 1.

Tropical Forests and People Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast (USC), Maroochydore, Queensland, 4558, Australia.

Alternative methods for restoring tropical forests influence the ecological processes that shape recruitment of understory species. In turn, the traits of species recruited will influence the ecological processes the forests provide now and over the long term. We assess the phylogenetic and functional structure of seedlings beneath monoculture plantations, mixed-species plantations (both active restoration) and regenerating selectively logged native forests (passive restoration), considering traits of specific leaf area (SLA, including within-species variation), leaf nitrogen and phosphorus content, life-form, potential plant height, and dispersal type. Monoculture plantations comprised seedlings that were more closely related then would be expected by chance (i.e., phylogenetically clustered), and regenerating forest contained species more distantly related then would be expected by chance (i.e., phylogenetically overdispersed). This suggests that seedlings beneath monocultures assemble through environmental filtering and through the dispersal limitation of predictable functional guilds. However, dispersal limitation is frequently overcome by human-assisted dispersal, increasing trait diversity. Comparing SLA values revealed that regenerating forests recruit seedlings with both high and low mean and variation of SLA, leading to higher overall diversity. Regenerating forest seedlings showed signs of environmental filtering, only based on within-species variation of SLA. Regenerating forest understories appear to favor species that show a high intraspecific variation in SLA values (e.g., Pterocarpus indicus Willd.) and at the same time provided habitat for later successional seedlings that show a lower intraspecific variation in SLA (e.g., Canarium luzonicum (Blume) A.Gray). This trait diversity suggests limiting similarity or competitive exclusion may be reduced because of niche differences, allowing species with different traits to coexist. Phylogenetic and functionally distinct species are restricted in their regeneration capacity, many of which are of conservation significance (under the IUCN Red List). Reforestation projects should maximize desired ecological services (including conservation value) by actively managing for the recruitment of species that are phylogenetically and functionally (including intraspecifically) distinct. This management aim will increase the probability of fulfilling a wider array of niche spaces and potentially increase the diversity of ecosystem services provided.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/eap.2286DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8047924PMC
April 2021

Ranking buffel: Comparative risk and mitigation costs of key environmental and socio-cultural threats in central Australia.

Ecol Evol 2020 Dec 26;10(23):12745-12763. Epub 2020 Oct 26.

Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods Charles Darwin University Alice Springs NT Australia.

Changed fire regimes and the introduction of rabbits, cats, foxes, and large exotic herbivores have driven widespread ecological catastrophe in Australian arid and semi-arid zones, which encompass over two-thirds of the continent. These threats have caused the highest global mammal extinction rates in the last 200 years, as well as significantly undermining social, economic, and cultural practices of Aboriginal peoples of this region. However, a new and potentially more serious threat is emerging. Buffel grass ( L.) is a globally significant invader now widespread across central Australia, but the threat this ecological transformer species poses to biodiversity, ecosystem function, and culture has received relatively little attention. Our analyses suggest threats from buffel grass in arid and semi-arid areas of Australia are at least equivalent in magnitude to those posed by invasive animals and possibly higher, because unlike these more recognized threats, buffel has yet to occupy its potential distribution. Buffel infestation also increases the intensity and frequency of wildfires that affect biodiversity, cultural pursuits, and productivity. We compare the logistical and financial challenges of creating and maintaining areas free of buffel for the protection of biodiversity and cultural values, with the creation and maintenance of refuges from introduced mammals or from large-scale fire in natural habitats. The scale and expense of projected buffel management costs highlight the urgent policy, research, and financing initiatives essential to safeguard threatened species, ecosystems, and cultural values of Aboriginal people in central Australia.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ece3.6724DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7713970PMC
December 2020

Increasing effects of chronic nutrient enrichment on plant diversity loss and ecosystem productivity over time.

Ecology 2021 02 18;102(2):e03218. Epub 2021 Jan 18.

Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55108, USA.

Human activities are enriching many of Earth's ecosystems with biologically limiting mineral nutrients such as nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). In grasslands, this enrichment generally reduces plant diversity and increases productivity. The widely demonstrated positive effect of diversity on productivity suggests a potential negative feedback, whereby nutrient-induced declines in diversity reduce the initial gains in productivity arising from nutrient enrichment. In addition, plant productivity and diversity can be inhibited by accumulations of dead biomass, which may be altered by nutrient enrichment. Over longer time frames, nutrient addition may increase soil fertility by increasing soil organic matter and nutrient pools. We examined the effects of 5-11 yr of nutrient addition at 47 grasslands in 12 countries. Nutrient enrichment increased aboveground live biomass and reduced plant diversity at nearly all sites, and these effects became stronger over time. We did not find evidence that nutrient-induced losses of diversity reduced the positive effects of nutrients on biomass; however, nutrient effects on live biomass increased more slowly at sites where litter was also increasing, regardless of plant diversity. This work suggests that short-term experiments may underestimate the long-term nutrient enrichment effects on global grassland ecosystems.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecy.3218DOI Listing
February 2021

Global impacts of fertilization and herbivore removal on soil net nitrogen mineralization are modulated by local climate and soil properties.

Glob Chang Biol 2020 Dec 22;26(12):7173-7185. Epub 2020 Sep 22.

Grupo de Investigaciones en Biología de la Conservación, INIBIOMA (CONICET-UNCOMA), Bariloche, Argentina.

Soil nitrogen (N) availability is critical for grassland functioning. However, human activities have increased the supply of biologically limiting nutrients, and changed the density and identity of mammalian herbivores. These anthropogenic changes may alter net soil N mineralization (soil net N ), that is, the net balance between N mineralization and immobilization, which could severely impact grassland structure and functioning. Yet, to date, little is known about how fertilization and herbivore removal individually, or jointly, affect soil net N across a wide range of grasslands that vary in soil and climatic properties. Here we collected data from 22 grasslands on five continents, all part of a globally replicated experiment, to assess how fertilization and herbivore removal affected potential (laboratory-based) and realized (field-based) soil net N . Herbivore removal in the absence of fertilization did not alter potential and realized soil net N . However, fertilization alone and in combination with herbivore removal consistently increased potential soil net N Realized soil net N , in contrast, significantly decreased in fertilized plots where herbivores were removed. Treatment effects on potential and realized soil net N were contingent on site-specific soil and climatic properties. Fertilization effects on potential soil net N were larger at sites with higher mean annual precipitation (MAP) and temperature of the wettest quarter (T.q.wet). Reciprocally, realized soil net N declined most strongly with fertilization and herbivore removal at sites with lower MAP and higher T.q.wet. In summary, our findings show that anthropogenic nutrient enrichment, herbivore exclusion and alterations in future climatic conditions can negatively impact soil net N across global grasslands under realistic field conditions. This is an important context-dependent knowledge for grassland management worldwide.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15308DOI Listing
December 2020

Rapid recovery of tropical forest diversity and structure after shifting cultivation in the Philippines uplands.

Ecol Evol 2020 Jul 5;10(14):7189-7211. Epub 2020 Jun 5.

School of Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences Faculty of Science and Engineering Queensland University of Technology Brisbane QLD Australia.

Shifting cultivation is a widespread land-use in the tropics that is considered a major threat to rainforest diversity and structure. In the Philippines, a country with rich biodiversity and high rates of species endemism, shifting cultivation, locally termed as kaingin, is a major land-use and has been for centuries. Despite the potential impact of shifting cultivation on forests and its importance to many people, it is not clear how biodiversity and forest structure recover after kaingin abandonment in the country, and how well these post-kaingin secondary forests can complement the old-growth forests. We investigated parameters of forest diversity and structure along a fallow age gradient in secondary forests regenerating after kaingin abandonment in Leyte Island, the Philippines (elevation range: 445-650 m asl). We first measured the tree diversity and forest structure indices in regenerating secondary forests and old-growth forest. We then measured the recovery of tree diversity and forest structure parameters in relation to the old-growth forest. Finally, using linear mixed effect models (LMM), we assessed the effect of different environmental variables on the recovery of forest diversity and structure. We found significantly higher species density in the oldest fallow sites, while Shannon's index, species evenness, stem number, basal area, and leaf area index were higher in the old-growth forest. A homogeneous species composition was found across the sites of older fallow age. Multivariate analysis revealed patch size as a strong predictor of tree diversity and forest structure recovery after shifting cultivation. Our study suggests that, secondary forests regenerating after shifting cultivation abandonment can recover rapidly. Although recovery of forest structure was not as rapid as the tree diversity, our older fallow sites contained a similar number of species as the old-growth forest. Many of these species are also endemic to the Philippines. Novel and emerging ecosystems like tropical secondary forests are of high conservation importance and can act as a refuge for dwindling tropical forest biodiversity.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ece3.6419DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7391325PMC
July 2020

Rapidly assessing cobenefits to advance threat-management alliances.

Conserv Biol 2020 08 14;34(4):843-853. Epub 2020 May 14.

School of Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, 2 George Street, Brisbane, QLD 4001, Australia.

Conservation strategies aimed at reducing threats to biodiversity can have significant implications for multiple sectors in a socioeconomic system, but these cobenefits are often poorly understood. For example, many of the threats to native species also impede agricultural production, yet agriculture is typically perceived as in competition with conservation objectives. Although a comprehensive, multiobjective decision analysis is usually beyond the scope and capacity of conservation decision makers, failing to incorporate key socioeconomic costs and benefits into conservation decision-making processes can result in missed opportunities for diversifying outcomes and creating cost-sharing multisectoral partnerships. We devised a straightforward and readily interpretable approach to incorporate cobenefits into a threat-management prioritization approach. We used it to analyze the agricultural cobenefits of implementing 9 invasive animal management strategies designed to ensure the persistence of 148 threatened species across Australia's Lake Eyre Basin over 50 years. A structured elicitation process with 24 participants (scientists, land managers, agriculturalists, and other stakeholders) was used to collect information on each strategy, including costs, technical and social feasibility, benefits to native threatened species, and cobenefits to agricultural production systems. The costs of targeted invasive animal management to save threatened species across the basin (AU$33 million/year) outweighed the overall benefits to the agricultural industry (estimated AU$226 million/year). The return on investment for these management strategies varied substantially when agricultural cobenefits were considered alongside threatened species benefits and showed synergies and challenges. Our approach demonstrates the value of incorporating cobenefits of conservation actions into cost-effectiveness analyses to guide potential investment and partnerships and to diversify implementation pathways.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13490DOI Listing
August 2020

Nutrient availability controls the impact of mammalian herbivores on soil carbon and nitrogen pools in grasslands.

Glob Chang Biol 2020 Feb 3. Epub 2020 Feb 3.

Department of Terrestrial Ecology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), Wageningen, The Netherlands.

Grasslands are subject to considerable alteration due to human activities globally, including widespread changes in populations and composition of large mammalian herbivores and elevated supply of nutrients. Grassland soils remain important reservoirs of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N). Herbivores may affect both C and N pools and these changes likely interact with increases in soil nutrient availability. Given the scale of grassland soil fluxes, such changes can have striking consequences for atmospheric C concentrations and the climate. Here, we use the Nutrient Network experiment to examine the responses of soil C and N pools to mammalian herbivore exclusion across 22 grasslands, under ambient and elevated nutrient availabilities (fertilized with NPK + micronutrients). We show that the impact of herbivore exclusion on soil C and N pools depends on fertilization. Under ambient nutrient conditions, we observed no effect of herbivore exclusion, but under elevated nutrient supply, pools are smaller upon herbivore exclusion. The highest mean soil C and N pools were found in grazed and fertilized plots. The decrease in soil C and N upon herbivore exclusion in combination with fertilization correlated with a decrease in aboveground plant biomass and microbial activity, indicating a reduced storage of organic matter and microbial residues as soil C and N. The response of soil C and N pools to herbivore exclusion was contingent on temperature - herbivores likely cause losses of C and N in colder sites and increases in warmer sites. Additionally, grasslands that contain mammalian herbivores have the potential to sequester more N under increased temperature variability and nutrient enrichment than ungrazed grasslands. Our study highlights the importance of conserving mammalian herbivore populations in grasslands worldwide. We need to incorporate local-scale herbivory, and its interaction with nutrient enrichment and climate, within global-scale models to better predict land-atmosphere interactions under future climate change.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/gcb.15023DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7155038PMC
February 2020

TRY plant trait database - enhanced coverage and open access.

Glob Chang Biol 2020 01 31;26(1):119-188. Epub 2019 Dec 31.

Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA.

Plant traits-the morphological, anatomical, physiological, biochemical and phenological characteristics of plants-determine how plants respond to environmental factors, affect other trophic levels, and influence ecosystem properties and their benefits and detriments to people. Plant trait data thus represent the basis for a vast area of research spanning from evolutionary biology, community and functional ecology, to biodiversity conservation, ecosystem and landscape management, restoration, biogeography and earth system modelling. Since its foundation in 2007, the TRY database of plant traits has grown continuously. It now provides unprecedented data coverage under an open access data policy and is the main plant trait database used by the research community worldwide. Increasingly, the TRY database also supports new frontiers of trait-based plant research, including the identification of data gaps and the subsequent mobilization or measurement of new data. To support this development, in this article we evaluate the extent of the trait data compiled in TRY and analyse emerging patterns of data coverage and representativeness. Best species coverage is achieved for categorical traits-almost complete coverage for 'plant growth form'. However, most traits relevant for ecology and vegetation modelling are characterized by continuous intraspecific variation and trait-environmental relationships. These traits have to be measured on individual plants in their respective environment. Despite unprecedented data coverage, we observe a humbling lack of completeness and representativeness of these continuous traits in many aspects. We, therefore, conclude that reducing data gaps and biases in the TRY database remains a key challenge and requires a coordinated approach to data mobilization and trait measurements. This can only be achieved in collaboration with other initiatives.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14904DOI Listing
January 2020

Global change effects on plant communities are magnified by time and the number of global change factors imposed.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2019 09 19;116(36):17867-17873. Epub 2019 Aug 19.

Systems Ecology, Department of Ecological Science, Vrije Universiteit, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Global change drivers (GCDs) are expected to alter community structure and consequently, the services that ecosystems provide. Yet, few experimental investigations have examined effects of GCDs on plant community structure across multiple ecosystem types, and those that do exist present conflicting patterns. In an unprecedented global synthesis of over 100 experiments that manipulated factors linked to GCDs, we show that herbaceous plant community responses depend on experimental manipulation length and number of factors manipulated. We found that plant communities are fairly resistant to experimentally manipulated GCDs in the short term (<10 y). In contrast, long-term (≥10 y) experiments show increasing community divergence of treatments from control conditions. Surprisingly, these community responses occurred with similar frequency across the GCD types manipulated in our database. However, community responses were more common when 3 or more GCDs were simultaneously manipulated, suggesting the emergence of additive or synergistic effects of multiple drivers, particularly over long time periods. In half of the cases, GCD manipulations caused a difference in community composition without a corresponding species richness difference, indicating that species reordering or replacement is an important mechanism of community responses to GCDs and should be given greater consideration when examining consequences of GCDs for the biodiversity-ecosystem function relationship. Human activities are currently driving unparalleled global changes worldwide. Our analyses provide the most comprehensive evidence to date that these human activities may have widespread impacts on plant community composition globally, which will increase in frequency over time and be greater in areas where communities face multiple GCDs simultaneously.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1819027116DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6731679PMC
September 2019

Leaf trait variability between and within subalpine grassland species differs depending on site conditions and herbivory.

Proc Biol Sci 2019 07 24;286(1907):20190429. Epub 2019 Jul 24.

Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), Zürcherstrasse 111, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland.

Plant traits are commonly used to predict ecosystem-level processes, but the validity of such predictions is dependent on the assumption that trait variability between species is greater than trait variability within a species-the robustness assumption. Here, we compare leaf trait intraspecific and interspecific variability depending on geographical differences between sites and 5 years of experimental herbivore exclusion in two vegetation types of subalpine grasslands in Switzerland. Four leaf traits were measured from eight herbaceous species common to all 18 sites. Intraspecific trait variability differed significantly depending on site and herbivory. However, the amount and structure of variability depended on the trait measured and whether considering leaf traits separately or multiple leaf traits simultaneously. Leaf phosphorus concentration showed the highest intraspecific variability, while specific leaf area showed the highest interspecific variability and displayed intraspecific variability only in response to herbivore exclusion. Species identity based on multiple traits was not predictable. We find intraspecific variability is an essential consideration when using plant functional traits as a common currency not just species mean traits. This is particularly true for leaf nutrient concentrations, which showed high intraspecific variability in response to site differences and herbivore exclusion, a finding which suggests that the robustness assumption does not always hold.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.0429DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6661350PMC
July 2019

Building a stakeholder-led common vision increases the expected cost-effectiveness of biodiversity conservation.

PLoS One 2019 13;14(6):e0218093. Epub 2019 Jun 13.

CSIRO Land and Water, EcoSciences Precinct, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Uniting diverse stakeholders through communication, education or building a collaborative 'common vision' for biodiversity management is a recommended approach for enabling effective conservation in regions with multiple uses. However, socially focused strategies such as building a collaborative vision can require sharing scarce resources (time and financial resources) with the on-ground management actions needed to achieve conservation outcomes. Here we adapt current prioritisation tools to predict the likely return on the financial investment of building a stakeholder-led vision along with a portfolio of on-ground management strategies. Our approach brings together and analyses expert knowledge to estimate the cost-effectiveness of a common vision strategy and on-ground management strategies, before any investments in these strategies are made. We test our approach in an intensively-used Australian biodiversity hotspot with 179 threatened or at-risk species. Experts predicted that an effective stakeholder vision for the region would have a relatively low cost and would significantly increase the feasibility of on-ground management strategies. As a result, our analysis indicates that a common vision is likely to be a cost-effective investment, increasing the expected persistence of threatened species in the region by 9 to 52%, depending upon the strategies implemented. Our approach can provide the maximum budget that is worth investing in building a common vision or another socially focused strategy for building support for on-ground conservation actions. The approach can assist with decisions about whether and how to allocate scarce resources amongst social and ecological actions for biodiversity conservation in other regions worldwide.
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0218093PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6564421PMC
March 2020

Without management interventions, endemic wet-sclerophyll forest is transitioning to rainforest in World Heritage listed K'gari (Fraser Island), Australia.

Ecol Evol 2019 Feb 15;9(3):1378-1393. Epub 2019 Jan 15.

School of Agriculture and Food Science University of Queensland Brisbane Queensland Australia.

Wet-sclerophyll forests are unique ecosystems that can transition to dry-sclerophyll forests or to rainforests. Understanding of the dynamics of these forests for conservation is limited. We evaluated the long-term succession of wet-sclerophyll forest on World Heritage listed K'gari (Fraser Island)-the world's largest sand island. We recorded the presence and growth of tree species in three 0.4 hectare plots that had been subjected to selective logging, fire, and cyclone disturbance over 65 years, from 1952 to 2017. Irrespective of disturbance regimes, which varied between plots, rainforest trees recruited at much faster rates than the dominant wet-sclerophyll forest trees, narrowly endemic species and more common . did not recruit at the plot with the least disturbance and recruited only in low numbers at plots with more prominent disturbance regimes in the ≥10 cm at breast height size. recruited at all plots but in much lower numbers than rainforest trees. Only five were detected in the smallest size class (<10 cm diameter) in the 2017 survey. Overall, we find evidence that more pronounced disturbance regimes than those that have occurred over the past 65 years may be required to conserve this wet-sclerophyll forest, as without intervention, transition to rainforest is a likely trajectory. Fire and other management tools should therefore be explored, in collaboration with Indigenous landowners, to ensure conservation of this wet-sclerophyll forest.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ece3.4853DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6374652PMC
February 2019

Leaf nutrients, not specific leaf area, are consistent indicators of elevated nutrient inputs.

Nat Ecol Evol 2019 03 4;3(3):400-406. Epub 2019 Feb 4.

Forest Research Centre, School of Agriculture, University of Lisbon, Lisbon, Portugal.

Leaf traits are frequently measured in ecology to provide a 'common currency' for predicting how anthropogenic pressures impact ecosystem function. Here, we test whether leaf traits consistently respond to experimental treatments across 27 globally distributed grassland sites across 4 continents. We find that specific leaf area (leaf area per unit mass)-a commonly measured morphological trait inferring shifts between plant growth strategies-did not respond to up to four years of soil nutrient additions. Leaf nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium concentrations increased in response to the addition of each respective soil nutrient. We found few significant changes in leaf traits when vertebrate herbivores were excluded in the short-term. Leaf nitrogen and potassium concentrations were positively correlated with species turnover, suggesting that interspecific trait variation was a significant predictor of leaf nitrogen and potassium, but not of leaf phosphorus concentration. Climatic conditions and pretreatment soil nutrient levels also accounted for significant amounts of variation in the leaf traits measured. Overall, we find that leaf morphological traits, such as specific leaf area, are not appropriate indicators of plant response to anthropogenic perturbations in grasslands.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-018-0790-1DOI Listing
March 2019

Automating analysis of vegetation with computer vision: Cover estimates and classification.

Ecol Evol 2018 Jun 15;8(12):6005-6015. Epub 2018 May 15.

School of Earth Environmental and Biological Sciences, Queensland University of Technolgy (QUT) Brisbane Qld Australia.

This study develops an approach to automating the process of vegetation cover estimates using computer vision and pattern recognition algorithms. Visual cover estimation is a key tool for many ecological studies, yet quadrat-based analyses are known to suffer from issues of consistency between people as well as across sites (spatially) and time (temporally). Previous efforts to estimate cover from photograps require considerable manual work. We demonstrate that an automated system can be used to estimate vegetation cover and the type of vegetation cover present using top-down photographs of 1 m by 1 m quadrats. Vegetation cover is estimated by modelling the distribution of color using a multivariate Gaussian. The type of vegetation cover is then classified, using illumination robust local binary pattern features, into two broad groups: () and . This system is evaluated on two datasets from the globally distributed experiment, the Nutrient Network (NutNet). These NutNet sites were selected for analyses because repeat photographs were taken over time and these sites are representative of very different grassland ecosystems-a low stature subalpine grassland in an alpine region of Australia and a higher stature and more productive lowland grassland in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. We find that estimates of treatment effects on and cover did not differ between field and automated estimates for eight of nine experimental treatments. Conclusions about total vegetation cover did not correspond quite as strongly, particularly at the more productive site. A limitation with this automated system is that the total vegetation cover is given as a percentage of pixels considered to contain vegetation, but ecologists can distinguish species with overlapping coverage and thus can estimate total coverage to exceed 100%. Automated approaches such as this offer techniques for estimating vegetation cover that are repeatable, cheaper to use, and likely more reliable for quantifying changes in vegetation over the long-term. These approaches would also enable ecologists to increase the spatial and temporal depth of their coverage estimates with methods that allow for vegetation sampling over large spatial scales quickly.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ece3.4135DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024135PMC
June 2018

The Neolithic Plant Invasion Hypothesis: the role of preadaptation and disturbance in grassland invasion.

New Phytol 2018 10 5;220(1):94-103. Epub 2018 Jul 5.

Instituto de Ciencias de la Tierra y Ambientales de La Pampa, CONICET-Universidad Nacional de La Pampa (UNLPam), Santa Rosa, 6300, Argentina.

A long-standing hypothesis is that many European plants invade temperate grasslands globally because they are introduced simultaneously with pastoralism and cultivation, to which they are 'preadapted' after millennia of exposure dating to the Neolithic era ('Neolithic Plant Invasion Hypothesis' (NPIH)). These 'preadaptations' are predicted to maximize their performance relative to native species lacking this adaptive history. Here, we discuss the explanatory relevance of the NPIH, clarifying the importance of evolutionary context vs other mechanisms driving invasion. The NPIH makes intuitive sense given established connections between invasion and agricultural-based perturbation. However, tests are often incomplete given the need for performance contrasts between home and away ranges, while controlling for other mechanisms. We emphasize six NPIH-based predictions, centring on trait similarity of invaders between home vs away populations, and differing perturbation responses by invading and native plants. Although no research has integrated all six predictions, we highlight studies suggesting preadaptation influences on invasion. Given that many European grasslands are creations of human activity from the past, current invasions by these flora may represent the continuation of processes dating to the Neolithic. Ironically, European Neolithic-derived grasslands are becoming rarer, reflecting changes in management and illustrating the importance of human influences on these species.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/nph.15285DOI Listing
October 2018

Spatial heterogeneity in species composition constrains plant community responses to herbivory and fertilisation.

Ecol Lett 2018 09 27;21(9):1364-1371. Epub 2018 Jun 27.

Department of Biology, Duke University, Durham, NC, 27708, USA.

Environmental change can result in substantial shifts in community composition. The associated immigration and extinction events are likely constrained by the spatial distribution of species. Still, studies on environmental change typically quantify biotic responses at single spatial (time series within a single plot) or temporal (spatial beta diversity at single time points) scales, ignoring their potential interdependence. Here, we use data from a global network of grassland experiments to determine how turnover responses to two major forms of environmental change - fertilisation and herbivore loss - are affected by species pool size and spatial compositional heterogeneity. Fertilisation led to higher rates of local extinction, whereas turnover in herbivore exclusion plots was driven by species replacement. Overall, sites with more spatially heterogeneous composition showed significantly higher rates of annual turnover, independent of species pool size and treatment. Taking into account spatial biodiversity aspects will therefore improve our understanding of consequences of global and anthropogenic change on community dynamics.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ele.13102DOI Listing
September 2018

Age and area predict patterns of species richness in pumice rafts contingent on oceanic climatic zone encountered.

Ecol Evol 2018 May 24;8(10):5034-5046. Epub 2018 Apr 24.

School of Earth Environmental and Biological Sciences Faculty of Science and Engineering Queensland University of Technology Brisbane Qld Australia.

The theory of island biogeography predicts that area and age explain species richness patterns (or alpha diversity) in insular habitats. Using a unique natural phenomenon, pumice rafting, we measured the influence of area, age, and oceanic climate on patterns of species richness. Pumice rafts are formed simultaneously when submarine volcanoes erupt, the pumice clasts breakup irregularly, forming irregularly shaped pumice stones which while floating through the ocean are colonized by marine biota. We analyze two eruption events and more than 5,000 pumice clasts collected from 29 sites and three climatic zones. Overall, the older and larger pumice clasts held more species. Pumice clasts arriving in tropical and subtropical climates showed this same trend, where in temperate locations species richness (alpha diversity) increased with area but decreased with age. Beta diversity analysis of the communities forming on pumice clasts that arrived in different climatic zones showed that tropical and subtropical clasts transported similar communities, while species composition on temperate clasts differed significantly from both tropical and subtropical arrivals. Using these thousands of insular habitats, we find strong evidence that area and age but also climatic conditions predict the fundamental dynamics of species richness colonizing pumice clasts.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ece3.3980DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5980578PMC
May 2018

Tree leaf trade-offs are stronger for sub-canopy trees: leaf traits reveal little about growth rates in canopy trees.

Ecol Appl 2018 06 26;28(4):1116-1125. Epub 2018 Apr 26.

Tropical Forests and People Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast (USC), Maroochydore, Queensland, 4558, Australia.

Can morphological plant functional traits predict demographic rates (e.g., growth) within plant communities as diverse as tropical forests? This is one of the most important next-step questions in trait-based ecology and particularly for global reforestation efforts. Due to the diversity of tropical tree species and their longevity, it is difficult to predict their performance prior to reforestation efforts. In this study, we investigate if simple leaf traits are predictors of the more complex ecological process of plant growth in regenerating selectively logged natural forest within the Wet Tropics (WTs) bioregion of Australia. This study used a rich historical data set to quantify tree growth within plots located at Danbulla National Park and State Forest on the Atherton Tableland. Leaf traits were collected from trees that have exhibited fast or slow growth over the last ~50 yr of measurement. Leaf traits were found to be poor predictors of tree growth for trees that have entered the canopy; however, for sub-canopy trees, leaf traits had a stronger association with growth rates. Leaf phosphorus concentrations were the strongest predictor of Periodic Annual Increment (PAI) for trees growing within the sub-canopy, with trees with higher leaf phosphorus levels showing a higher PAI. Sub-canopy tree leaves also exhibited stronger trade-offs between leaf traits and adhere to theoretical predictions more so than for canopy trees. We suggest that, in order for leaf traits to be more applicable to reforestation, size dependence of traits and growth relationships need to be more carefully considered, particularly when reforestation practitioners assign mean trait values to tropical tree species from multiple canopy strata.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/eap.1715DOI Listing
June 2018

Herbivory and eutrophication mediate grassland plant nutrient responses across a global climatic gradient.

Ecology 2018 04 31;99(4):822-831. Epub 2018 Mar 31.

Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of MN, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55108, USA.

Plant stoichiometry, the relative concentration of elements, is a key regulator of ecosystem functioning and is also being altered by human activities. In this paper we sought to understand the global drivers of plant stoichiometry and compare the relative contribution of climatic vs. anthropogenic effects. We addressed this goal by measuring plant elemental (C, N, P and K) responses to eutrophication and vertebrate herbivore exclusion at eighteen sites on six continents. Across sites, climate and atmospheric N deposition emerged as strong predictors of plot-level tissue nutrients, mediated by biomass and plant chemistry. Within sites, fertilization increased total plant nutrient pools, but results were contingent on soil fertility and the proportion of grass biomass relative to other functional types. Total plant nutrient pools diverged strongly in response to herbivore exclusion when fertilized; responses were largest in ungrazed plots at low rainfall, whereas herbivore grazing dampened the plant community nutrient responses to fertilization. Our study highlights (1) the importance of climate in determining plant nutrient concentrations mediated through effects on plant biomass, (2) that eutrophication affects grassland nutrient pools via both soil and atmospheric pathways and (3) that interactions among soils, herbivores and eutrophication drive plant nutrient responses at small scales, especially at water-limited sites.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecy.2175DOI Listing
April 2018

Context-dependent interactions and the regulation of species richness in freshwater fish.

Nat Commun 2018 03 6;9(1):973. Epub 2018 Mar 6.

Department of Integrative Biology, University Of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, N1G 2W1.

Species richness is regulated by a complex network of scale-dependent processes. This complexity can obscure the influence of limiting species interactions, making it difficult to determine if abiotic or biotic drivers are more predominant regulators of richness. Using integrative modeling of freshwater fish richness from 721 lakes along an 11 latitudinal gradient, we find negative interactions to be a relatively minor independent predictor of species richness in lakes despite the widespread presence of predators. Instead, interaction effects, when detectable among major functional groups and 231 species pairs, were strong, often positive, but contextually dependent on environment. These results are consistent with the idea that negative interactions internally structure lake communities but do not consistently 'scale-up' to regulate richness independently of the environment. The importance of environment for interaction outcomes and its role in the regulation of species richness highlights the potential sensitivity of fish communities to the environmental changes affecting lakes globally.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-03419-1DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5840330PMC
March 2018

Local loss and spatial homogenization of plant diversity reduce ecosystem multifunctionality.

Nat Ecol Evol 2018 Jan 4;2(1):50-56. Epub 2017 Dec 4.

Department of Plant & Soil Sciences, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, 40546-0091, USA.

Biodiversity is declining in many local communities while also becoming increasingly homogenized across space. Experiments show that local plant species loss reduces ecosystem functioning and services, but the role of spatial homogenization of community composition and the potential interaction between diversity at different scales in maintaining ecosystem functioning remains unclear, especially when many functions are considered (ecosystem multifunctionality). We present an analysis of eight ecosystem functions measured in 65 grasslands worldwide. We find that more diverse grasslands-those with both species-rich local communities (α-diversity) and large compositional differences among localities (β-diversity)-had higher levels of multifunctionality. Moreover, α- and β-diversity synergistically affected multifunctionality, with higher levels of diversity at one scale amplifying the contribution to ecological functions at the other scale. The identity of species influencing ecosystem functioning differed among functions and across local communities, explaining why more diverse grasslands maintained greater functionality when more functions and localities were considered. These results were robust to variation in environmental drivers. Our findings reveal that plant diversity, at both local and landscape scales, contributes to the maintenance of multiple ecosystem services provided by grasslands. Preserving ecosystem functioning therefore requires conservation of biodiversity both within and among ecological communities.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-017-0395-0DOI Listing
January 2018

Increased grassland arthropod production with mammalian herbivory and eutrophication: a test of mediation pathways.

Ecology 2017 Dec 8;98(12):3022-3033. Epub 2017 Nov 8.

Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55108, USA.

Increases in nutrient availability and alterations to mammalian herbivore communities are a hallmark of the Anthropocene, with consequences for the primary producer communities in many ecosystems. While progress has advanced understanding of plant community responses to these perturbations, the consequences for energy flow to higher trophic levels in the form of secondary production are less well understood. We quantified arthropod biomass after manipulating soil nutrient availability and wild mammalian herbivory, using identical methods across 13 temperate grasslands. Of experimental increases in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, only treatments including nitrogen resulted in significantly increased arthropod biomass. Wild mammalian herbivore removal had a marginal, negative effect on arthropod biomass, with no interaction with nutrient availability. Path analysis including all sites implicated nutrient content of the primary producers as a driver of increased arthropod mean size, which we confirmed using 10 sites for which we had foliar nutrient data. Plant biomass and physical structure mediated the increase in arthropod abundance, while the nitrogen treatments accounted for additional variation not explained by our measured plant variables. The mean size of arthropod individuals was 2.5 times more influential on the plot-level total arthropod biomass than was the number of individuals. The eutrophication of grasslands through human activity, especially nitrogen deposition, thus may contribute to higher production of arthropod consumers through increases in nutrient availability across trophic levels.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecy.2029DOI Listing
December 2017

Plant diversity and structure describe the presence of a new, threatened Australian marsupial within its highly restricted, post-fire habitat.

PLoS One 2017 10;12(8):e0182319. Epub 2017 Aug 10.

Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences School, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

Management of critical habitat for threatened species with small ranges requires location-specific, fine-scale survey data. The silver-headed antechinus (Antechinus argentus) is known from only two isolated, fire-prone locations. At least one of these populations, at Kroombit Tops National Park in central-eastern Queensland, Australia, possesses a very small range. Here, we present detailed vegetation species diversity and structure data from three sites comprising the known habitat of A. argentus at Kroombit Tops and relate it to capture data obtained over two years. We found differences in both vegetation and capture data between burnt and unburnt habitat. Leaf litter and grasstrees (Xanthorrhoea johnsonii) were the strongest vegetative predictors for A. argentus capture. The species declined considerably over the two years of the trapping study, and we raise concern for its survival at Kroombit Tops. We suggest that future work should focus on structural vegetative variables (specifically, the diameter and leaf density of grasstree crowns) and relate them to A. argentus occurrence. We also recommend a survey of invertebrate diversity in grasstrees and leaf litter with a comparison to A. argentus prey. The data presented here illustrates how critical detailed monitoring is for planning habitat management and fire regimes, and highlights the utility of a high-resolution approach to habitat mapping. While a traditional approach to fire management contends that pyrodiversity encourages biodiversity, the present study demonstrates that some species prefer long-unburnt habitat. Additionally, in predicting the distribution of rare species like A. argentus, data quality (i.e., spatial resolution) may prevail over data quantity (i.e., number of data).
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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0182319PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5552313PMC
October 2017

Academic practice in ecology and evolution: Soliciting a new category of manuscript.

Ecol Evol 2017 07 28;7(14):5030-5031. Epub 2017 Jun 28.

Plant and Animal Sciences University of Sheffield Sheffield UK.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ece3.3200DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5528219PMC
July 2017

Herbivores sculpt leaf traits differently in grasslands depending on life form and land-use histories.

Ecology 2017 Jan;98(1):239-252

Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), Zürcherstrasse 111, 8903, Birmensdorf, Switzerland.

Vertebrate and invertebrate herbivores alter plant communities directly by selectively consuming plant species; and indirectly by inducing morphological and physiological changes to plant traits that provide competitive or survivorship advantages to some life forms over others. Progressively excluding aboveground herbivore communities (ungulates, medium and small sized mammals, invertebrates) over five growing seasons, we explored how leaf morphology (specific leaf area or SLA) and nutrition (nitrogen, carbon, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, and calcium) of different plant life forms (forbs, legumes, grasses, sedges) correlated with their dominance. We experimented in two subalpine grassland types with different land-use histories: (1) heavily grazed, nutrient-rich, short-grass vegetation and (2) lightly grazed, lower nutrient tall-grass vegetation. We found differences in leaf traits between treatments where either all herbivores were excluded or all herbivores were present, showing the importance of considering the impacts of both vertebrates and invertebrates on the leaf traits of plant species. Life forms responses to the progressive exclusion of herbivores were captured by six possible combinations: (1) increased leaf size and resource use efficiency (leaf area/nutrients) where lower nutrient levels are invested in leaf construction, but a reduction in the number of leaves, for example, forbs in both vegetation types, (2) increased leaf size and resource use efficiency, for example, legumes in short grass, (3) increased leaf size but a reduction in the number of leaves, for example, legumes in the tall grass, (4) increased number of leaves produced and increased resource use efficiency, for example, grasses in the short grass, (5) increased resource use efficiency of leaves only, for example, grasses and sedges in the tall grass, and (6) no response in terms of leaf construction or dominance, for example, sedges in the short grass. Although we found multiple possible responses by life forms to progressive exclusion of herbivores, we also found some important generalities. Changes in leaf traits of legumes and grasses correlated with their increasing dominance in the short-grass vegetation and plants were more efficient at constructing photosynthetic tissue when herbivores are present with few exceptions. These results demonstrate that vertebrate and invertebrate herbivores are essential to maintain plant species richness and resource-use efficiency.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecy.1637DOI Listing
January 2017