Nia Riggins honored as Francis Velay Fellow

Congratulations to Nia ‘Blue’ Riggins for her nomination as a Francis Velay Summer Research Fellow! This summer Nia is conducting summer research with Dr. Sydne Record at Harvard Forest on tree seedlings and their responses to light and soil pH. As a biochemistry major this opportunity enables her to explore the linkages between biology and chemistry through an ecological lens.

Congrats to Record Lab postdoc John Grady!!

Last week postdoctoral fellow, John Grady, in the Record Lab found out that a NSF proposal he wrote for the Rules of Life program was funded! This will provide support for John to do a second postdoc with Dr. Tony Dell at the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center. Congralations, John!

Record Lab presents at NASA

Last week Dr. Sydne Record had the opportunity to present research from a NASA funded working group she is leading along with Phoebe Zarnetske and Kyla Dahlin from Michigan State University on the relationship between biodiversity and geodiversity in Washington D.C. at the NASA Biodiversity and Ecological Forecasting Team Meeting. It was a great week of thinking BIG in ecology using global NASA data products.

New paper out by the Record Lab: Does scale matter? A systematic review of incorporating biological realism when predicting changes in species distributions

Many ecologists and conservation biologists use species distribution models to predict where species should live based on factors like temperature, precipitation, and habitat.  This technique is really important for species or habitats that are hard to sample. If we want to conserve or protect these species, we need to have better information about where they live, thus we use models. However, using a survey of the literature from 2003-2015 we found that these studies are mostly being done in: 1) terrestrial systems (over 85%; few in marine or freshwater ecosystems), 2) North America or Europe (few studies in Africa, Asia), and 3) on plants, birds, or mammals (few on fish, amphibians, reptiles). We also found that scientists have been slow to incorporate factors into models that could greatly affect species distributions, such as dispersal and interactions with other species (e.g., competition, predation).  Importantly, very few studies reported the results of the models with and without these biological factors, making it difficult to know how important these factors might be now and in the future. Additionally, nearly half of studies did not use the model to predict where species might live in the future given climate change predictions, which we consider a missed opportunity. Lastly, with a limited set of studies, we found that the overall size of the study area (i.e., extent) and the cell size used in the model (i.e., grain) did not have an effect on the importance of dispersal and species interactions.  However, with a small sample size, we interpret this outcome cautiously and encourage scientists planning to use these models to carefully consider decisions about study extent and grain size.

Take home message: Conservation decisions could be driven by incomplete information – we need models of underrepresented ecosystems, taxa, and regions; models that consider the effects of climate change; and models that are more biologically realistic and robust.  

Check out the paper published in PLoS One here.

Research was funded by the National Science Foundation. The Ecological Society of America sponsored an early career workshop in 2013 that initiated this international collaboration of scientists from USA, Taiwan, and Israel.

Record Lab presents at the Harvard Forest Long Term Ecological Research Site’s Annual Symposium

Every year the Harvard Forest Long Term Ecological Research Site hosts an annual symposium of all scientists who work at the forest that has been studied for over 100 years in Petersham, Massachusetts. This year Dr. Sydne Record presented her insights on the value of long term ecological experiments and postdoc Dr. John Grady presented a poster on his work on energy partitioning in forests.

The highlight of the day for Sydne was meeting up with Tess McCabe (BMC ’15, former Harvard Forest REU) who is working on her PhD in the Dietze Lab at Boston University.

New paper out by the Record Lab: Long-term data on ants reveal forest dynamics

When forests change, do the ants that live there change, too?

This is the question that Dr. Sydne Record (Bryn Mawr Biology), Tempest McCabe (BMC ‘16), and others asked in their latest paperIdentifying foundation species in North American forests using long-term data on ant assemblage structure”.  This paper formed the foundation of Tess McCabe’s senior thesis in Biology and was the focus of her summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates internship at Harvard Forest funded by the National Science Foundation and Bryn Mawr’s LILAC Program. Tess is now a pursuing her PhD at Boston University.

Ants provide a lot of different services to forests; ants aerate soils, decompose wood, and disperse seeds. However, these services depend on the different community diversity of ants. Dr. Record and colleagues wondered if the death of trees within a forest would change the number of species in that forest or the number of services the ant community provided.

To test this, Record and colleagues collected ants at two sites: one with oaks removed at the Black Rock Forest Future of Oak Forests Experiment and one with hemlocks removed at the Harvard Forest Hemlock Removal Experiment. Then for twelve years, they looked at how ant community diversity changed compared to the same oak and eastern hemlock forests without the tree-removals.

They found that the way the ant community changed depended on the type of forest. When eastern hemlocks were lost, the ant community changed taxonomically and in some of the services the ant community could provide. When oaks were lost, the ant community did not change in terms of species composition or the services that they provide to the forest ecosystem. These results support the hypothesis that eastern hemlock is a foundation species.

Dr. Record’s work implies that different trees have different levels of influence over their surrounding ecosystem. The paper suggests that eastern hemlock defines its ecosystem, and that removing eastern hemlocks has effects that cascade down to the ant-level. Removing an oak has fewer effects. Understanding how the loss of particular tree species will affect an ecosystem is essential for conservation efforts.

Dr. Sydne Record leads NASA working group in Santa Barbara

Last week Dr. Sydne Record and postdoc John Grady returned from a great week in Santa Barbara, CA at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. This was the second meeting of the NASA BIOxGEO working group led by Sydne. The goal of the working group is to better understand how remotely sensed geodiversity data products can be used to predict biodiversity hot and cold spots across spatial scales.

Why do tropical species appear more sensitive to small environmental changes? New paper out by the Record Lab

Read, Q.D., B. Baiser, J. Grady, P.L. Zarnetske, S. Record, J. Belmaker, and L. Beaudrot. 2018. Tropical bird species have narrower body-size niches. Biology Letters 14 (1), 20170453.
Why do species in the tropics appear to be more sensitive to small changes in their environment? This is a question that has puzzled ecologists for generations. Two famous papers from fifty years ago explored this topic. One suggested that species closer to the equator tend to have more specialized diet requirements, and the other observed that environments near the equator have very stable climates, so that species that live there cannot tolerate big swings in temperature. Those ideas led us to predict that bird species outside the tropics would vary more in their body size than birds in the tropics. We tackled that question by compiling bird specimen data from museums worldwide and comparing pairs of sister species. In each pair, one of which lives in the tropics and the other closer to the poles, we compared how much the body size varied. We found that tropical birds indeed have less variable body sizes, supporting our prediction and suggesting that tropical birds will be more susceptible to ongoing human-caused environmental changes. 
This research is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Quentin Read and John Grady are postdoctoral fellows co-mentored by Dr. Record (Bryn Mawr) and Dr. Zarnetske (Michigan State University).