Eawag’s Department of Aquatic Ecology is currently home for eight research groups that cover the broad disciplines of ecology and evolution from the individual to the community and ecosystem level, utilizing a wide range of tools and techniques from microscopes to molecular genetics. Read more
The lakes of East Africa are home to a surprising number of different cichlid species. This level of biodiversity has developed partly due to hybrids that managed to take over new ecological niches in their habitats, according to recent research carried out by scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, Eawag, and the University of Bern.
Flow intermittency influences the trophic base, but not the overall diversity of alpine stream food webs
Alpine streams can exhibit naturally high levels of flow intermittency. However, how flow intermittency in alpine streams affects ecosystem functions such as food web trophic structure is virtually unknown. Here, we characterized the trophic diversity of aquatic food webs in 28 headwater streams of the Val Roseg, a glacierized alpine catchment. We compared stable isotope (δ13C and δ15N) trophic indices to high temporal resolution data on flow intermittency. Overall trophic diversity, food chain length, and diversity of basal resource use did not differ to a large extent across streams. In contrast, gradient and mixing model analysis indicated that primary consumers assimilated proportionally more periphyton and less allochthonous organic matter in more intermittent streams. Higher coarse particulate organic matter (CPOM) C:N ratios were an additional driver of changes in macroinvertebrate diets. These results indicate that the trophic base of stream food webs shifts away from terrestrial organic matter to autochthonous organic matter as flow intermittency increases, most likely due to reduced CPOM conditioning in dry streams. This study highlights the significant, yet gradual shifts in ecosystem function that occur as streamflow becomes more intermittent in alpine streams. As alpine streams become more intermittent, identifying which functional changes occur via gradual as opposed to threshold responses is likely to be vitally important to their management and conservation.
Siebers, A. R.; Paillex, A.; Robinson, C. T. (2019) Flow intermittency influences the trophic base, but not the overall diversity of alpine stream food webs, Ecography, 42(9), 1523-1535, doi:10.1111/ecog.04597, Institutional Repository
Principles of ecology revisited: integrating information and ecological theories for a more unified science
The persistence of ecological systems in changing environments requires energy, materials, and information. Although the importance of information to ecological function has been widely recognized, the fundamental principles of ecological science as commonly expressed do not reflect this central role of information processing. We articulate five fundamental principles of ecology that integrate information with energy and material constraints across scales of organization in living systems. We show how these principles outline new theoretical and empirical research challenges, and offer one novel attempt to incorporate them in a theoretical model. To provide adequate background for the principles, we review major concepts and identify common themes and key differences in information theories spanning physics, biology and semiotics. We structured our review around a series of questions about the role information may play in ecological systems: (i) what is information? (ii) how is information related to uncertainty? (iii) what is information processing? (iv) does information processing link ecological systems across scales? We highlight two aspects of information that capture its dual roles: syntactic information defining the processes that encode, filter and process information stored in biological structure and semiotic information associated with structures and their context. We argue that the principles of information in living systems promote a unified approach to understanding living systems in terms of first principles of biology and physics, and promote much needed theoretical and empirical advances in ecological research to unify understanding across disciplines and scales.
O'Connor, M. I.; Pennell, M. W.; Altermatt, F.; Matthews, B.; Melián, C. J.; Gonzalez, A. (2019) Principles of ecology revisited: integrating information and ecological theories for a more unified science, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 7, 219 (20 pp.), doi:10.3389/fevo.2019.00219, Institutional Repository
Consumer-resource dynamics is an eco-evolutionary process in a natural plankton community
When traits affecting species interactions evolve rapidly, ecological dynamics can be altered while they occur. These eco-evolutionary dynamics have been documented repeatedly in laboratory and mesocosm experiments. We show here that they are also important for understanding community functioning in a natural ecosystem. Daphnia is a major planktonic consumer influencing seasonal plankton dynamics in many lakes. It is also sensitive to succession in its phytoplankton food, from edible algae in spring to relatively inedible cyanobacteria in summer. We show for Daphnia mendotae in Oneida Lake, New York, United States, that within-year ecological change in phytoplankton (from spring diatoms, cryptophytes and greens to summer cyanobacteria) resulted in consumers evolving increasing tolerance to cyanobacteria over time. This evolution fed back on ecological seasonal changes in population abundance of this major phytoplankton consumer. Oneida Lake is typical of mesotrophic lakes broadly, suggesting that eco-evolutionary consumer-resource dynamics is probably common.
Schaffner, L. R.; Govaert, L.; De Meester, L.; Ellner, S. P.; Fairchild, E.; Miner, B. E.; Rudstam, L. G.; Spaak, P.; Hairston, N. G. J. (2019) Consumer-resource dynamics is an eco-evolutionary process in a natural plankton community, Nature Ecology & Evolution, 3(9), 1351-1358, doi:10.1038/s41559-019-0960-9, Institutional Repository
Population genetics approaches to investigate how the massive level of habitat fragmentation affects population connectivity of crayfish, and if technical countermeasures effectively mitigate the negative effects of fragmentation.
New tools to monitor changes in ecosystem conditions and to quantify genetic changes of populations in (semi-)natural environments to predict how human mediated environmental change will influence stability and resilience of ecosystems.
We test how natural selection acts on quantitative immune defence traits and how ecological factors create variation in the form and strength of selection.
Assess the distribution and genetic structure of all amphipod species in Switzerland.