Habitat selection paper published in Ecology and Evolution

Wesner JS, Meyers P, Billman EJ, Belk MC. Habitat selection and consumption across a landscape of multiple predators. Ecology and Evolution.

We tested whether egg-laying female insects could detect differences in predator community composition. Because some predators are more lethal than others, the ability to differentiate predator risk when laying eggs can have large fitness consequences. To test this, we allowed insects to oviposit in tanks that contained a native dragonfly (Ophiogomphus sp.) or a non-native trout brown trout (Salmo trutta). Predators were housed in isolated outdoor tanks either alone (single species) or combined (both species together). Predators were also caged to avoid direct consumption during colonization.

Surprisingly, insect colonization (number of larval insects after 21 days) did not depend on whether predators were present or not, regardless of community composition. However, follow-up consumption trials suggested that laying eggs in predator pools had clear negative consequences for larvae, particularly in trout pools, which reduced larval survival by ~47%. Thus, egg-laying insects either did not (or could not) detect differences in larval habitat quality.

Second metamorphosis paper accepted to ES&T! UPDATED

Kraus, JM, DM Walters, JS Wesner, CA Stricker, TS Schmidt, and RE Zuellig. In press. Metamorphosis alters contaminant transfer and diet tracers in insects. Environmental Science and Technology (open access)

We’re on a roll with metamorphosis at ES&T. Johanna Kraus, a Mendenhall Fellow at the USGS, led the way on this very important paper. It shows differential contaminant loss as insects metamorphose from larvae to adult. Some contaminants are lost, while others are retained. Further, some stable isotope tracers, like N15, also change during metamorphosis. The results have broad application to contaminant transfer in food webs, and the interpretation of stable isotope studies.

UPDATES:
This paper was chosen as an “Editor’s Choice” by the American Chemical Society.
USGS Press Release

Metamorphosis paper 1 accepted to ES&T

Wesner, JS, JM Kraus, TS Schmidt, DM Watlers and WH Clements. Accepted. Metamorphosis enhances the effects of metal exposure on the mayfly, Centroptilum triangulifer. Environmental Science & Technology

This paper shows that metal concentrations that are non-lethal for mayfly larvae can become lethal when those larvae undergo metamorphosis to become winged adults. This points to an intriguing mechanism that may explain field patterns in which insect emergence is a more sensitive indicator of stream pollution than larval densities (Schmidt et al. 2013). In short, metamorphosis is a stressful event, and when combined with other stressors, metamorphosis can magnify their effects. The result is a disconnect between responses in the water (larvae) and responses in the air (emerged adults).

New paper in Freshwater Science

Wesner, JS. 2013. Fish predation alters benthic, but not emerging, insects across whole pools of an intermittent stream. Freshwater Science 32:438-449

Direct predation on developing insects undoubtedly reduces the number of emergers, right? In this paper, the answer is maybe. We blocked off 10 entire pools of a small stream in Oklahoma, and created a 13X gradient of fish density. After 44 days, there was a clear negative relationship between fish density and benthic insect density, evidence that fish predation reduced benthic insect density. However, this did not translate into a reduction in emergence. The reason may lie in a lag effect between measured benthic standing crop, and subsequent emergence. Unfortunately, the fish effect was detected only in the last week of the experiment, and it’s likely that the remaining insects were not developed enough to emerge immediately.

But experiments always have to end, especially when you have to return to campus to teach. There is, however, some evidence of a lag effect – benthic standing crop before the experiment predicted emergence at the end of the experiment. In other words, had we waited a few weeks, the story may have been different, and emergence may have reflected fish density, revealing a predation effect.

New Paper in Ecology

Wesner, JS, EJ Billman, and MC Belk. 2012. Multiple predators indirectly alter community assembly across ecological boundaries. Ecology 93: 1674-1682. (see Publications for a .pdf).

Choosing where to lay eggs is critical to an organism’s fitness. Make the wrong choice, and your offspring are toast. It’s no surprise, then, that variation in habitat quality can often lead to variation in colonization, which is a key process during community assembly. Quality is defined in various ways, but one of the most obvious is the presence of predators, and organisms will often avoid colonizing habitats with predators when given the choice. But two features may complicate this choice, 1) predator diversity, and 2) the location of predator-free habitats in the landscape.

We measured insect colonization of aquatic mesocosms that contained predatory trout, dragonflies, or both. In addition, we varied the position of predator-free controls; some were adjacent to mesocosms with predators, while others were isolated. Based on previous research, we expected colonization in the adjacent controls to be intermediate between colonization in the predator treatments and isolated controls. We also expected colonization in the treatment with two predator species to be lower than colonization in treatments with single species.

Surprisingly, rather than showing intermediate preferences, we found that egg-laying insects (mostly chironomids) did not distinguish between treatments with single predator species, multiple predator species, or adjacent controls. They avoided all of these in favor of isolated predator-free mesocosms. This occurred despite the fact that adjacent and isolated predator-free controls were identical. Thus, colonization did not vary solely as a result of intrinsic habitat quality, but also as a result of the quality of adjacent habitats. This means that habitats that might appear identical to us based on intrinsic sampling may be perceived differently by organisms that colonize them. If these response scale-up, our results have consequences for traditional habitat models, as well as the design of conservation reserves.

New Paper in Freshwater Biology

Wesner, JS. 2012. Emerging aquatic insects as predators in terrestrial systems across a gradient of stream temperature in North and South America. Freshwater Biology 57: 2465-2474.

For most aquatic insects, emergence to adulthood means two things: sex and death. As a result, emergence is often synchronous (sex requires other individuals, of course), resulting in mating swarms. These swarms also make good meals for terrestrial predators, subsidizing their diet. More food can feed more predators, so streams that produce more emerging insects also tend to support more birds, spiders, lizards, etc. From a bottom-up perspective, the importance of this subsidy is clear. However, not all insects are limited to sex and death. Some, like dragonflies, feed as adults, meaning they’re both prey (bottom-up) and consumers (top-down) in terrestrial food webs, with potentially important consequences.

Dragonflies are also more diverse and abundant in warm climates. In contrast, stoneflies, some of which are predators in the stream but never as adults, are more abundant in cold climates. This means that predation by adult aquatic insects may vary along a temperature gradient. In this paper, I asked how a latitudinal changes in average stream water temperature might affect both the magnitude and trophic structure (proportion of predators) of insects emerging from streams. I used published benthic insect datasets (i.e. larval stream datasets) as a proxy for emergence, because emergence collections are relatively rare. Collections ranged from Alaska to Brazil, spanning average mean stream temperature from 4 to 25 degrees Celsius.

The trophic structure, but not the magnitude, of potential emerging insects varied across the temperature gradient. Warm streams had proportionally more adult predators than cold streams (range: 0-12% by abundance, and 0-86% by biomass), but not necessarily more overall prey. Thus, the “bottom-up” potential of emerging subsidies was consistent, while the “top-down” potential varied widely. I argue that this top-down potential should be considered more widely in studies of aquatic-terrestrial linkages, particularly in warm climates.

New Paper in Animal Conservation

Wesner, JS and MC Belk. 2012. Habitat relationships among biodiversity indicators and co-occurring species in a freshwater fish community. Animal Conservation 15, 445-456.

What if conservation of a single species simultaneously benefited other species in the ecosystem? That is the allure of “indicator species” or “surrogate species”, particularly those that seem to occur in places of high species diversity. Unfortunately, an association between a given species’ presence and high diversity does not necessarily mean that conservation of that species will improve diversity. We demonstrated this in the latest (October) issue of Animal Conservation.

We collected fishes from a bunch of sites in the Bear River Drainage, which straddles the UT/WY border before flowing into the Great Salt Lake. The drainage is home to northern leatherside chub (NLC), a species of conservation concern. NLC is a working man’s minnow, all grays and browns, clear fins, the kind of fish that is too small to even be considered a trash fish, and so nondescript that it wasn’t described until 2004. But it knows where to live. Streams with NLC tend to have higher fish diversity than streams without NLC, a pattern that was also true for three other common fishes during our surveys.

Given those associations, we might conclude that restoring the habitat of any of those species would benefit most other species in the drainage. We would be wrong. Instead, the species we examined showed mostly idiosyncratic habitat relationships. In other words, the main habitat associated with one species was neutrally, or sometimes even negatively, associated with other species. Had we only focused on the species-diversity associations, and not examined the underlying habitat associations, we would have falsely supported using one or more of those species as “surrogates” for other fish.