For the April issue, we chose the following two papers as editor’s choice according to our motto of synthesizing ecology. Mumby et al. (2013) discuss various articles that either support or reject the hypothesis that coral reefs might be able to exist under certain conditions in two alternative stable states (ASS): a coral-dominated and a macroalgae-dominated state. Given the fact that the existence of multiple attractors is controversial, synthesis needs to be created by compiling various forms of evidence. Mumby and colleagues provide such an overview of evidence by providing analyses of the literature and the available empirical and theoretical data. By means of this integrated approach, they conclude that the most compelling evidence, which combines ecological models and field data, is far more consistent with multiple attractors than the competing hypothesis of only a single, coral attractor. This message warns managers that degraded reeds might never be able to be restored once dominated by macro-algae. Read Peter Mumby’s summary of the paper here
The second paper we selected is Baiser et al. (2013) testing the ability of metacommunity models to predict the network structure of the aquatic food web found in the leaves of the northern pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea. It is the central aim of metacommunity theory to elucidate the relative impact of local and regional processes on local community structure. The structuring processes have, however, been predominately inferred from statistical modelling. The work of Baiser and colleagues takes an elegant approach to formally test to which degree patch-dynamics, species-sorting, mass-effects, and neutral metacommunity models, as well as three hybrid ones are able to predict observed patterns of the aquatic foodweb structure within these plants. By merging empirical data and more mechanistic models they test the probability that dispersal and sorting processes are important mediators of food web structure. While such integrated empirical-theoretical approaches have been developed for other ecological questions, Baiser et al. here demonstrate its usefulness for understanding drivers of food web structure.
Both papers as Open Access.