Land Acknowledgments

Recent talks I have attended mentioned indigenous histories at their research sites. This is a positive form of provenance not just of the site or place but of the sense of its ecology. Nonetheless, it has been proposed that talk is cheap. There at least five major implications of this premise.

  1. Acknowledge but propose a solution for those lands to better recognize the diversity of peoples associated with its present and past.
  2. Similar to prepping a data management plan, prepare a land and research provenance management plan that includes sharing and communicating results to current and past stakeholders within the region.
  3. Provide the audience or readers with an opportunity to contribute to this recognition process. This can include mechanisms such as an NPO or charity to support associated with the land use culture and peoples, a mailing address or contact details for more information, a link to additional resources or the site for deeper reflection, and finally lead by example and mention how your research process incorporated provenance.
  4. Revisit the culture, history, and ecology at the end of the talk by reconnecting with its peoples. In many of the systems we work in as a team in Central California, Ephedra californica is a foundation plant species. This plant has a long history of use and management by many. Mention this as a key connector to the ecology that we now study. These ephedra parklands reflect many processes of change including active management.
  5. The written word is powerful. In the standard ‘study site’ description included in the Methods section of field ecology papers, consider a statement describing and citing work on the indigenous people and culture that supported your study site.


This Fall will be remote for the majority of academic activities. The 8.0 credit honours thesis program is approximately 8mos in duration. The student leads an independent research project. As a team, we would like to work with two individuals on one of the following projects. Each student will work with a graduate student or postdoc and Chris Lortie.

a. Each project is individually implemented by the student safely.
b. Zoom calls with Chris and the co-mentor to ideate, solve, and plan will be used to collaborate in addition to editing datasheets and docs.
c. It will be beneficial for the student to have experience in R and be able to work independently.
d. The pre-reqs are listed online for BIOL4000 are here and currently include students their final year with a BIOL GPA of at least 6.0.

Tree forest dynamics at YorkU

(1) Subway effects on trees and woodlots. A census of tree forest dynamics and individual tree changes on YorkU campus. Jenna Braun, Mike Belanger, and I dug through census records compiled by the YorkU master gardener in 2012 and 2013. Over 5000 trees were tagged on campus and their size and health were recorded. The data are here. This is a fantastic project and opportunity to revisit a superb dataset in R and also resample some or many of the trees. We now have a subway rumbling away underneath campus, and we can check trees near and far from the line and test the hypothesis that disturbance belowground influences tree growth and health.

(2) Other ecological hypotheses relevant to urban forest dynamics (disturbance, new buildings, edge or center of campus etc). There are at least two projects here. The students can work independently and still split up the work of testing more than question or hypothesis. One individual can (re)sample trees from 2012 and 2013 near/far subway lines, and a second student can examine any other ecological question with disturbance, new buildings, or how sets of trees are doing in different ecological contexts on a university campus.

Desert ecology data analyses

We have many open datasets ready to go for deep analysis work if you are competent in R (or Python but we work in R in the lab). Many spatial questions, niche questions, or use or plant and animal survey data and join them to new data on climate or downscaled remote data if you are game for that adventure. Here are a few examples.

Vegetation under shrubs and in the open in the Central California Deserts.

Desert arthropod diversity patterns in California.

Camera traps and birds of the deserts.

In each instance, the workflow will include a few Zooms to plan analyses and additional data lookups, then the student researcher digs in!

To apply

If you meet the pre-reqs and are in your final year in YorkU Biology, please email lortieatyorkudotca, and we will set up an interview with you for the team!

Proposed guidelines for presentation of ecological community responses to a key factor (or set thereof)

Observations on accessibility of evidence and coherence in reported findings

In collaboratively writing this week as a team and in reviewing the literature with a specific meta-question in mind (how best to present community ecology, today, for the specific papers we are working on), we have a formula for a REALLY solid and clear presentation of results for some papers to consider – primarily for those that examined the response of a community (animals, birds, pollinators, etc.) to a key factor such as shrubs, shelters, water, light, or density to name a few ideas. This trend in reporting included competition and facilitation papers not just keystone plant species effects on other species.

FIG 1. Gift to the reader.

Surprise, this is for you. Thank you for getting this far into the paper or even scrolling to a figure. No sarcasm here – everyone busy and there a lot of potential papers to read in ecology and evolution.

This figure is thus the MAIN POINT of paper.
Show them the hypothesis ‘worked’! We defined ‘worked’ as including enough complexity to address how well and when (i.e. community response by phylum or season). So, reading a paper on light and competition on COMMUNITIES (plants or any taxa), we skim to the first figure and EXPECT to see, well you guessed it, light on x-axis then y-some measure of how the community responded – big picture results. We also expected to see some facet or color in data or some level illustrating how well the factor worked so to speak. Is light level always important? Or, does it depend on something?  Almost ALL current papers include that second factor.

Like this or even better really.

The reader is like ‘OH I got it’. Density is important or microhabitat important, but it depends on season because birds fly around a lot and migrate too.

FIG 2. Show something about the species in community.

Imagine a reviewer for a journal such as Journal of Animal Ecology or really any eco-journal.  The editor will try for an ecologist that knows something about desert mammals, birds, or the bees if the paper is about those communities. These readers will expect a second plot to be about composition or show species. Bird people (plant people too when we read community response papers about plants) want to be able see a plot and go OHYA I know that species OR aha I suspected NOT all species responded the exact same way to this key driver.

There are least three options for a STRONG second plot about species.

a. Relative frequencies.
A stacked bar or line plot or something that lists out species and shows their relative frequencies by at least one, prefereably two, key level(s). Rank abundance plots nice but not so common now.

b. A composition plot from an ordination analysis
One that shows something really deep about community OR actually shows species in the ordination plots with labels.

c. A cool species network plot
A plot that shows not only the species BUT how their connections changes based on the key factor(s).

FIG 3. Mechanism or other key ecological context that illuminates WHY the community responded to key factor(s).

Optional (and depends on study of course) but can illustrate how another key moderator IF needed such as RDM, temperature, etc mediates the community outcomes. OR, show the mechanism that explains fig 1 and 2. OR, zoom in on a key finding such as species by functional group, migratory status, etc.


Fig 1 – Main finding with enough detail to encompass predictions or how well and when hypothesis works (or not).
Fig 2 – Show composition or species because this is a community response paper.
Fig 3 – Show mechanism, zoom in on how community responded (functional groups), or show a really important finding that is strongly related to Fig 1 but you did not want clutter up or make it even more complex.

Preferences from a week of work on reading and writing with an attempted laser-beam focus.

Annual plant neighbourhoods

As a team, we are discussing the fine-scale grain of sampling for estimating annual-annual plant interactions in deserts. We are particularly interested in the Mojave Desert to examine pollinator-herbivore interactions with annuals that are mediated by the other immediately adjacent congeneric species. Here is a brief compilation of key papers examining this challenge.

scale matters, a plant’s eye view

Publications describing the fine-scale annual plant neighbourhood concept

Mack, R. N. and Harper, J. L. 1977. Interference in dune annuals: spatial pattern and neighbourhood effects. – Journal of Ecology 65: 345-363.

Holzapfel, C. and Mahall, B. E. 1999. Bidirectional facilitation and interference between shrubs and annuals in the Mojave desert. – Ecology 80: 1747-1761.

Schiffers, K. and Tielbörger, K. 2006. Ontogenetic Shifts in Interactions among Annual Plants. – Journal of Ecology 94: 336-341.

Lortie, C. J. and Turkington, R. 2008. Species-specific positive effects in an annual plant community. – Oikos 117: 1511-1521.

Emery, N. C., Stanton, M. L. and Rice, K. J. 2009. Factors driving distribution limits in an annual plant community. – New Phytologist 181: 734-747.

Luzuriaga, A. L., Sánchez, A. M., Maestre, F. T. and Escudero, A. 2012. Assemblage of a Semi-Arid Annual Plant Community: Abiotic and Biotic Filters Act Hierarchically. – PLOS ONE 7: e41270.

Underwood, N., Inouye, B. D. and Hambäck, P. A. 2014. A Conceptual Framework for Associational Effects: When Do Neighbors Matter and How Would We Know? – The Quarterly Review of Biology 89: 1-19.

Underwood, N., Hambäck, P. A. and Inouye, B. D. 2020. Pollinators, Herbivores, and Plant Neighborhood Effects. – The Quarterly Review of Biology 95: 37-57.

Personal vote

I am a fan of the 15cm scale for fine-scale but often sample with a 15cm ring nested within a second 30cm metal ring. I construct using wire.

Team kicking off extreme ecology research in Tierra del Fuego

In collaboration with Professor Katie O’Meara, an architect, Professor Zaitchik, an Earth Scientist, and researcher Claire Moriarty, we are examining the use of drones to map keystone species in extreme environments such as cushion plants in Patagonia or shrubs in deserts. This is just a pilot experiment (haha, get it), and we need a graduate student for 2020 to dig in and ground-truth the metrics we will derive from imagery. The focus will be structure and architecture in natural systems.

#ESA2015 Organized Session: Implications of positive interaction studies to the future of ecological research

We would like to invite you to the ESA 2015 session OOS 37 (quite a few of us from the lab will be in attendance).

Implications of positive interaction studies to the future of ecological

research. The session is on Wednesday, August 12th from 8:00-11:30am.


The goal of this session is to highlight the current state of

facilitation research and describe the future projections including

available gaps in the literature. Broadly, this session provides a

synthesis of positive interaction studies across different ecosystems with

topics ranging from niche expansion, coexistence, evolutionary adaptation,

and global change. This set of studies showcase the growing importance of

positive interactions for ecological processes and biodiversity

coexistence. We also guarantee that it will be entirely entertaining. We

will be on social media to share and explore questions in real time. We are

encouraging presenters to share in advance as well.





8:00 AM – A role for soil microbial communities in plant-plant facilitation

Cristina Armas, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas; Yudi M.

Lozano, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas; Sara Hortal,

University of Western Sydney; Susana Rodríguez-Echeverría, Centre for

Functional Ecology; Francisco I. Pugnaire, Consejo Superior de

Investigaciones Científicas

8:20 AM – Positive interactions expand habitat use and the realized niches

of sympatric species

Sinead M. Crotty, Brown University; Mark D. Bertness, Brown University

8:40 AM – Facilitation in plant communities: Driver of evolutionary


Christian Smit, University of Groningen

9:00 AM – The future of gradient studies in examining plant-plant

interactions for the next 100 years

Chris Lortie, York University

9:20 AM – The consequences of plant–plant interactions at the community

level: A niche-based approach

Christian Schöb, University of Zurich; Sara Hortal, University of Western

Sydney; Alison J. Karley, The James Hutton Institute; Luna Morcillo,

Universitat d’Alacant; Andrian C. Newton, The James Hutton Institute; Robin

J. Pakeman, The James Hutton Institute; Jeff R. Powell, University of

Western Sydney; Ian Anderson, University of Western Sydney; Rob W. Brooker,

The James Hutton Institute

9:40 AM – Break

9:50 AM – The competition cascade: Indirect facilitation emerges as a key

driver of species richness under neutral, niche or individual difference

Eliot J. B. McIntire, Natural Resources Canada

10:10 AM – Positive species interactions and climate change at global scales

Qiang He, Duke University; Brian R. Silliman, Duke University

The session is on room 314 of the Baltimore Convention Center. We hope to

see you there!