Exploring Coevolutionary History: Do Entire Communities Shape the Evolution of Individual Species?

A recent study led by Laura Russo (Trinity College Dublin) and published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, explores coevolutionary patterns in diffuse networks and how these patterns may influence the evolution of individual species. Read more in the blog post snippet below, or see the full blog post on the Methods.blog:

Diffuse Coevolution

In 1980, Janzen published an article titled “When is it coevolution?” where he explained the concept of diffuse coevolution: the idea that evolution of interacting species is shaped by entire communities, rather than simple paired interactions. This idea, though compelling, remains poorly understood, and strong evidence of diffuse coevolution acting on a community is lacking. Perhaps this is because there’s a lack of consensus on what would constitute evidence in support of the concept of diffuse coevolution, or, indeed, coevolution in general (Nuismer et al 2010).

Large Communities of Generalized Interactors

Evaluating patterns of diffuse coevolution involves analysing communities of many species and many interactions. But, standard phylogenetic methods for testing coevolution fail when evaluating large communities of interacting species because

  1. we often lack phylogenetic data for all the interacting species
  2. traditional methods are designed to evaluate pairwise interactions, not generalist species with many interactions…”

Read the full blog post on the Methods.blog. 


About the Author

Laura Russo is a Marie Curie fellow in Jane Stout’s lab at Trinity College Dublin. She studies mutualistic interactions between plants and insects, and between agriculture and conservation.  Find out more about her research here:

Website | https://drlaurarusso.weebly.com/
Twitter | @lrusso08
Google Scholar | Profile
Linkedin | Profile

The Botany Bake Off (2017 edition)

Cakes and baking have always been running themes in the Botany Department here at TCD. This year, members of the Department have turned things up a notch for the second ever Botany Bake off! The rules were simple; bake something that represents your research or work in the department. The stakes don’t get higher than this…

This cake represents the research of Prof. Jennifer McElwain using fossil leaves to reconstruct the evolution of the earth’s atmospheric composition and climate over millions of years. The leaves around the edge are of the Ginkgo tree. The pattern on the cake top shows what these leaves look like under a microscope. The ‘molecules’ on top of the cake represent the CO2 and H2O in the atmosphere around the plant leaves.

This cake was presented by Dr. Laura Russo to represent her research in the food webs of pollinators. The apple pastry roses represent different plant species, depended upon by various fondant pollinator species! Continue reading “The Botany Bake Off (2017 edition)”

What happens to animals when their habitat burns?

When you live in Ireland, it’s easy to forget that a good proportion of the world’s ecosystems regularly burn. In many regions, plants and animals have evolved to tolerate or even rely on fire. My recent paper investigates the factors that drive the success of an Australian gecko after fire. I found that the geckos were healthier after fires because of the availability of lots of prey, showing that these feeding relationships matter for a species that thrives after its forest burns.

Important word alert: succession = the sequence of changes in the physical structure and composition of plant and/or animal species in an ecosystem after disturbance.


In flammable ecosystems, natural cycles of fire and succession mean that habitats are complex, ever-changing systems.

But as we go through global changes in land use and climate, the effect of fire on ecosystems is being transformed. In some areas, fires are becoming more frequent and intense, while in other places, fire suppression by humans has removed this important process from the environment. Even in Ireland, wildfires of unprecedented size have occurred in recent years because of changing land management practices and a drier climate (I know, this last point is hard to believe some days!). Continue reading “What happens to animals when their habitat burns?”

The 12 days of NERD club

NERD club, for the uninitiated, is a weekly meeting of the Networks in Ecology/Evolution Research Cluster Dynamic of the School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin. We present and discuss our research and also general aspects of academia such as science communication, job hunting and using twitter. The members include interns, PhD students, postdocs and both junior and senior faculty, so it’s always full of interesting research and heated debate! Essentially, it’s my favourite hour of the week, so as it’s the festive season and I’m in a festive mood, I decided to write a Christmas song for NERD club.

It’s to the tune of the 12 Days of Christmas. It’s also not very good, but I had time to fill on the train…

“On the 1st day of Christmas the NERD club gave to me…

parasites in a fractal stomach

On the 2nd day of Christmas the NERD club gave to me…

curious bluetits

and parasites in a fractal stomach

On the 3rd day of Christmas the NERD club gave to me…

debates about twitter

curious bluetits

and parasites in a fractal stomach

 [And so on until]

On the 12th day of Christmas the NERD club gave to me…

a million chocolate fingers

specialist pollinators

ecological stability

mixed effects models

test tubes full of glitter

cryptic flowerpeckers

bats living longer

poisoned honey-bees

news on seminars

debates about twitter

curious bluetits

and parasites in a fractal stomach!”

Merry Christmas everyone! See you in the New Year (provided I survive the hippos – see Keith’s hippo-critical post last week).

Natalie Cooper


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons