Species interactions within communities and the impacts of global changes on these networks

I am interested in the way that species assemble into communies, in particular with respect to the role of species interactions in this process. I use simulation-based models of species assembly to investigate competition-based processes. I am particularly excited by the approach of including non-null rules into such models to simulate community assembly, and recently was able to do this for the ants in epiphytic ferns, showing that species assembled on the basis of body size, with species being less likely to colonise a fern when another ant species of similar size is present (Fayle et al. 2015a). Using simulations of body-size based community assembly I was then able to show that this process was able to explain interspecific patterns of ant colony abundance. I am now interested in expanding this approach to larger spatial scales. See Fayle et al (2008) for a review of the work of the Insect Ecology Group at Cambridge on the ant-fern system (now slightly out of date).

Studying species interactions in anthropogenically modified habitats offers insights into assembly processes, because disturbance can act as a natural experiment, in which biotic and abiotic factors are altered. Over the last few years I have been expanding my work to include comparisons of interaction networks across environmental gradients. I have found that the by-product mutualism between ferns and their ant inhabitants is robust to logging and conversion to oil palm plantation (Fayle et al 2015b), as is the diet of the giant river toad, an ant-specialist predator (Konopik et al. 2014). Competitive interactions between ants also increase along this same gradient of habitat disturbance, suggesting that "ant mosaics" (patterns of segregation between dominant canopy ant species) are more prevalent in disturbed habitats (Fayle et al. 2013). I am also working on building ant-termite predation networks in relation to habitat disturbance, using molecular barcoding of ant gut contents (Fayle et al. 2015c).

Natural history observations are also important for describing new interactions between species, and I have been involved in publications describing interactions between ants and parasitic flies (Disney & Fayle 2008), kleptoparasitic flies (Yusah & Fayle 2014), and between marasmiod fungi and canopy invertebrates (Snaddon et al. 2012).

References

Fayle T.M., Eggleton P., Manica A., Yusah K.M. & Foster W.A. (2015a) Experimentally testing and assessing the predictive power of species assembly rules for tropical canopy ants. Ecology Letters 18: 254-262 [PDF]

Fayle T.M., Edwards D.P., Foster W.A., Yusah K.M. & Turner E.C. (2015b) An ant-plant by-product mutualism is robust to selective logging of rain forest and conversion to oil palm plantation. Oecologia 178: 441–450 [PDF]

Fayle T.M., Scholtz O., Dumbrell A.J., Russell S., Segar S.T. & Eggleton P. (2015) Detection of mitochondrial COII DNA sequences in ant guts as a method for assessing termite predation by ants. PLoS ONE 10 (4): e0122533 [PDF]

Konopik O., Gray C., Grafe T.U., Steffan-Dewenter I. & Fayle T.M. (2014) From rain forest to oil palm plantations: shifts in predator population and prey communities, but resilient interactions. Global Ecology and Conservation 2: 385–394 [PDF]

Yusah K.M. & Fayle T. M. (2014) The first record of a fly of the family Milichiidae (Diptera) interacting with an ant of the genus Polyrhachis Smith, 1857 (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Biodiversity Data Journal 2: e4168 [PDF]

Fayle T.M., Turner E.C. & Foster W.A (2013) Ant mosaics occur in SE Asian oil palm plantation but not rain forest and are influenced by the presence of nest-sites and non-native species. Ecography 36: 1051-1057 [PDF]

Snaddon J.L., Turner E.C., Fayle T.M., Chey V.K., Eggleton P.E. & Foster W.A. (2012) Biodiversity hanging by a thread: the importance of fungal-litter trapping systems in tropical rainforests. Biology Letters 8: 397-400 [PDF]

Disney R.H.L. & Fayle T.M. (2008). A New Species of Scuttle Fly (Diptera: Phoridae) Parasitizing an Ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Borneo. Sociobiology 51: 327-332 [PDF]

Fayle T.M., Ellwood M.D.F., Turner E.C., Snaddon J.L., Yusah K.M. & Foster W.A. (2008). Bird’s nest ferns: islands of biodiversity in the rainforest canopy. Antenna 32: 34-37 [PDF]