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H2020

MobileLinks Report Summary

Project ID: 656572
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MobileLinks (Mobile links in fragmented landscapes: implications for biodiversity conservation)

Reporting period: 2015-12-01 to 2017-11-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

In a world dominated by human-altered landscapes, the ability of species to disperse through a matrix of anthropogenic habitats (urban and agricultural) is necessary to ensure the connectivity of their populations, the colonization of vacant habitats after disturbance, and thereby their long-term persistence in fragmented regions. Hence, a critical question for conservation is whether differences among species in dispersal translate into biodiversity loss through biotic homogenization. The ability of fleshy-fruited plants to disperse though the anthropogenic matrix relies on their capacity to interact with those frugivore species that move across its habitats providing key seed dispersal services. Organisms that connect habitats in the landscape are termed “mobile links” and are considered essential for ecosystem resilience. However, there is a lack of knowledge about the mobile-link function in seed dispersal networks and its role on biotic homogenization. This proposal aims at filling this gap by providing a large-scale and integrative assessment of seed dispersal by avian frugivores through fragmented landscapes of Europe. Specifically, it aims at assessing empirically (1) whether interaction constraints between plant species and those frugivore species that act as mobile links are a driver of long-term biotic homogenization in fragmented regions; and (2) whether certain phenotypic plant traits that favour interactions with mobile-link frugivores could be used to predict ‘good dispersers’ and ‘poor dispersers’ of target plant communities. This proposal includes several study sites distributed across different European biomes, assuring generalization of the results. It combines field sampling and ground-breaking DNA-barcoding techniques for resolving seed dispersal networks, which will provide unprecedented information about the functional value of specific frugivore species in fragmented landscapes. Resulting knowledge can be incorporated into management and policy-making decisions for preserving woodland biodiversity in fragmented regions.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

WORK PERFORMED

• Selection of study sites: a total of 7 study landscapes located in 5 different European countries were selected for fieldwork.

• Meetings with collaborators (partner teams): Dr González-Varo visited all partner teams between February and June 2016 in their respective countries and institutions (Germany: University of Margburg; Poland: Wladyslaw Szafer Institute of Botany and University of Krakow; Spain: University of Oviedo, King Juan Carlos University and Doñana Biological Station). During such visits, the study landscapes were visited to validate their suitability for the project and the sampling protocols were discussed.

• Fieldwork: Periodical field sampling surveys have been carried out from summer 2016 to summer 2017 in each study landscape.

• DNA barcoding analyses: DNA barcoding has been successfully carried out identifiying the frugivore species dispersing the seeds in >90% of the samples analysed (on average, ca. 300 samples per study landscape).

• Landscape digitalisation and characterisation: The seven study landscapes have been digitalised using recent and freely available aerial photographs. All spatially explicit information collected in the field has been incorporated into GIS projects created in the free software QGIS. Such information includes the location of seed traps, droppings with seeds, transects for bird censuses and vegetation characterisation, etc.

• Network analyses and mobile links: Dr. González-Varo is currently leading the statistical analysis that will allow:

- Assessing the identity of the frugivores acting as mobile links in European fragmented landscapes, the correlates associated to the mobile-link function (e.g. frugivore body size, migratory behaviour), and its phylogenetic structure in frugivore assemblages.

- Assessing dissimilarity between the seed dispersal networks in forest and matrix within each study landscape in terms of ‘frugivore species’, ‘plant species’ and ‘pairwise interactions’.


DISSEMINATION

The project MOBILELINKS and some of its preliminary results have been presented in many national and international meetings, including ‘XIV MEDECOS & XIII AEET meeting: Human-driven scenarios for evolutionary and ecological changes’ (February 2017, Sevilla, Spain), ‘3rd Symposium on Ecological Networks and 3rd Symposium on Molecular Analysis of Trophic Interactions’ (September 2017, Uppsala, Sweden) and the ‘Joint Annual Meeting: Ecology Across Borders (BES, GFö, NECOF and EEF)' (December 2017, Ghent, Belgium).

So far, this project has (directly or indirectly) supported nine scientific publications, many of them in top journals like Science, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, PLoS Biology and Molecular Ecology.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

This proposal moves around a topic that represents a frontier in ecology: how the structure of ecological networks drives community assembly and, ultimately, shapes ecosystem functioning. MOBILELINKS thus constitutes ground-breaking science towards a better understanding of biodiversity and the functioning of ecosystems, whose results will be of high relevance for conservation. In this line, Prof. William Sutherland and his research group (Conservation Science) represent the excellence in applying high-quality science to answer a wide range of questions concerning the conservation of biodiversity. Knowledge derived from thsi project can potentially be incorporated into management and policy-making decisions for an effective use of the economic resources. MOBILELINKS is expected to have an impact within and outside Europe, paving the way for international collaborations with other research groups working on similar topics.

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