Journal of Animal Ecology Elton Prize awarded to Natalie Jones

The Elton Prize is awarded annually to the best article by an early career researcher in Journal of Animal Ecology.

We are delighted to announce that the winner of the 2020 Elton Prize is Natalie Jones, University of Queensland, Australia, for her Research Article Predators drive community reorganization during experimental range shifts.

Climate change is reshuffling ecological communities, truly, as we speak; it’s not simply leading to the loss of species in local communities, as many early papers predicted. Indeed, climate change does hasten local extinctions, but it also triggers range expansions and alters interactions among resident species and, increasingly, among novel species as well. But imagine if you were asked to figure out the complicated case of how biotic and abiotic factors influence the assembly of novel communities? There’d be a lot of ins and a lot of outs; a lot of strands to keep in your head. Natalie Jones and colleagues were able to keep those strands in their heads and designed an elegant study aimed at documenting the ins and outs of the combined and relative effects of warming and fish predation on the assembly of novel zooplankton communities.

In this paper, Jones simulated warming and elevational migration by zooplankton in the presence and absence of fish predators in a mesocosm experiment. They measured changes in zooplankton community composition, population growth rates and the strength of trophic cascades. They found that the impact of warming on zooplankton community composition depended on whether colonizing zooplankton species were faced with competition from novel species or co-occurred with fish predators, which again is more than just a simply loss of species from the community in response to warming. Populations of one zooplankton species, the smallest species, typically increased in size in response to warming and populations increased in size, especially in the presence of fish predators who prefer larger prey species; larger zooplankton species could successfully colonize only when predators were absent. Finally, there was evidence of a fish-induced trophic cascade, but its strength did not depend on whether the communities were warmed or novel species were present.

Since those first projections of how biodiversity would be impacted by ongoing climate change, ecologists have learned a lot about how particular taxa in particular places are being, and likely will be, affected. Similarly, thanks in part to clever experiments and accidental introductions of novel species, we know of more novel interactions in novel communities. Finally, animal ecologists have long appreciated the role that predation plays in structuring communities. But only a carefully conceived and executed experiment could tie all of those strands together to understand the often-complicated case of how biotic and abiotic factors shape novel communities. Natalie Jones and colleagues reported on just such an experiment in Journal of Animal Ecology, and the editors are proud to award her the Elton Prize.

Natalie completed this research as a postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Jonathan Shurin at the University of California, San Diego. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Queensland in Australia and loves empirically testing predictions from ecological theory using different plant and animal systems.

Find out more about Natalie’s research including the biggest challenge of the work to find ‘Secret lake’ check out Natalie’s #StoryBehindThePaper blog post here.

Find the winning paper as well as the shortlisted papers for the 2020 Elton Prize in this virtual issue.

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