Winner Announced: 2022 Elton Prize

We are delighted to announce that Pablo Antiqueira as the 2022 winner of our Elton Prize early career researcher award for the article

Pablo is award the Prize for his contribution to the published article Warming and top predator loss drive direct and indirect effects on multiple trophic groups within and across ecosystems. You can read more about Pablo’s #Storybehindthepaper on the blog post, which is also available to read in Portuguese.

How does it feel to win the 2022 Elton Prize?

It is a great joy and honor to be awarded the Elton Prize! In recent years we have faced neglect of science and technology in our country, discouraging many of our scientists. This award shows us the quality of the science we produce here and brings hope for new ideas, studies, and discoveries. I am very grateful to the team, reviewers, and editors at the Journal of Animal Ecology, one of my favorite journals, for the opportunity and support. I would also like to thank everyone who made this study possible, Fapesp which financially supported our work, my supervisor Gustavo Romero and co-supervisor Owen Petchey; all co-authors, collaborators, family, and great friends who helped us with the research and always encouraged us. Finally, I would like to offer this award to my great hero and biggest supporter, my father, Augusto Antiqueira. He was the one who first taught me the love of nature. He showed me the first animals, plants, and interactions in our moments of walking along the banks of rivers and forests on days of fishing. Unfortunately, my father passed away last year, but he lives in my memory and ways. Thanks, Dad!

Comment from the Editors

Trophic downgrading, or the loss of top predators, often has dramatic cascading consequences on the organization of communities. Similarly, ongoing climatic warming is disrupting communities and ecosystems, often in unpredictable ways. Experimentally addressing how trophic downgrading and warming interact, which they likely do, to shape communities is a daunting challenge, especially when the effects can cascade across ecosystem boundaries, say from a grassland to a pond. It’s hard to imagine what an experiment in in a place like the Serengeti might look like if we were interested removing lions from some plots but not others and experimentally warming some plots but not others. More than likely, that experiment is impossible to carry out. What’s needed is a more tractable system. Enter the tank-bromeliad system. They support a diverse fauna of micro- and macro-organisms, both in the rainwater-fed aquatic ecosystem in the central cup, or the tank, and in the terrestrial ecosystem that is not submerged in water.

In this year’s Elton Award winning paper, Pablo Augusto Antiqueira and colleagues take advantage of these tractable tank-bromeliad systems to explore how trophic downgrading and warming affect these diverse aquatic and terrestrial communities. The top predators in the tank-bromeliad system are damselfly and horsefly larvae, which are much easier to manipulate than the lions on the Serengeti. And Pablo and his colleagues came up with an innovative way to warm these ecosystems: the used aquarium heaters to increase temperatures by either 2° or 4° C above ambient temperatures. (We also note that their Figure 1 – a conceptual schematic of the tank-bromeliad system –  is worthy of an award itself). They found that the loss of top predator affected different components of the tank-bromeliad system in a variety of anticipated and not so anticipated ways. For instance, the loss of the top predators increased the richness and abundance of filter feeders but decreased the richness of algae in the tank bromeliads. Warming in contrast did not affect the aquatic micro- or macro-organisms but did lead to an increase in the abundance of web-building terrestrial spiders. Taken together, their results highlight the how trophic downgrading and warming might affect species in direct and indirect ways, and across ecosystem boundaries. Pablo and colleagues have provided a clear framework for future experiments, be they with lions or otherwise, to explore how multiple anthropogenic drivers influence the structure of communities and the functioning of ecosystems. 

Image: Pablo sampling water from a tank-bromeliad.

What will you work on next?

I continue to do postdoctoral research at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), where we have investigated how anthropogenic changes (e.g., climate change) affect biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Specifically, we have been studying how changes in precipitation patterns, predicted for the next few decades, affect multiple components of biodiversity (e.g., diversity patterns and trophic interactions) and ecosystem functioning (e.g., ecosystem multifunctionality and energy flow). Also, more recently, I’ve started to explore human impacts on biodiversity in urban environments, which has been a great experience. Finally, this year I started a new challenging but exciting period; I will be a father. My daughter Aurora is coming for a new cycle of great learning in the next few months.

What did you enjoy most about conducting this research? 

I love spending time in natural environments, such as rivers and forests. Also, I love field experiments. Thus, it was an amazing adventure to simulate warming and top predator loss in a super cool natural ecosystem in a highly diverse Rainforest (i.e., using tank-bromeliad in an Atlantic Rainforest ecosystem from Brazil). We spent almost four months in the field to set up, develop and conclude the experiment. The Atlantic Rainforest on the Brazilian coast was an enjoyable and gorgeous place to do that (despite the time being far from my family). Also, I have much help during the research, fieldwork, laboratory activities, and discussions about the results. These steps undoubtedly provide enjoyable moments with friendly people to whom I am very grateful.  

Were there any funny experiences or surprising discoveries from this research? 

Setting up a heating system inside a rainforest was quite challenging, and sometimes we got in shock (also in the electrical sense of the word). But it was amazing to see our results and the experiment in progress. For example, it is surprising (and worrying) how anthropogenic effects can be perpetuated across various food web compartments within and between ecosystems. The multitrophic approach (i.e., exploring multiple biological groups from different trophic levels) we conducted was fundamental in detecting how strongly ongoing biotic and abiotic changes could affect biodiversity. It is alarming how the loss of key species, such as top predators, caused by human activities can cause harmful effects in several food web compartments, from micro to macro-organisms, within and between ecosystems.

About Pablo

I am an ecologist interested in observational and experimental approaches to answer questions about the factors that regulate the community structure and ecosystem functioning. I completed this research as a postdoctoral researcher working with Dr. Gustavo Quevedo Romero at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil. I’m currently a postdoctoral fellow at the same university, where I keep studying anthropogenic changes, but I also started to explore human impacts on biodiversity in urban environments.

Twitter: @PabloAntiqueira

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