For me, the story behind our recent paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution ("Bottom-up and top-down control of dispersal across major organismal groups") is a story about curiosity, trust and how science should work: in collaboration to achieve more than we individually can.
dispNet project and our journey started in 2014 when we realized that
across Europe a growing number of research groups were starting to
use model systems, ranging from unicellular protist in the laboratory
to vertebrates in seminatural enclosures, to study spatial ecology
and evolution. While some of us were exchanging ideas on a regular
basis, others were new to the game and not well integrated into the
community. With the naive idea of fostering exchange and collegiality
instead of competition and distrust, Jean Clobert, Staffan Jacob and
I decided to invite everyone we knew of in this field to meet at the
foot of the French Pyrenees, at a field station of the CNRS in
Moulis. After a rather unproductive meeting everyone dispersed back
home and the only thing we had achieved was having met. While this
may sound like quite a negative start, we had set the stage for a lot
more. One year later we met again, this time hosted by Nicolas
Schtickzelle and Dries Bonte in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Thanks to
the relationships we had built up a year before in France we decided
to take a step further than just talk. We wanted to pool our
resources and share results to advance our field of science. Within
three days of discussions we decided to perform a coordinated
distributed experiment, discussed hypotheses and predictions and
outlined experimental protocols. This is when we realized that we had
not been naive in the beginning, but rather aiming low: after the
meeting in Belgium, we went home, planned experiments in 21 species
in detail and actually performed them within the next field season in
Fig. 1: Some of our study species.
After having performed experiments and collected data we came back together where everything had started: in Moulis. After discussing results and analyses, it took us more or less one year to finish our first collaboration: our current NEE paper had emerged!
Fig. 2: Examples of experimental systems.
For me this is an incredible success story: going from only loosely knowing some of us to a published collaborative experiment in 4 years is amazing! Currently, we are working hard to use this momentum and to make this the beginning of a successful series.
From a scientific point of view we now know that, and especially how, dispersal, a central life-history trait, is influenced by the food web context, specifically, bottom-up and top-down forces. While for some of us this was expected, for others, this shed a new light on the importance of behavioural decisions. Most importantly, our work calls for a rethinking of (evolutionary) metacommunity ecology, where dispersal is often seen as neutral and random. Our coordinated effort demonstrates the contrary and calls for an extension of theory.
Fig. 3: Authors present at the 2017 Moulis meeting