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Title: Spatial heterogeneity in ecology
Author: Mealor, Michael A.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3390 5875
Awarding Body: University of Stirling
Current Institution: University of Stirling
Date of Award: 2005
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This project predominantly investigated the implications of spatial heterogeneity in the ecological processes of competition and infection. Empirical analysis of spatial heterogeneity was carried out using the lepidopteran species Plodia interpunctella. Using differently viscous food media, it was possible to alter the movement rate of larvae. Soft Foods allow the movement rate of larvae to be high, so that individuals can disperse through the environment and avoid physical encounters with conspecifics. Harder foods lower the movement rate of larvae, restricting the ability of individuals to disperse away from birth sites and avoid conspecifics encounters. Increasing food viscosity and lowering movement rate therefore has the effect of making uniform distributed larval populations more aggregated and patchy. Different spatial structures changed the nature of intraspecific competition, with patchy populations characterised by individuals experiencing lower growth rates and greater mortality because of the reduced food and space available within densely packed aggregations. At the population scale, the increased competition for food individuals experience in aggregations emerges as longer generational cycles and reduced population densities. Aggregating individuals also altered the outcome of interspecific competition between Plodia and Ephestia cautella. In food media that allowed high movement rates, Plodia had a greater survival rate than Ephestia because the larger movement rate of Plodia allowed it to more effectively avoid intraspecific competition. Also the faster growth rate, and so larger size, of Plodia allowed it to dominate interspecific encounters by either predating or interfering with the feeding of Ephestia. In food that restricts movement, the resulting aggregations cause Plodia to experience more intraspecific encounters relative to interspecific, reducing its competitive advantage and levelling the survival of the two species. Spatial structure also affected the dynamics of a Plodia-granulosis virus interaction and the evolution of virus infectivity. Larval aggregation forced transmission to become limited to within host patches, making the overall prevalence of the virus low. However potentially high rates of cannibalism and multiple infections within overcrowded host aggregations caused virus-induced mortality to be high, as indicated by the low host population density when virus is presented. Also aggregated host populations cause the evolution of lower virus infectivity, where less infective virus strains maintain more susceptible hosts within the aggregation and so possess a greater transmission rate. The pattern of variation in resistance of Plodia interpunctella towards its granulosis virus was found using two forms of graphical analysis. There was a bimodal pattern of variation, with most individuals exhibiting either low or high levels of resistance. This pattern was related to a resistance mechanism that is decreasingly costly to host fitness.
Supervisor: Boots, Mike Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Spatial ecology ; Ecological heterogeneity ; Larval movement rate ; Lepidoptera ; spatial heterogeneity ; Plodia interpunctella ; viral evolution with localised transmission ; larval movement rate ; spatial population dynamics ; aggregated interspecific competition ; life history trade-offs