Key research questions

  • How do biotic and abiotic mechanisms influence biodiversity?
  • How did past climate changes affect biodiversity?
  • How might current and future environmental changes affect biodiversity?
  • How can biodiversity be conserved given current and future challenges?

How do biotic and abiotic mechanisms influence biodiversity?

Structure and functioning of biodiversity

How do biotic interactions, abiotic factors, and movement interact to determine the limits and dynamics of species distributions? How do these mechanisms drive coexistence and diversity? These questions are central to community ecology but, in our lab, we study them within a biogeographical and macroecological context. Understanding how mechanisms controlling the distribution of life operate at different spatial and temporal scales is thus of critical importance for us. Our goal is to shed light on the mechanisms driving changes in the spatial and temporal distribution of biodiversity. To do so, we use a mix of approaches, from large-scale experiments, mining of large distribution, trait, and phylogenetic databases, and biodiversity modelling.

How did past climate changes affect biodiversity?

Past climate impacts on biodiversity

History does not repeat itself but it rhymes. Understanding the rhymes of History thus helps understanding the present and anticipating changes in the future. In our lab, to gain confidence regarding usefulness of inferences of species distributions, coexistence and diversity, we test and compare them with historical data. Specifically, we use paleoclimatic projections, the fossil record, and ancient DNA to assess biodiversity models and explore the most likely mechanisms influencing past distributional dynamics. For instance, we have examined extinction mechanisms of mammoths in Eurasia and the distribution changes in bison in North America. We also delved into the impacts of past climate changes on species richness, such as examining climatic impacts on reptiles and amphibians in Europe or using fossil records to understand species’ current climatic preferences, and a combination of approaches to study global patterns of niche conservatism and evolution.

How might current and future environmental changes affect biodiversity?

Forecasting biodiversity change

A significant portion of our work is focused on forecasting changes in distributions of species and communities in response to environmental drivers, chiefly climate change. We pioneered approaches for modelling large numbers of species distributions and introduced the concept of ensemble forecasting in ecology. We developed hybrid models that couple empirical data and mechanistic elements. We are also working on community based models of biodiversity change, as well as developing mechanistic simulation models that formalize and code key mechanisms controlling the distributions of organisms. Recently, we led a consensus paper on standards for data and models in species distribution modelling.

Towards understanding species distribution boundaries, we undertook experiments to measure species’ thermal-physiological limits and explored the importance of considering experimentally-derived thermal limits for making inferences about changes in species distributions.

How can biodiversity be conserved given current and future challenges?

Conservation Strategies

Conservation strategies are often based on the principle that protecting biodiversity from human-induced threats in designated areas can ensure its persistence. Recognising the dynamic nature of species ranges, we developed novel spatial conservation planning frameworks using species distribution models. We were among the first to highlight that climate changes will drastically alter species’ persistence expectations in protected areas and provided the first Europe-wide assessment of climate change effects on these areas. New conservation planning methods were developed to account for species’ dispersal needs under climate change, aiming to identify combinations of areas most likely to ensure species persistence.

Video Abstracts