Biogeography at a Global Scale: The Benefits of Distributed Experimental Networks

Post provided by Elizabeth Borer

©NASA

©NASA

I have always loved the Blue Marble image of Earth from the Apollo 17 mission, yet a large part of my science is focused on experimental responses at the scale of meter squared grassland plots or even individual grass plants. While I spent my early career wanting to be able to say something important about regional or global processes, I found myself feeling like generating any experimental insights into processes and ecosystem responses at larger scales would be an impossible fiction.

As a postdoc, I had the opportunity to do a multi-site study across a north-south precipitation gradient in California and jumped at it. Among other questions, I decided to ask about whether plants and insects varied similarly across sites in response to replicated experimental treatments. Yet, the idea of actually sampling – and then processing samples from – more than about four sites for more than a year or two was utterly daunting. Continue reading

Estimating Shifts in Species Distribution: An Interview with James Thorson

David Warton (University of New South Wales) interviews James Thorson (NOAA) about his paper Model-based inference for estimating shifts in species distribution, area occupied and centre of gravity. The article is included in the August 2016 issue of Methods in Ecology and Evolution.  They discuss how to estimate changes in distribution shifts accounting for changes in the spatial distribution of sampling intensity, James’ current workplace NOAA, his academic background and what trouble he is planning to get up to next.

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Biogeographic Regions: What Are They and What Can They Tell Us?

Post provided by Leonardo Dapporto, Gianni Ciolli, Roger L.H. Dennis, Richard Fox and Tim G. Shreeve

Every species in the world has a unique geographic distribution. But many species have similar ranges. There are many things that can cause two (or more) species to have similar ranges – for example shared evolutionary histories, physical obstacles (mountains, oceans etc.) or ecological barriers limiting their dispersal. As a consequence, different regions of the globe are inhabited by different sets of living organisms.

In the mid-19th century ecologists recognised that the earth could be divided into different biogeographic regions. Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) played a key role in defining and recognising biogeographic regions. He improved the existing maps of  biogeographic regions and provided basic rules to identify them. His observation that some of these regions are home to similar species, despite being far away from each other and separated by significant barriers was the inspiration for Alfred Wegener’s theory of continental drift. In more recent years regionalisation has been used to understand the spatial drivers of biological evolution and to protect those regions characterised by particularly unique flora and fauna.

The biogeographic regions identified by Alfred Russel Wallace from The Geographical Distribution of Animals (1876)

The biogeographic regions identified by Alfred Russel Wallace from The Geographical Distribution of Animals (1876)

Despite the long history of biological regionalisation, the methods to identify biogeographic regions are still being improved. We are currently working in this exciting field of research and recently published ‘A new procedure for extrapolating turnover regionalization at mid-small spatial scales, tested on British butterflies’ in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Continue reading

New Associate Editors

Today we are welcoming three new Associate Editors to Methods in Ecology and Evolution: Nick Golding (University of Melbourne, Australia), Rachel McCrea (University of Kent, UK) and Francesca Parrini (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa). They have all joined on a three-year term and you can find out more about them below.

Nick Golding

Nick Golding

Nick Golding

“I develop statistical models and software for mapping the distributions of species and diseases. I’m particularly interested in tools that make it easy for researchers to add more mechanistic structure into their correlative models (and vice versa) so that they can use all available information when making predictions. I also develop software and other tools to bring research communities together and help them advance ecology by enabling and incentivising reproducible and extensible research.”

Nick has recently had an article published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution (currently in Early View). In ‘Fast and flexible Bayesian species distribution modelling using Gaussian processes‘ Nick and his co-author (Bethan Purse) introduce Gaussian process (GP) models and their application to species distribution modelling (SDM), illustrate how ecological knowledge can be incorporated into GP SDMs via Bayesian priors and formulate a simple GP SDM that can be fitted efficiently. The article is Open Access, so it’s freely available to everyone.

Rachel McCrea

Rachel McCrea

Rachel McCrea

“I am a NERC research fellow and lecturer in statistics at the University of Kent.  My particular areas of interest include capture-recapture modelling, multistate models, modelling population dynamics and methods of model assessment.  My research is motivated by interesting discussions with ecologists and I strive to find innovative, but practical statistical solutions to ecological questions.”

Rachel is one of the authors of Analysis of Capture-Recapture Data (along with Byron Morgan). The book covers the many modern developments of capture-recapture (and related) methods and will be of interest to researchers and graduate students in statistics, ecology and demography. It contains 130 exercises designed to complement and extend the text and help readers to assimilate the material.

Francesca Parrini

Francesca Parrini

Francesca Parrini

“My broad research interests lie in the ecology and behaviour of mammalian herbivores, their interaction with biotic and abiotic factors and the integration of factors governing decisions at the small foraging scale and factors governing decisions at the landscape level. As such, my research lies at the interface of remote sensing, behavioural ecology and conservation. Recently I have become interested in the application of graph theory and network analysis to ecological settings, in particular to study the spatio-temporal structure of animal movement patterns.”

Last year Francesca had her article (co-authored with Maria Miranda) ‘Congruence between species phylogenetic and trophic distinctiveness‘ published in Biodiversity and Conservation. In this paper the authors investigate the relationship between species’ phylogenetic history and patterns of resource use. They show that there is congruence between species phylogenetics and interaction distinctiveness and propose that this relationship could provide a possible novel approach to the conservation of ecosystem diversity.

We are thrilled to welcome Nick, Rachel and Francesca to the Associate Editor Board and we look forward to working with them over the coming years.

Virtual Issue: Advances in Phylogenetic Methods

Original Image ©PLOS One Phylogeny

Original Image ©PLOS One Phylogeny

Timed to coincide with Evolution 2015, we have released a new Virtual Issue on Phylogenetic Methods. All of the articles in this Virtual Issue will be freely available for a limited period.

An understanding of the tree of life contributes to many facets of biology. This Virtual Issue has assembled studies that showcase the breadth of the utility of phylogenetic trees, including phylogenetic beta diversity, trait evolution, diversification, biodiversity studies, phylogenetic signal, biogeography, ecosystem functioning, and host-pathogen dynamics.

The Research papers included are excellent examples of new ways that phylogenies can be applied to central questions in ecology, evolution and biodiversity, such as measuring niche conservatism, trait evolution and diversification rates. The issue also has articles on barcoding methods, which increasingly are used to understand phylogenetic and functional diversity.

You can see a little more information on each of the articles below.

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