Overview

We are currently experiencing what has been termed the sixth mass extinction event, with observed and estimated species extinction rates orders of magnitude larger than long term (geological) background rates, for a wide variety of taxa. Whilst there are multiple drivers of contemporary extinctions, three of the primary drivers are known to be habitat loss, climate change and invasive species. A large body of work exists detailing how each of these individual drivers affects biodiversity and leads to extinctions. However, this work has focused on individual drivers in isolation from other factors, and it thus ignores any synergistic effects. This has likely led to an underestimate of the overall effect of global environmental change on biodiversity, and has potentially resulted in the generation of suboptimal information for biodiversity conservation and management.

To accurately assess the impacts of global environmental change of biodiversity therefore requires a synergistic approach; focusing on the interactions between these three drivers at a macroecological (i.e. continental and global) scales. The proposed project will develop and implement this synergistic approach through the generation and testing of novel theoretical predictions, and the collection and analysis of already published empirical data. The project will identify models of how the three main drivers of global environmental change interact to impact biodiversity; these will be translated into prescriptions for future biodiversity conservation and management actions.

The project will evaluate: 1) the ability of species to shift their ranges in fragmented landscapes in response to climate change, 2) the ability of species to persist in novel climatic conditions in the presence of invasive species, and 3) how ecological communities containing high numbers of invasive species are able to respond to large scale habitat loss.

A species of spider from the Azores Islands that is threatened by a combination habitat loss, climate change and invasive species. The Azores has undergone substantial habitat change and disturbance since human colonisation of the islands in the 15th century: over 80 % of the native Azorean forest has been lost, and approximately 46% of the arthropod fauna of the arhipelago is currently comprised of non-native species. It has been estimated that together these impacts have resulted in a large number of extinctions of native species. Photo credit: Paulo A.V. Borges.

Methodology

The project will involve the collection and assembly of secondary data. Data collection will be undertaken by searching through online biodiversity databases and published material and via links with other global researchers.

The analytical element of the project will be split into two parts: a meta-analysis, and the development of global models. The former will involve designing a meta-analysis, using the collected data, to evaluate the synergistic effects of the three primary global environmental change drivers. This will involve standard meta-analysis and linear modelling techniques. The latter will involve undertaking a landscape modelling approach to simulate species’ range shifts under climate change in different landscape habitat loss scenarios. The scenarios will be developed with support from colleagues at the partner organisations and linked to IUCN policy goals.

 

Training and Skills

CENTA students are required to complete 45 days training throughout their PhD including a 10 day placement. In the first year, students will be trained as a single cohort on environmental science, research methods and core skills. Throughout the PhD, training will progress from core skills sets to master classes specific to the student's projects and themes. 

The student will be provided with training related to standard ecological statistics, study design, spatial modelling and data analysis, with a particular focus on the R programming language.

Timeline

Year 1: The first year will focus on: 1) data collection, 2) training through individual-based learning, 3) Scenario identification, 4) Preliminary data analysis and exploration.

Year 2: Conclusion of data collection and initiation of landscape modelling analyses. This year will include a short trip to the Azorean Biodiversity Group, University of the Azores, to work with Prof. Paulo Borges on global environmental change questions using the long-term biodiversity monitoring datasets his group have collected.

Year 3: The landscape modelling analyses will be finished, and both this and the meta-analysis study will be written up and submitted to academic journals. Completion of PhD thesis.

Partners and collaboration (including CASE)

The project will involve collaboration with the following individuals and institutions:

Prof. Paulo Borges – Azorean Biodiversity Group, University of the Azores, Azores

Prof. Rob Whittaker – Conservation. Biogeography and Macroecology Group, University of Oxford.

Dr Kostas Triantis – Faculty of Biology, University of Athens.

Further Details

Tom Matthews – School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science, University of Birmingham.

Email address:  T.J.Matthews@bham.ac.uk