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Modelling the evolution and movement of species in the face of global change

By Will Pearse

With the support of the QCBS, I attended the Evolution 2015 conference in Brazil to talk about my new approach to modelling species’ evolution and biogeography. The model, which I outline below, makes useful predictions about what will happen to biodiversity under global change, as well as helping us understand basic biological processes.

But first… Brazil! A few years ago I was involved in a project to prioritize the restoration of Brazil’s Atlantic forest. It’s a beautiful part of the world, home to many endemics plants and birds, but it’s also under threat. The pollinators and plant species that live within this habitat are vital to the health and economy of the people who live nearby, but much of the original habitat has been destroyed or otherwise damaged. We suggested a way of restoring this forest that would cost very little, and would probably save money overall because of the benefits the forest represented. However, I was one of the modellers on the project and so I was never able to actually visit the forest. Walking around and exploring intact and damaged habitats gave me some fantastic ideas for new collaborations and modelling approaches to use in the forest.

A view over a portion of Brazilian Atlantic forest

The conference itself may not have been as beautiful to look at, but it was even more fascinating. My talk focused on my new modelling framework – SISEPhyS – that allows biologists to predict whether species will be able to evolve or move to cope with climate change or habitat loss. I applied the model to a well-known plant dataset in Panama, but as a result of the meeting I’m now applying it to dinosaur and lizard datasets. I had lots of discussions, both in person and on Twitter, about my work, and I was given lots of suggestions as to how to speed up the calculation and improve the complexity of the model. These kinds of interactions are priceless, and it would have been impossible for me to have them without the support of the QCBS.

Driving to the conference

Sadly, something went wrong with the video recording of my talk and so they haven’t put it online. However, I’d encourage you to watch the one of my favourite talks from the conference – Nicholas Matzke has some fantastic ideas on how to develop new biological models, which he summarizes as “models die, models serve.

Post date: March 02, 2016


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