Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A trip of the past: the fossils talk to us about biogeography.

Insights of the PS3 Plenary Symposium Session on Saturday 10.01.2015

After a nice reception at the Botanical Garden which ended very late, the attendees congregated at the Auditorium of the University of Bayreuth next morning for the Plenary Symposium. During the session labelled: “Paleogeography: The importance of fossil data to species biogeography. Past, present and future”, the speakers Alicia Stigall, Thomas Servais, Wolfgang Kiessling, Thomas Denk, Andrea Sánchez and Catherine Badgley held presentations of a historical perspective of Biogeography.

To name some examples of the talks of this session, Stigall highlighted the difficulties of making biogeographical analyses with paleontological data. However, using an approach named Environmental niche modelling (ENM) is possible to incorporate into biogeographic inference the temporal, spatial, and environmental information provided by the fossil record, as a direct evidence of the extinct biodiversity fraction.

On the other hand, Andrea Sánchez explained some of the limitations of the fossil record: they represent a fraction of the living information of ancestral times, and therefore the biodiversity we see today is not representative of the historical one, especially after scenarios of high extinction. Her research team analysed the phylogenetic map of the Hypericum sp.  and they found out that it did not correspond with the fossil record.  They analysed the fossil data with a diversification–extinction–cladogenesis (DEC) model incorporating a model of the fossil reconstructions. As fossil record provides information of the location of the organisms, the climate as well as the ecological conditions of the environment of the previous times, dispersal patterns could be described. This allows to infer the past potential distribution and ecological corridors and barriers for dispersal.

Finally, Catherine Badgley explained a model of biotic responses to changes in earth history in terms of biogeographical processes. Specifically, tectonic changes and other environmental changes as change of sea level and climate change open and closes dispersal corridors for species. He explain three examples that portrait this scenario: in Miocene faunas of Pakistan and Spain, and in Quaternary faunas of South Africa. In these three examples of mammals’ biogeography, he concluded how the range of dispersal of these organisms was affected by climate change in accordance of the models applied.

by Yrneh Ulloa

Picture from:

Pre - Conference field trip: Humboldt as a Young Scientist (1792 – 1796)

Last Wednesday, just before the start of the conferences, participants had the chance to be part of a day excursion that visited places that where part of Alexander von Humboldt life during his youth. While listening to amusing stories about his life before becoming the great scientist that we all now, everyone was delighted with beautiful landscapes covered with snow. The excursion included visits to forest and mining areas in the Fichtelgebirge and Frankenwald mountain ranges. 

Although it was a very cold day for an excursion, the participants enjoyed short hikes in different parts of the route; one in particular will be hard to forget. As the temperatures dropped down, a short hike in the area of Bad Berneck took place; this is when all assistants introduced themselves and enjoyed short conversations as they walked their way to a famous cave in the area. Here, there was a wonderful surprise awaiting: some hot coffee and tea have been served and was secretly waiting for the hikers! Here they all recharged the batteries with some hot coffee and continue the adventurous ride! 

By Sofía Gonzales Zúñiga. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

CT5 Conservation Biogeography Short Lecture Series

Werner Ulrich (CT5.2) has developed a new method of estimating abundance of species in a community by assessing the factor of competition between individual species.
Laura Kehoe (CT5.3) discussed Land Use Intensity as compared with biodiversity in a very interesting talk, which showed globally, the areas which specifically compare land with high anthropogenic use that is adjacent to natural areas of high biodiversity. These high biodiversity to land use regions were found to be dominantly in the tropics: Central America, SE Asia and parts of Central Africa; regions with currently high levels of deforestation. But also found within Southern America, Sth Africa and parts of Australia. Significant areas with this high level of land clash lie outside Conservation Internation Biodiversity Hotspots.
Jenny McGuire (CT5.4) modelled the potential movement of animals over negative temperature gradients (due to climate change) finding worryingly that only 22% of landscape patches within her USA model had enough interconnectivity for successful movement. This is due to anthropogenic land use changes, fragmenting the landscape, very high in the agriculturally-rich eastern USA. Including climate corridors in the models connected and improved this potential movement between landscape patches greatly. How well will seemingly narrow vegetation corridors work in reality?
Carston (CT5.5) gave a thorough account of gaps within current global animal research data, including methods and abilities to track and calculate ranges of mammals. He showed that prioritization of data mobilisation is necessary because data is heavily biased to Western research organisations and completeness in overall data gaps would be significantly improved by finding local data sources.
Ricardo Dobrovolski (CT5.6) showed us that habitat amount determines the extinction risk threshold on a macro-logical scale, for the individual and community level . These risk factors should be compiled and expanded upon in the future to b used in conjunction with global climate change models.

Genotype to the Phenotype - Revolutionising Evolutionary Dynamics (PS1.3 - Luisa Orsini)

Understandings of relations between communities/organisms and climate change commonly miss a linkage between the genotype and the phenotype. Luisa Orsini today discussed the effects of environmental changes on natural populations and communities, by gauging ecological genetic drift. Using Daphnia (water flea) as a keystone species from freshwater ecosystems, she measured the response to both natural and anthropogenic changes of 166 individual marker genomes and at the phenotypic level, over extended generations. This was possible because Daphnia have a short generation time and parthenogenetic reproduction, meaning cloned females are produced during favourable external conditions and sexually produced “resting phase” eggs in times of environmental stress. These resting phase eggs give the ability to look back into the Daphnia's 'genetic timeline'.
She produced repeatable patterns of adaptations of the genome from spatially separate communities, using stresses of an anthropogenic nature, predation and parasitism, as well as temperature changes.
What I found most interesting is that this has an applicability for understanding the influence of genetic changes at a community level, while perhaps not directly to all other species, but for understanding the evolutionary and ecological changes behind a community under the combined weight of climate and anthropogenic change. This will hopefully be the cause for further research in this groundbreaking area.

Lake Genval, Belgium (photo credit:

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Daniel Rabosky receives MacArthur & Wilson Award in Bayreuth

Today, Daniel Rabosky of the University of Michigan received the biennial MacArthur & Wilson Award.  During his Award Lecture, he presented the diverse projects on which he is working. The general focus of his work is on speciation and extinction as potentially dominant determinants of species richness. The main goal of his research is finding out why species richness varies so dramatically across the globe. To name an example, he explained how in Ecuador you might find 11000 tree species per plot versus 41 in the Smithsonian park close to Washington, which illustrates the massive latitudinal gradient of species richness.
Daniel and his team are trying to find the reason for the extreme concentration of biodversity in the tropics. One of their hypotheses was that mean speciation rate is much higher in hotspots of species richness. However, his research on fish species richness showed that mean speciation rates are in fact low in the tropics and high in high latitudes, which is a remarkable result. Another focus of the lecture was on the extremely high lizard diversity in Australia. This is notable because snake diversity is much lower there, despite the taxons having similar demands for habitat conditions. He examined this high speciation rate via phylogenetic tree analysis and explained how the method works. Personally I found his outlook on research extremely progressive  and from what I can say from my limited student-y perspective is that he seems to truly deserve this award. Congratulations, Daniel!

500 million year paleobiogeography. How much is geofantasy and what is applicable today?

The tectonic reconstruction of Pangaea (300-200mya) is understood and well documented, but what happens when we trek back further into deep time?

Thomas Servais explained that the paleobiodiversity provinces and hotspots of Ordovician (450mya) brachiopods have been reconstructed and he can track the 30 million year, pole to equator spread of the ancient genus Veryhachium, which is related to modern dinoflagellates and can still be found today. Such reconstructions give us a glimpse of what life and its dynamics, which at this time was confined largely to the marine world, would have looked like. Future work will relate to locating Orovician biodiversity hotspots and understanding how provinces of the organisms correlated and evolved. 
Thomas frequently referred to the book “Early Paleozoic Biogeography and Palaeogeography” (eds: D. A. T. Harper and T. Servais, publisher: Geological Society of London, 2013; as a good resource which we can use the past to analyse the functioning of present biogeographical settings.

Veryhachium sp. From the Ordovician to the Present.
(Photo credit:

Friday, January 9, 2015

Back Then As Well As Today

Give support to young scientist as Humboldt did – selfless.
said Prof. Dr. Schwarz, President of Alexander von Humboldt Foundation during the opening lecture of the conference. He developed Alexander von Humboldt as a role model for modern scientists and science institutions. No one in the past has shaped concepts in science as Humboldt did. He traveled extensively, documented systematically the more than 3000 new species he found, convened the first science conference which had ever taken place, wrote over 50 thousands letters to colleagues. Today you would call him an international science networker and he would surely be on Facebook and twitter.
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
Or let´s say it with Humboldt´s words “Ideas can only be useful if they come alive in many minds.

The spirit of Alexander von Humboldt in the Opening Lecture

On Friday morning, the Head of the University of Bayreuth, Stefan Leible, opened the 7th international IBS conference, introducing the university and the organizing committee around Carl Beierkuhnlein. Then followed a great opening lecture by Helmut Schwarz, President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
He gave an overview over the life and ideas of the father of the discipline of biogeography and namegiver of the foundation: Alexander von Humboldt. Seeing how I am a little Humboldt fan myself, this lecture attracted my attention from the moment I saw the programme and it was definitely worth getting up early after enjoying the atmosphere of the ecological-botanical garden during the welcome reception until late.
The key messages of the talk were the importance of  networks and supporting people (young researchers especially) rather than titles, as done by the Humboldt Foundation. My favourite fact: Humboldt organised a conference in Berlin in 1828 with scientists from all over Europe, which was a huge achievement in times of travel via horse-drawn carriage. It was possible to travel about 40 km per day, so going from Paris to Berlin took nearly one month! Compared to that,  I think anyone will agree that even the attendees from Australia had a very short trip to the IBS 2015 in Bayreuth (but certainly their love for science is no smaller than that of the scientists who came to Berlin back then).

IBS 2015 Welcome Reception in Ecological-Botanical Gardens

A very green welcome was given to the arriving #IBS2015 attendees in Bayreuth Thursday evening: The Ecological-Botanical Gardens of the University of Bayreuth opened its gates to the newcomers. Among them were my fellow students from the Bayreuth-based master programme Global Change Ecology and me, Cathrin, who will provide you with blog entries about what is going on at the IBS 2015 from a student's perspective.
My group had travelled less far than most people as we only had to walk over from the GEO building, very convenient. Everyone cued for the welcome package and we watched as warm welcomes erupted around us as old friends and colleagues reunited. As we're all new to conferences picking up our nameplates made us feel really important and excited for the event to start on Friday. Luckily we were also equipped with IBS umbrellas as the Bayreuthean weather decided to be very nasty. This could not dampen the mood though: the greenhouses were lit mysteriously and groups of people chatted happily at the white bistro tables among the vegetation and enjoyed the local beer varieties and snacks. You wonder if we liked it? Very much so! I think it was the perfect start to collect some energy for IBS conference 2015.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Towards the ‘Next Generation’ of Species Distribution Modelling

The pre-conference workshop “Towards the ‘next generation’ of species distribution modelling: emerging themes and methods” brought together biogeographers, ecologists, remote sensing specialist, and statisticians from all over the world. Some 50 PhDs, Postdocs, and Professors followed the presentations and practical modelling exercises. Novel themes and methods were intensively discussed that present new challenges for species distribution model applications and may form the basis for their ‘next generation’. Starting with remote sensing, Anna Cord and Jan Engler, gave valuable insights how to deal with satellite images by the means of landsat data to model species distribution, the impact of spatial and temporal non-stationarity, and the role of remote sensing data for predicting potential versus actual species distributions. They also introduced the UV-B-radiation as very meaningful predictor.
In a second part of the workshop, tackling landscape genetics, Jan Engler introduced novel techniques to combine species distribution models with models of gene flow to jointly parameterize surfaces of habitat availability and landscape resistance. He applied the open source software circuitscape for mapping the connectivity between wolverine populations.
Niche Evolution was the third topic of the workshop. Dennis Rödder provided an overview of the current available tools that combine phylogenetic information with both current and paleoclimatic datasets to evaluate signals of niche conservatism or niche shift using the hypervolume package in R. He concentrated on the questions: How analyse a species realized niche and how to test for phylogenetic signals in realized niches?
Landscape epidemiology integrates concepts of disease ecology with the macroscale lens of biogeography in order to examine the interactions between landscape heterogeneity and disease spread, was vividly illustrated by Joe Chipperfield. He revealed himself: “I´m a Baysian! And you will probably get one”. For my part, I would like to close with “I´m a Bayreuther” and I am looking forward to discover new interesting facts about Biogeography at the 7th international conference of the International Biogeography Society here in Bayreuth.