I seek to understand the patterns and processes controlling the distribution and abundance of organisms at medium to large scales to lead to more predictive theories of how distribution and abundance will change under anthropogenic global change (especially climate change and landcover change).
I tend to be a generalist in my research, pursuing a wide variety of questions, and I also tend to enjoy collaborations that take me into new areas. To keep some focus, when I evaluate taking on new research I check whether it has most or all of the following ingredients:
Distribution and abundance of organisms (aka biodiversity) — this is a central defining question in basic ecology (indeed some textbooks use it as the definition of ecology). But it is also perhaps the central defining question of management. What makes a species rare? What makes a species live here instead of there? How is this going to change? why is this area high in biodiversity?
Meso- to macro-scales — I am motivated by questions that play out over large temporal (decades to millennia), spatial (km to continent), and taxonomic scales (half dozen or more species). These scales are not ones that lend themselves well to experiments and require alternative methods to perform research, which is challenging and has tended to cause these questions to be neglected. But these scales are also the scales that are most relevant to conservation and management questions and hence to society.
Global change (climate & landcover) — Unintentionally and with potentially tragic consequences, humans are conducting an enormous experiment. My central goal is to provide a better, more predictive model of how organisms will respond to these changes to assist managers and conservationists. But this unfortunate change also provides one solution to the challenges of working at large scales – a pseudo-experiment is being conducted and we need to take advantage of it.
Ecoinformatics — Another response to the challenge of not being able to perform experiments at larger scales is to use ecoinformatics methods – the assemblage and analysis of large datasets. Much of my work has been with large census projects that have many species at many points in space over many years. I am also increasingly using remote sensing as an alternative, efficient way to provide raw data about the distribution and abundance of organisms at the scales I study. I seek to join this data along the space dimension with extensive environmental information including climate and human history and also to join this data long the species dimension with species-specific trait information (physiology, life history). I use advanced regression and spatial and temporal statistical methods to analyze such data
Some key research questions include:
What determines species ranges? How will they change under climate change? How can we assess and improve existing models in this area?
What controls the proportion of rare species in a community? How does this change with human disturbance?
Can we develop a unified theory of biodiversity that explains classic patterns such as species abundance distributions, species are relationships, etc?
Many others driven by students and collaborators but broadly consistent with the four touchstone features listed above.
background image under creative commons license by Ivy Main on wikimedia