Day two of the conference, and still many great talks. I mainly stayed in the session on synthesizing community ecology, phylogenetics and macroecology. This has turned out to be a great conference and Avila is a great venue.
Carsten Rahbek. His talk is on merging the fields of macroecology to better understand patterns of diversity. Different models explain variation differentially at different scales. For example, climate models do well for wide-ranging species but not for scarce species. A model of evolution may do much better for scarce species, but not for wide-ranged species. Statistical tests confirm a correlation, but not necessarily a mechanism. One could get different conclusions if one were to compare to a null model. He advocates a spatially explicit species assembly model that integrates macroecological models with community assembly. It is scale invariant and can explain spatial and temporal variation in assemblages. In an example, he shows that, based on small scale sampling, species distribution models will over-predict richness. Need to combine macroecological models with distribution models, because acroecological models do well to predict richness but not composition while distribution models predict composition but not diversity.
Jens-Christian Svenning. He talked about paleoclimatic influences on ecological patterns and function across scales. Past climates have shown masive changes and different groups of species have evolved during these events, while other species have gone extinct. The velocity of climate change was highest in northern Europe and North temperate North America, and higher velocity results in lower endemism since it is quicker for species to migrate than diversify. Higher velocity results in lower specialization in hummingbirds. He finishes with a note about current regions undergoing fast climate change; these are not necessarily those same regions that had the most change in the past.
Adreas Prinzing. His talk was about how niche conservatism can inform our potential solutions for changing environments. Specialists are declining in changing environments and how does this apply to specialist clades of closely related species? Specialist species tend to occur in specialist genera. However, niche conservatism does not tell us everytng about species differences/similarities because closely related species clearly coexist and exhibit substantial trait differences. Species coexist within niches by key divergences.
Kenneth Kozak. He presented a way that phylogeny illuminates the origin of climate-richness relationships. Only speciation, extinction or dispersal can change richness, and many models do not ask how these processes change. He examined salamader diversity and evolutionary history using 16000 occurrence records in North America, and examined climate variables for occurrences. Diversity was highly associated with cool, moist places. Richness is strongly correlated with evolutionary time of colonization of climatic conditions. For example, evolution of warm species is recent, hence fewer species. Diversity does seem to be saturating, and so time is limiting factor, and more species can probably still emerge.
David Vietes. He gave an interesting talk on the amphibians of Madagascar, which is a diversity hotspot for amphibians. There were 132 described species n 1999 and now 263 with about 200 still needing to be described. Many are endemic to small regions of Madagascar (the whole family is endemic to Madagascar). He discussed many aspects of the distribution of these species, and looked at phylogenetic patterns. Some interesting observations include: older species pairs are further separated in space and smaller species have smaller ranges. Also, there appears to be a predictable pattern of richness hotspots, but endemism hotspots are more idiosyncratic.
Joaquin Hortal. He discussed the effect of glaciation on richness, functional diversity and phylogenetic diversity for European mammals. The hypothesis he explored was that current distributional patterns driven more by past changes since glaciation than current climate. He compare several different types of measures and it turns out that current climate is more important for explaining patterns of co-occurrence and relatedness, with more closely related species occurring together at northern locales.
Catherine Graham. She also explored patterns of richness, functional and phylogenetic diversity, but was looking at hummingbirds diversity patterns across elevation gradients in South America. She compiled an impressive dataset with several morphological traits and co-occurrence patterns. Broadly, close relatives co-occur at high elevations and more distantly at lower where competition is stronger. In local communities a mix of environmental filtering and competitive dispersion seem to be operating. At high elevations, both functional and phylogenetic diversity are high.
Rob Dunn. He gave a fantastic talk on the species on the human body and in our lives and homes. He told us about projects that involve citizen scientists from across the USA and had them sample their homes and bellybuttons. Amazingly, Dunn’s group has so far identified 1400 species in belly buttons, and many of them are unknown species –which could not be classified into known species groups. He looked at many factors like ethnicity, geography, cleanliness, but none of these explained this diversity well. A subset of these species are bellybutton specialists and dominate bellybutton floras within and among people, and are phylogenetically clustered, evidence that the bellybutton habitat is a conserved trait.
Cecil Albert. I ran to another session to see this talk on intraspecific variation in species traits. She eloquently showed that for plant assemblages, there was substantial intraspecific variation in traits. Some species showed high variation and some showed almost no variation. Importantly, she showed that this variation could substantially change our ability to explain how functional traits link to abundance and coexistence. She simulated different levels of variation and looked at the strength of the correlation between expectations from mean trait versus the actual trait that varies. The strength quickly declines for some traits as variation increases, meaning that with variable traits, the explanatory ability of using a mean trait is weak.
Sally Keith (Flash talk*). She examined the Mid-domain effect (where, because of range sizes, maximal diversity is found in the centre of a geographic landmass by random chance), and process based models to test mechanism for middomain prediction. She showed that these models seem to have limited success. Perhaps environmental gradients and species interactions could be important. But when she added interactions to the model, it then predicts humped shaped pattern predicted by the mid-domain effect.
Tamara Munkemuller (Flash talk). She examined phylogenetic relationships as a way to examine niche patterns and coexistence. She hypothesized that there should be strong filtering under stressful conditions. She examined thousands of plots across elevational gradients, and plots that were in stressful locations tended to be phylogenetically clustered, meaning certain groups of species exist there.
Susanne Fritz (Flash talk). She was looking at diversification patterns in birds. Using lineage through time plots one should expect that the rate of diversification should decline trough time, which perhaps equates to niche filling. For species in tropical Asia, she found that there is not much leveling off of diversification rate. Though interestingly, groups that have not dispersed (for example, birds of paradise) do show a plateau in diversification. Globally, diversification slows down more in more speciose regions.
Jake Alexander (Flash talk). He had a very interesting talk on elevation gradients in richness in non-native plants invading mountain habitats. Most species have narrow elevational ranges in lower and mid elevations and high ranges for those species found at high elevations. The explanation is that these non-natives are generalist and that they originate form lower elevations –where human activity dominates, and must spread up the mountain to get to the high elevations.
*Flash talks are 3 minutes long, and a great way for people to communicate new and exciting results.