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OSUG - Terre Univers Environnement

Scientific topics

13 September 2013 ( last update : 19 November 2013 )

In certain parts of the world, the chain linking biodiversity, ecosystem processes, and ecosystem goods and services is likely to be broken due to dual effects of climate and land use change (CLUC). Assessing the consequences for biodiversity, and how they might be mitigated, is a major challenge for ecology.

Overall, the ability of species to respond to CLUC will largely depend on their ability to ‘track’ shifting suitable conditions, to modify their physiology or to rapidly adapt to changed conditions. Because CLUC also allows the emergence of new ecosystems and the arrival of new alien species, developing reliable predictive tools to reduce errors in the predictions of biodiversity scenarios is becoming essential to produce better conservation planning. However, we need first to understand how species or functional groups respond to environmental gradients, how different dimensions of biodiversity co-vary in space, and to characterise the different mechanisms driving species coexistence and the assembly of natural communities.

At the same time, the analysis and forecasting of the impact of CLUC on biodiversity do not currently incorporate the effect of rapid evolutionary changes. In particular, predictions for changes in species distributions mediated by climate change often rely on the assumption that species climatic niches are conserved at the time scale at which the ecological modification occurs.

Recently, the dogma of species niche conservatism has been severely challenged by the finding that niches may have been labile in the evolutionary history of some groups of species. Indeed, niche shift may have been a major driver of species diversification in some clades.

Our team aims to tackle several of these shortcomings, notably through the developments of new molecular techniques, the elaboration of comprehensive databases, the construction of mega- phylogenies, and the development of new modelling tools. These developments, together with a strong theoretical foundation and novel ecological questions, will ultimately allow us to propose sets of biodiversity scenarios and associated goods and services for the French Alps.

Given this context, our research will address the following questions :
- How do the different facets of biodiversity (specific, functional and phylogenetic diversities) respond to environmental gradients and co-vary as a function of spatial scales and trophic levels ?
- How are the response of different species to environmental changes and the assembly mechanisms of biotic communities influenced by micro- and macro-evolutionary mechanisms ?
- How can we build robust biodiversity scenarios by accounting for intra-specific variability and responses, rapid evolution and biotic interactions ?
These questions will be addressed at the relevant scale (from global to local) and will strongly rely on the integration of new technical and methodological developments into pioneering eco-evolutionary questions. Our research is by essence highly multidisciplinary, with ecologists, modelers, population geneticists and bioinformaticians.

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