Demographic, functional and macroevolutionary determinants of range dynamics and large-scale ecological niches in South African Proteaceae (DynNiche)
funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG)
Karen Esler, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
Differences in the ecological niches and geographical range dynamics of species are of key importance for biodiversity research. Yet, the mechanisms causing these interspecific differences remain poorly understood. This project investigates (i) how niches and range dynamics arise from the response of fundamental demographic processes (reproduction, mortality and dispersal) to environmental variation, and (ii) how functional traits and macroevolution shape these demographic responses. To this end, we assembled a large dataset describing how reproduction and mortality vary with climate, soil and fire conditions across the global geographical ranges of 26 woody plant species (Proteaceae from the South African Fynbos biome). Using Bayesian Dynamic Range Models (Pagel & Schurr 2012), these data will be combined with extensive information on long-distance seed dispersal and range-wide variation in population size to estimate range dynamics and demographically-founded niches. Molecular phylogenies and measurements of morphological, physiology-related and life history traits will be used to test whether evolutionary principles and functional traits explain interspecific variation in niches and range dynamics. Novel probabilistic forecasts of range dynamics will assess how the diversity of Fynbos Proteaceae will respond to future environmental change and alternative conservation measures. In summary, this project aims to advance the understanding of how demography links the dynamics of taxonomic, functional and phylogenetic diversity at large spatial scales.