Workshop: Modelling and mapping the ecological niche from physical first principles
Speaker: Dr. Michael Kearney, University of Melbourne
Abstract: Anthropogenic warming is a global phenomenon that is threatening biodiversity and ecosystem function. The ability of organisms to rapidly respond to novel thermal environments has shown to have fitness and evolutionary consequences. Sophisticated modeling approaches have allowed scientists to identify species at risk to rapid warming associated with climate change and provided mechanisms that may contribute to local or global declines of species. Generally, the aims of such approaches are to use a prior understanding of an organism’s niche, the environmental space where an organism can persist, to make predictions where in space those niches can occur and then use these data to understand how climate can constrain the distribution or abundance of organisms. Mechanistic niche models have become a powerful tool where researchers use the computation of heat, water, and nutritional budgets of organisms as a function of their environments. These data can then be used to calculate functional traits of an organism (growth, reproduction, survivorship, and development), which can then be mapped on the landscape to predict where constraints occur in relation to where the species is distributed. In the past, estimating mechanistic niche models have been difficult for ecologists to use because of computing limitations and the use of complex computing languages, such as Fortran. The NicheMapR package uses the R environment to compute fundamental physical and chemical constraints on living things. One main aspect of this package is to use functional traits of an organism to predict how these traits can be influenced by the organism’s microenvironment through time and allows users to estimate these traits may influence where it can occur (microclimate or distribution). This talk and mini-workshop aims to give a conceptual overview and practical introduction to modelling species niches mechanistically.
Bio: Mike is a professor in ecology and evolution in the School of BioSciences at The University of Melbourne. A childhood passion of looking for animals in the bush led him to wonder how they manage to survive in some places and not others, and hence to become an ecologist. His research is focused on ways to connect what we can measure about an organism’s basic survival skills and capabilities with what we can measure about their environments and how they change though space and time. From a theoretical point of view, this has led him to work in the fields of microclimate modelling, biophysical ecology and metabolic theory. He also has interests in the evolution of parthenogenetic organisms, palaeo-environments, life history and biogeography. Taxonomically his expertise is with reptiles and grasshoppers but he enjoys studying all kinds of organisms, including plants.
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