Group members

logo

Global change genetics group members

 

Roberto Novella

Roberto Novella Fernandez, PhD Candidate, University of Southampton

Roberto Novella

Contact details: R.Novella-Fernandez@soton.ac.uk ; Website

PhD Project: Investigating the role of ecological interactions in shaping species distributions and range shifts under climate change.

 

Supervisors: Dr Orly Razgour (University of Southampton); Prof Patrick Doncaster (University of Southampton); Prof Justin Travis (University of Aberdeen); Dr Javier Juste (Estación Biológica de Doñana, CSIC, Spain)

Funding: Faculty of Natural and Environmental Sciences, University of Southampton

Project description

A major scientific challenge this century is to understand how biodiversity will respond to global climate change in face of anthropogenic habitat loss. Although mounting evidence shows that many species have already responded by shifting their ranges and changing phenotypes, genotypes and phenology, individual species’ responses are variable, suggesting that other factors may also play a role. Predictive species distribution modelling offers an effective tool for forecasting how future climate change may alter global species diversity and distributions. However, commonly used approaches have been criticised for being over-simplistic and failing to integrate key ecological and evolutionary processes that shape species ranges and community structure, like interspecific ecological interactions and dispersal.

This PhD project integrates methodologies from the fields of ecology, mathematical modelling and molecular biology to study the role of ecological interactions in limiting species distributions, and how they can be incorporated into predictive modelling.  Using sympatric cryptic bat species complexes from across the world as case studies and fieldwork in the Iberian Peninsula to study fine-scale mechanisms of niche partitioning within the Myotis nattereri species complex, the following objectives will be addressed:

1. Study fine-scale mechanisms of resource partitioning of habitat, space, and diet, using molecular tools to construct ecological interaction networks and fine-scale spatial modelling.

2. Develop methods for incorporating interspecific interactions, from competition to predator-prey interactions, into predictive species distribution models based on current and future climatic conditions.

3. Model multi-species range shifts under future climate change using individual-based demographic models, taking into account species-specific movement patterns across the landscape and interactions between species.

Myotis escalerai, Roblehondo, Spain. Photo: David Cuerda Fiestas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evie Morris

Evie Morris, PhD Candidate, University of Southampton

EMorris&Vamp

Contact details: E.J.Morris@soton.ac.uk; webpage

PhD Project: How will greening the desert affect bats and the ecosystem services they provide?

 

Supervisors: Dr Orly Razgour (University of Southampton);  Dr Kelvin Peh (University of Southampton); Prof Carmi Korine (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel).

Funding: NERC SPITFIRE DTC, University of Southampton

Project description

Understanding how human-mediated land cover changes affect species and the ecosystem services they provide is a major challenge for biodiversity conservation in the Anthropocene. Irrigation and water transportation techniques have enabled the spread of large human settlements and commercial agriculture into arid environments, resulting in the ‘greening’ of the desert. This process has provided alternative foraging habitats, prey and water sources for desert wildlife and increased landscape connectivity. However, it also facilitated colonisation by generalist species not adapted to xeric environments.

These environmental changes likely left a signature on desert wildlife, affecting both their nutritional ecology and movement behaviour. Responses to anthropogenic changes can be inferred through studying the organism’s gut microbiota due to its rapid adaptive responses to environmental variation. Landscape connectivity affects movement and consequently genetic structure; hence, through studying spatial patterns of genetic variation we can understand how the greening process affected species movement patterns.

Insectivorous bats are major contributors to desert mammalian biodiversity that provide important ecosystems services through the suppression of insect pest populations and transportation of nutrients. This project will test how anthropogenic greening of the desert has affected the movement patterns and microbiota of desert bats and the ecosystem services they provide.

This project combines molecular and ecological approaches to study populations of a desert-obligate bat (Hypsugo bodenheimeri) and a bat of non-desert origin (Pipistrellus kuhlii) over natural ponds and their surrounding vegetation (desert environment) and around human settlements and agricultural fields (‘greened’ environments) in the deserts of southern Israel. The PhD candidate will develop the following objectives:

  1. Assess how movement patterns differ between desert and ‘greened’ environments. Integrating population genetic techniques with GIS and spatial ecological analysis to study how environmental heterogeneity affects the distribution of genetic variation and identify landscape elements that facilitate movement in populations of desert-obligate versus non-desert species caught in different environments.
  2. Determine how anthropogenic changes have affected the bats’ nutritional ecology and whether bats show adaptive responses through their microbiota. Using environmental genomic approaches to compare the gut microbiota of bats in desert versus ‘greened’ environments based on faecal samples.
  3. Quantify the ecosystem services provided by bats in desert versus ‘greened’ environments. Study the diets of the two bats, through high-throughput-sequencing of prey remains in bat faecal samples, to identify agricultural and vegetation pests and disease vectors consumed by the bats. Constructing ecological networks to assess differences between the desert and ‘greened’ environments.

Ein Ovdat, Negev Desert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manuel Lima

Manuel Lopes-Lima, PhD Candidate, CIBIO / InBio, University of Porto

Contact details: lopeslima.ciimar@gmail.com 

PhD Project: Under the surface: combining ecological and evolutionary analysis to conserve freshwater mussels in the Iberian Peninsula.

Supervisors: Dr Pedro Beja (CIBIO); Dr Ana Filipa Filipe (CIBIO); Dr Orly Razgour (University of Southampton)

Project description

Freshwater mussels (Bivalvia: Unionida) play crucial roles in freshwater ecosystems and are indicators of ecosystem health. Yet, there is a lack of information about species distributions and patterns of genetic variability that hampers their conservation, especially in the Iberian Peninsula where freshwater mussels are declining and highly threatened.

Through combining field surveys, genetic analyses, distribution modelling and conservation planning techniques, this PhD project aims to:

  1. Examine the genetic diversity patterns of the Iberian freshwater mussels;
  2. Describe the main anthropogenic and environmental factors driving current species distributions and affecting connectivity and genetic variation in their populations;
  3. Predict how future land use and climate changes will affect mussel species and their genetic diversity; and
  4. Identify priority areas for the persistence of taxonomical and genetic diversity.

This is the first study applying spatial modelling techniques and planning tools to establish conservation management schemes for freshwater mussels across time and space.

FRESHCO project

 

 

 

 

 

Jo Riley

Joanna Riley, PhD Candidate, University of Bristol

Jo_Riley_tracking

Contact details: joriley999@gmail.com; website

PhD Project: Ecology and distribution of sandhill dunnarts in the Great Victoria Desert, Western Australia.

 

Supervisors: Prof Gareth Jones (University of Bristol); Dr Orly Razgour (University of Southampton)

Project description

Sandhill dunnart (Sminthopsis psammophila) ecology is poorly understood. Remaining populations are under pressure from severe environmental stresses of modified ecosystems. This research was initiated in September 2015 and focuses on a population at the northern extreme of its range in Western Australia. Project aims are to:

  • use MaxEnt species distribution modelling techniques to estimate psammophila distribution throughout Western Australia, identifying environmental parameters for species’ persistence;
  • identify areas of high conservation value, with subsequent ground-validation in collaboration with the Great Victoria Desert Biodiversity Trust;
  • use radiotracking and modelling to determine shelter preferences including type, fidelity, dimensions and habitat, and to examine the effect of season, sex and age on shelter choice;
  • use radiotracking and GPS tracking to investigate home range, preferred foraging habitat, and spatial organisation and the effect of age, sex and breeding season;
  • assess faecal pellet composition at species-level and examine the effect of sex, age and breeding on diet, with comparison between competing mammals in the area;
  • model the potential impacts of climate change on psammophila distribution throughout Western Australia.

Key progress:

  • MaxEnt modelling has estimated psammophila distribution and identified important environmental parameters for species’ persistence;
  • Sandhill dunnart radiotracking (n = 10) and GPS tracking (n = 3) has been performed successfully for over one year;
  • Sandhill dunnarts predominantly nest in burrows on long-unburnt dune foot slopes;
  • Breeding males have large foraging ranges of up to approximately 250 hectares;
  • Females have smaller ranges, of approximately 25 hectares, and prefer core areas of spinifex and shrub sand plain habitat;
  • Breeding males exhibit long distance movements over several lateral dune systems, potentially as an adaptation for increased resource intake, male competition and breeding;
  • Non-breeders and females are generally restricted to east to west movement along interdune corridors, proximally to their established core nest areas and abundant food resources;
  • Faecal analysis in March 2016 (winter) quantified diet consisted largely of nocturnal Camponotus ants and other small prey items;
  • Diet analysis in September 2016 (summer) indicated seasonal variation; larger prey were taken, including several small skinks.
Jo_Riley_Sandhill_dunnart

Jo_Riley_Sandhill_dunnart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pedro Horta

Pedro Horta, PhD Candidate, CIBIO / InBio, University of Porto

Pedro Horta

Contact details: pedrhorta27@hotmail.com

PhD Project: Bats as bioindicators of environmental changes: spatial structure of populations under climate change and land-cover variations across altitudinal gradients.

 

Supervisors: Dr Hugo Rebelo (CIBIO); Dr Orly Razgour (University of Southampton)

Project description

This PhD project aims to determine which species traits are valuable indicators of environmental changes, considering the tolerance of species to past land ­use alterations, current functional landscape connectivity and predicting the loss of genetic diversity under future climate change. Across altitudinal gradients small climatic changes have immediate consequences to the structure of ecosystems, allowing fine-scale studies to be extrapolated to wider spatial scales where similar climates occur. Focusing on the biophysical variation across altitudinal gradients in the “Serra da Estrela” mountain region, this project will combine spatial analyses of climatic and landscape data with population genetics data to study how environmental heterogeneity affects the bat community.

Main project objectives:

1. LAND­ USE CHANGES AND BAT POPULATIONS: To evaluate the impacts of 20th century land use changes on the genetic diversity of bat populations.

2. LANDSCAPE GENETICS AND CONNECTIVITY: To quantify and map current functional landscape connectivity considering the changes in the landscape by relating spatial genetic structure of populations to altitudinal environmental gradients.

3. GENETIC DIVERSITY UNDER CLIMATE CHANGE: To predict the loss of genetic diversity under future climate change scenarios and its effect on connectivity by considering how gene flow has been affected in the past.

4. BATS AS BIOINDICATORS: To test which species traits could be valuable indicators of environmental changes considering sensitivity of the species to past land use changes and their tolerance to future consequences of forecasted climate change.

 

Altitudinal gradient Portugal

 

Past

Mike Persey, MSci Project student, University of Bristol (2015-2016)

Project: Predicting the impact of climate change on the spatial distributions of bat species in arid and semi-arid environments.

Rhinolophus clivosus_Negev desert_Christien Dietz2008

Rhinolophus clivosus_Negev desert 2008, photo: Christien Dietz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

———————————————————————————————————————

Megan Jones, BSc Project student, University of Stirling (2014-2015)

Project: Predicting the effect of interspecific competition on habitat suitability for the endangered African wild dog under future climate and land cover changes.

This study aims to identify the factors limiting the distribution of the endangered African wild dog, Lycaon pictus, and determine how biotic interactions and changing climate and land cover will affect future range suitability. Megan used Species Distribution Models to predict the current and future distribution of suitable conditions for African wild dogs and their dominant competitors, lions, Panthera leo.

***** Manuscript Published in Hystrix *****

Jones et al 16_Hystrix_Fig

 

 

 

 

 

————————————————————————————————————————–

Francesca Wilkinson, BSc Project student, University of Stirling (2014-2015)

Project: Modelling the distribution of six European species of butterfly under a changing climate scenario.

This study used presence only species distribution modelling, Maxent, to predict the current and future distribution of six butterfly species found in Europe based on climate change scenarios for 2070. Franesca’s results suggest that all six species are predicted to undergo range contractions and a northwards shift in suitable conditions.