Category Archives: Research

Protecting biodiversity and ecosystem services

The many values of nature: Intrinsic value reflects the high value attributed to biodiversity (e.g. species) and ecosystem functioning, independently of human presence. Cultural value reflects the high value placed on natural heritage and traditions rooted in nature (e.g. the diversity of mushroom and plant species for gathering, heritage landscapes, nature tourism). Regulating value places high value on ecosystems that contribute to natural processes that sustain societies, such as flood control, air quality regulation, pollination, and climate regulation. (Illustrated by Dr. Camille Martinez-Almoyna)

Many countries have committed to ’30 by 30’- the goal of protecting 30% of land by 2030, but what exactly we aim to protect is still debated. Two major goals are to protect biodiversity for the sake of biodiversity (nature for nature) or to protect the biodiversity that directly benefits humans (nature for people), but few studies actually compare how these contrasting viewpoints change our priorities. Are the places in need of protection similar for biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people (NCP)?

We assembled large datasets on biodiversity (all terrestrial animals in Europe) and a set of cultural and regulating NCP across Europe, and compared the spatial overlap of resulting priority areas.

Specifically, we looked at: (i) biodiversity, represented by 785 terrestrial vertebrate species, including 124 threatened species; (ii) regulating NCP, represented by carbon sequestration, air quality regulation, flood prevention and pollination (Fig. S4); and (iii) cultural NCP, represented by heritage forests, heritage agriculture, foraging for wild foods (mushrooms and plants), and nature-based tourism.

We found that priorities are very different for biodiversity compared to NCP, and many NCP also differ from each other. Only a few small ecosystems are priorities for both (mainly in Mediterranean forests). Importantly, we also found that identifying priorities for biodiversity captures NCP much better than the reverse. If we only protect NCP, many important species would be lost.

We also identified priority areas given what is already protected by the Natura 2000 network–so candidates for expanding protection. Natura 2000 is one of the densest conservation networks in the world, covering about 20% of the EU, but it only protects 30% of the key areas for NCP, and 36% of vertebrate species distributions on average. Our results show that an additional 5% put into protection could double the current protection of vertebrate species and regulation NCP, and would protect almost 75% of threatened species distributions on average (Figure below).

Priority areas to improve the protection of vertebrate species and NCP in Europe. On the left, the coloured areas show currently unprotected sites that are essential for different nature values (orange, all species; yellow, cultural; blue, regulation). Areas of overlap between different nature values are in red. The existing Natura 2000 areas are in grey. On the right, the bar chart quantifies the area of the EU occupied by each type of priority, and areas of overlap, outside Natura 2000 areas. At the bottom right, the performance curves quantify the average representation for each value of nature as area is added, taking into account Natura 2000 areas (in grey).

The key areas identified have the potential to improve the conservation of species and NCP on a continental scale. These ecosystems are potentially home to a many terrestrial vertebrates and provide essential ecosystem services. They are irreplaceable (i.e. they contain species that are not found elsewhere) and they optimise the protection of each species and NCP in a minimum of area. Our study is a preliminary step towards a better integration of nature’s values in conservation. The designation of protected areas will depend on multiple stakeholders and on socio-economic feasibility – dimensions that we did not explore in our study, but which need to be considered. Furthermore, international coordination for nature conservation will be vital to halt the decline of global biodiversity

Contribution to Sustainable development goals

  • SDG 13: The priority areas we have identified are relevant for climate change mitigation and adaptation, as they aim to protect (among other things):
    • terrestrial ecosystems that sequester CO2
    • ecosystems that can control floods, which is relevant to climate change adaptation because extreme climate events, such as heavy rainfall, are likely to become increasingly frequent and unpredictable.
  • SDG 15: We identify ecosystems that are essential for the survival of terrestrial vertebrate species. Protecting these areas may prevent extinctions of terrestrial vertebrate species.
  • SDG 17: Our results confirm the importance of international coordination to conserve species and NCP at the European scale. 

See the article here

Where in the world is the unprotected diversity? New paper out in Nature










natureimage1worldphylo-001.jpegThe world’s biodiversity is in crisis. Species are declining at an alarming rate. And this is happening at just the time we are really beginning to understand this diversity through an unprecedented cataloging and compiling of information. Data repositories are filled with hundreds of thousands of entries about species, where they live, how they live, and who they are related to. And this is only the beginning. New DNA-based surveys are exploding onto the scene and our ideas and understanding of biodiversity are improving everyday.

So when and how do we use this burgeoning knowledge of biodiversity in biodiversity conservation?

We take a stab at this question in our recent paper out in Nature by analysing the world’s bird and mammal diversity from a conservation perspective. We ask how much of the world’s bird and mammal diversity is currently protected and how much better we could do if protected areas were to be expanded. We consider diversity to be not only species, but also phylogenetic and functional diversity. The use of these types of diversity means we have a better chance of meeting big policy goals of preserving biodiversity that benefits humans and ecosystems than with a sole focus on species. Continue reading Where in the world is the unprotected diversity? New paper out in Nature

Climate change threatens eucalypt diversity

We have a new paper out in Nature Climate Change that combines Species Distribution Models (SDMs), climate change and phylogenetic diversity metrics. This is very exciting as it is the first paper from our PD working group.


Some highlights:

-We explore the effect of climate change on various PD metrics (including endemism-based metrics) for all eucalypts across Australia. Eucalypts are stand dominants in many forests across the continent and are also of course inherently awesome.

-We present the first complete phylogenetic tree for eucalypts (657 species)

-We include SDMs for dispersal and no-dispersal scenarios for all species for the present and future projections (more on the models soon..)

-The results?  Overall, there is a loss of PD within cells as well as between cells- so an increasingly homogenous PD landscape. Rare, ancient lineages are the most impacted, and some areas, such as the Kimberley Region will likely be increasingly important refugia for PD. The southern coastline is an important reservoir of both ‘old’ and ‘young’ lineages. This distinction is important as we might value old and young lineages for different reasons from a conservation perspective.

See more here..

And ABC news article..

Also see post by Heini Kujala

And the press release

And even a song about it! 






The tangled past of eucalypt communities

After a long road, that began with a comment, ‘Of course related eucalypts don’t coexist, most of them are distributed allopatrically, and if they do re-mix, they will hybridise anyway’..  followed by many years of field-work, lab work, running models, revisions, more revisions, even more revisions..  we came to the conclusion, that indeed, evolutionary history probably explains why closely related species don’t co-occur.

Ecology is also important. Species in plots tend to have similar trait values (especially specific leaf area). One cool thing about a model-based approach is that we can estimate how much different factors influence co-occurrence and we can detect interactions- e.g. similar species co-occur unless they hybridise. The negative effect of reproductive compatibility was nearly as strong as the positive effect of having similar traits.

See more here

Linking species distribution models (SDM) and phylogenies


When using phylogenies in spatial conservation prioritisation, we need to link the phylogeny with distribution data. Increasingly, distribution data is used to predict where species occur across the landscape using a species distribution model (SDM). SDMs are currently underused in conservation, but have great potential for a variety of applications from threatened species management to conservation planning. Our recent paper shows how to use SDMs with a phylogeny in spatial conservation planning (this method could also be used for a variety of applications linking phylogenies and SDMs).

An SDM models the response of a species to a set of predictor variables (usually environmental variables). The model can be extended across a landscape with a probability of occurrence of species in grid cells**. The external branches (tips) of the phylogeny correspond to a particular taxon (let’s assume we have a species-level tree). Therefore, each external branch can simply be the probability of that species occurring in each cell (a,b,c,e,f in figure above). Now, for the internal branches. Continue reading Linking species distribution models (SDM) and phylogenies

Prioritizing areas for conservation with phylogenetic diversity

Why is evolutionary history rarely considered in actual conservation planning? Well, there are many reasons. Conservation practitioners might not be aware that evolutionary diversity can be used in conservation. If they are aware, maybe it doesn’t compete with the vast number of other conservation concerns. Or maybe they do value it, and would like to use it, but are not sure how.

We have a new paper out in PhilTransRocSocB that addresses this last problem. We show how to use phylogenetic diversity in spatial prioritisation software. The advantage of using this software is that diversity can be considered alongside other concerns–extinction risk, connectivity, cost etc.

What do you need to do this?

1-distribution data (occurrence in grids or a species distribution model-SDM)

2-a phylogeny

How does it work?   Continue reading Prioritizing areas for conservation with phylogenetic diversity

Keeping the tree of life intact

How do we best preserve the world’s remaining biodiversity? That was the topic of a conference I attended last week at the Royal Society in London on ‘Phylogeny, extinction risk and conservation’.  The two-day conference included a range of interesting presentations on global to regional conservation efforts.

Obviously the extinction story can be a depressing one—the Yangtze River Dolphin is most likely extinct and one in five plant species are threatened with extinction. However, even given the looming threats to biodiversity, there is a huge effort underway to make informed decisions about how to prevent further losses.
Continue reading Keeping the tree of life intact

Where in the landscape are the refugia?

Can you spot the refugia? Neither could we by looking, but genetic data suggests protected side-slopes
Can you spot the refugia? Neither could we by looking, but genetic data suggests protected side-slopes

Locating areas where species will likely persist in future climate changes has recently become a conservation priority. How do we find these areas? A good first step is to look for places that species persisted through past climate changes (often termed ‘refugia’). We think we may have identified mini or micro-refugia for trees on deep, protected soils in the Grampians ranges, Victoria. Continue reading Where in the landscape are the refugia?