Environmental change and evolution

How do climatic and geographic variation shape biodiversity? To what extent do ecological and evolutionary processes keep pace with environmental dynamics? Understanding how biodiversity responded to past environmental change, and how species are currently adapted to their environments, is fundamental to predicting future vulnerabilities. This is an expanding area of research -- if you’re interested in pursuing a PhD in this area get in touch.


 

Adélie penguins live in the Antarctic sea ice zone, one of the most rapidly changing environments on earth.

Antarctic penguins are highly vulnerable to climate change. In the coming years these species will face dramatic changes to their habitat and prey availability. Previous work has included using genetics to determine how penguin populations fluctuated in size as temperature and sea ice conditions changed in the past, and a study of how distributions of Southern Ocean predators were influenced by changing environmental conditions throughout the ice age and transition to the warmer Holocene. I’ve written about this research for The Conversation here and here.

 

Madagascar’s complex topography, coupled with Pleistocene climate fluctuations, was a key driver of diversification for the island’s endemic birds.

Madagascar’s endemic birds are under threat from both deforestation and climate change. Current projects focus on the past responses of Malagasy birds to climate fluctuations throughout the Quaternary, and the role of species’ traits in mediating those responses. We are also identifying key barriers to dispersal that may limit future range shifts.