Drylands are among the most climate-change affected ecosystems. We are investigating the biotic pathways of such effects.
The BUGS project is an acronym for Biodiversity under global pressures in soils. The project stems from the idea that the strongest effects of climate change occur when increases in extremes increase predation pressure, shift the niches of competitors, or change food abundance - in other words, climate-change effects operate via species interactions. But we rarely dynamically account for those and instead use raw projected climate values as proxies of changes in species interactions under climate change. We are trying to change that collaborating closely with the Kalahari Research Center, where we assess spatiotemporal changes in abundances of soil fauna under the combined effects of climate and land-use change. Soil fauna are of course the main food items of meerkats and other small carnivores, and this research will allow use to model how changes in soil fauna abundances affect individual survival and reproduction of meerkats and yellow mongooses, for which individual demographic data has been collected for years.
The monitoring of soils will be accompanied by intensive camera-trap surveys to understand interactions in above-ground communities. This latter effort is led by Arpat Ozgul from the Population Ecology Group at UZH.
Investigating life-history feedbacks in multi-trophic communities us currently our main research area. This stems from the fact that the mitigation of current ecological challenges, in particular the impacts of climate change on biodiversity, requires robust predictions of responses of natural plant and animal populations and communities to global change across landscapes. Such responses are typically driven by multiple feedbacks between individual traits, life-history processes (i.e., timing and spread of survival, reproduction, and dispersal across a life cycle), and species interactions. The derived dynamics can be critical in buffering the effects of climate extremes on biodiversity, thus allowing adaptation to climate change. However, no single predictive framework has systematically incorporated trait-mediated life-history dynamics in complex natural communities to develop near-term predictions, or forecasts. This hinders the development of dynamic conservation strategies adapted to the actual complexity of natural systems. LIFECAST will create a new basis for making robust predictions of biodiversity change by
(i) building a unifying framework of how feedbacks between trait-mediated life-history processes and species interactions can buffer community susceptibility to extreme events under climate change; and
(ii) testing this framework empirically by joining life-history responses of habitat-structuring species in multitrophic communities inhabiting two highly climate-change affected drylands.
This will allow us to (iii) develop robust iterative forecasts to anticipate and mitigate the loss of resilience of biological communities to climate change.
LIFECAST is a PID2022 Plan Estatal project and runs Sep 2023 until Aug 2027.