Conservation ecology

It is impossible to study biodiversity scientifically without becoming interested in its conservation. Research has an important role to play in helping to understand the ecological basis of human induced threats to biodiversity. We are also interested in using such approaches to help manage and mitigate threats to species and habitats.



Species distribution modelling - Tim Newbold, Tom Reader and Francis Gilbert

In order to conserve biodiversity, we must have some idea where it’s found. However, many parts of the world, especially in the tropics, have been very poorly surveyed for species. This has led conservation biologists to attempt to predict the distributions of species, using known occurrences of species and maps of climate variables, such as climate, vegetation, habitat and topography.

Francis Gilbert and Samy Zalat coordinated BioMAP Egypt, a project that has been collecting sightings of Egyptian species from museum records and from the literature, compiling them into an electronic database. This database now holds over half a million records of species from diverse taxonomic groups.

In Nottingham, Francis Gilbert, Tom Reader and Tim Newbold have been using these data to produce predictions of the distributions of Egyptian species. The map above shows the predicted distribution of the Dorcas Gazelle (Gazella dorcas); warm colours show areas of high predicted probaility, while cooler colours are areas of low predicted probability. We have been testing which variables produce the most accurate predictions and whether certain species are better modelled than others. We have also been making predictions of spatial patterns of species richness, assessing whether Egypt’s protected areas provide good coverage of biodiversity.

We have also collaborated with Stuart Ball of the JNCC, attempting to predict the impact that climate change will have on the distribution of British hoverfly species.

Willow tit conservation - Finn Stewart and Andrew MacColl

We believe that ecological research has an important role to play in identifying threats to species and habitats and evaluating methods used to counter such threats. Conservation problems are often identified when basic monitoring programmes detect large declines in the range or abundance of a species. Unfortunately the causes of such patterns are often not obvious. However careful investigation using long term datasets, autecological studies and experimental application of remediation techniques may reveal the cause of the problem and suggest possible solutions.

In collaboration with the RSPB, Andrew MacColl and Finn Stewart studied the British willow tit Poecile montanus kleinschmidti. The willow tit is currently one of Britain and Europe’s most rapidly declining bird species. The very large scale nature of the decline in this species suggests that a climatic factor or some human activity may be its cause. Finn's PhD used long term datasets on the occurrence of the bird and the quality of its woodland habitat, as well as field studies to identify the cause of the decline and to inform future management of the species and its habitat.

Willow tit (Poecile montanus kleinschmidti) - Dr. Katherine Clark