Mountains are hotspots of terrestrial biodiversity, but the reasons why are poorly understood, including the relative importance of variation in speciation and extinction rates. Extensive reviews of the literature, across taxa, reveal that research on trait and extinction risk variation with respect to elevational distribution and mountain systems are outnumbered by studies on latitudinal gradients, geographical range size and island systems, and are taxonomically and geographically restricted. Furthermore, despite the importance of mountain ranges for global biodiversity conservation, we know little about the type, distribution and impact of the threats they face, which is essential for the effective prioritisation and implementation of conservation effort. The world is topographically complex, yet current models used to determine extinction risk essentially assume species live in two dimensions, which is too simplistic, especially for taxa with high dispersal capabilities. Understanding how and why life-history strategies vary spatially at the global scale is central to many fundamental questions in biogeography, ecology and conservation biology.
Started as Dr Rachel White’s PhD research, this aims to improve understanding of interspecific variation in morphology, life history, ecology, and extinction risk with respect to elevational distribution - at the global scale and across a broad taxonomic range. In order to achieve this, we currently use birds as a model system, a global avian trait database and a (phylogenetic) comparative approach.
To date, the following broad research questions have/are being explored:
We are looking to expand our existing research to other taxonomic groups (e.g. mammals).
No studies to date have addressed such complementary and fundamental research questions at such a broad geographic and taxonomic scale. Consequently, this research will add to current understanding of large-scale ecology, trait biogeography, and conservation biology – assisting the incorporation of an elevational perspective into biogeography and macroecology theory, and conservation practice.
Dr Rachel White
White, R.L. & Bennett, P.M. (2015) Global elevational distribution and extinction risk in birds. PLOS ONE, 10(4), e0121849. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0121849
White, R.L. (2013) Global biogeography of traits and extinction risk in birds: an elevational perspective. PhD thesis, University of Kent.
Dr Peter M. Bennett (DICE, University of Kent)