Understanding the links between anthropogenic change, functional diversity and ecosystem resilience on tropical mountains

This project is available from the academic year 2020/21 onwards.

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Julia Day

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Ken Norris

Biodiversity and Macroecology Theme, IOZ

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Project Description:

This proposal will aim to investigate the impacts of land-use change between biodiversity and ecosystem function and will make clearer the specific importance of biodiversity and the potential impacts of its loss. Ecosystems are not only important in terms of the species they contain, but also the functions they carry out (e.g. seed dispersal, pollination). However, while there is considerable scientific evidence documenting species loss due to human driven land use change, the consequences of loss of functional diversity, which describes the range of functional roles played by species within a community, has only recently gained attention when assessing ecosystem diversity, and has yet to be incorporated into conservation frameworks. This is despite the critical importance of functional traits in ecosystem processes and services.

Tropical mountains, renown for their exceptional levels of biodiversity, are some of the most vulnerable ecosystems on the planet due to accelerated habitat loss and climate change. To address the impact of human driven land-use change on ecosystem processes this project will focus on the highly diverse bird communities of the only island-like continental ‘biodiversity hotspot’ – the Eastern Afromontane region. This region holds considerable fascination to biologists seeking to explain how these communities are assembled, but extensive loss of its montane forests and accelerating rates of forecasted urban growth, now place a premium on quantifying all aspects of its biodiversity.

This project will require a field season(s) in Tanzania/Kenya.

Policy Impact of Research:

The project will remedy the deficit in current knowledge about the importance of functional roles (e.g. seed dispersal, pollination) species play in ecosystems regarding future conservation frameworks (e.g. ZSLs EDGE project). Findings will ultimately benefit society since conserving functional diversity is of high importance in ecosystem processes and services.

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