Modelling Ecological Interactions, Biodiversity and Stability

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Vincent Jansen

School of Biological Sciences, RHUL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Axel Rossberg

School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, QMUL

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Project Description:

Natural ecosystems exist in a continuously changing environments, often in highly unpredictable and disorderly ways. How species interact, what governs ecosystems’ functioning and how ecosystems maintain a balance and persist in a changeable world are among key questions of ecology. These questions have only gained in importance with the loss of biodiversity through the increased impact of anthropogenic changes on our environment. How much diversity an ecosystem has, and whether or not this diversity can be maintained depends ultimately on the interactions that species have. One of the fundamental questions in biology is how ecosystem stability and diversity depends on the interactions between species.

Mathematical models have played a key role in answering this question. The seminal work of May showed how ecosystems would typically become less stable as they become more complex (May, 1972). But what May’s approach can not answer is how many species we can expect to persist in an ecosystem. This question has been described as one of the big open questions in theoretical ecology (Roth et al. 2014, Stone 2016). Recently, significant advances have been booked in solving this question for simple, competitive ecosystems (Stone 2016, Stone 2018).

This project aims to investigate that the probability that ecosystems are feasible and/or stable in a variety of ecosystems models that have more complicated interactions. Other results have shown that if the mean, or the variance, of the strength of the competition is increased, an random ecosystems have fewer species. Presumably, it will also have an effect on the capacity of such models to support biodiversity at different trophic levels of diversity. In this project we aim to solve a fundamental question of what biodivertsity we can theoretically expect in predator-prey and other trophic interactions.

Policy Impact of Research:

Understanding what governs biodiversity is becoming increasingly important in policies and regulations. For instance, as of 2024 developers in England will be required to deliver 10% “Biodiversity Net Gain”. This project will aim to apply its findings to policies and interact with policy makers and stakeholders.

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