Research

Fasten your seatbelts. We have now entered the Anthropocene, a period of global transformation and uncertainty. A combination of rapid land-use and climate change, coupled with mismanagement of natural resources worldwide, poses serious risks to ecosystems and ultimately to human health and wellbeing. To help address this challenge, we ask how biodiversity evolves, functions and responds to environmental change. Our goal is to explore how natural systems work and to improve their resilience through sustainable development, conservation and restoration of ecological processes. This requires an integrative approach to study how biological systems operate across scales from individual fitness and behaviour to multispecies interaction networks.

Populations

We study how animals evolve and diversify. With a focus on birds, we are interested in understanding patterns and processes at the population level, including signal evolution, speciation and sensitivity to environmental change. We use a range of phylogenetic and trait-based models to test ideas about the causes and consequences of phenotypic evolution, taking into account factors such as latitude, climate, behaviour and dispersal.

Example: Tobias, J.A. et al. (2012) The evolution of female ornaments and weaponry: sexual selection, social selection and ecological competition.  Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. B  367: 2274–2293. Read paper

Example: Sheard, C. et al. (2020) Ecological drivers of global gradients in avian dispersal inferred from wing morphology. Nature Communications 11: 2463. Read paper

Populations image Endless forms: we are interested in explaining the diversity of phenotypes found in nature, including differences between the sexes and among related species (image from Tobias et al. 2012)

Interactions

Species interact in numerous ways, many of them fundamental to the processes driving phenotypic evolution, structuring ecological communities and regulating ecosystem function. We use a range of approaches from observational and experimental field studies focused on interacting species at single sites or transects to broad-scale comparative analyses and macroecological modelling to investigate the effect of key community processes, including dispersal, interspecific competition and the interaction networks underpinning pest control, seed dispersal and pollination. 

Example: Tobias, J.A. et al. (2014) Species coexistence and the dynamics of phenotypic evolution in adaptive radiation. Nature 506: 359–363. Read paper

Example: Grether, G.F. et al. (2017) Causes and consequences of behavioral interference between species. Trends Ecol. Evol. 32: 760–772. Read paper

Interactions image We combine species traits with molecular data to explore avian macroecology and macroevolution. This image illustrates morphological variation in one of our main study systems, the ovenbirds (Furnariidae) of South and Central America (image from Tobias et al. 2014)

Ecosystems

The Earth’s landscapes are facing rapid fragmentation and degradation through land-use and climate change. Species are being lost to extinction and vital ecological processes are being impaired. We apply insights from our research to address current global challenges, including biodiversity conservation and the establishment of resilient socio-ecological systems balancing the needs of people and nature. A core theme of our research is understanding the role of biodiversity in supporting sustainable forestry and food production systems.

Example: Edwards et al. (2014) Maintaining ecosystem function and services in logged tropical forests. Trends Ecol. Evol. 29: 511–520. Read paper

Example: Waldron, A. et al. (2017) Reductions in global biodiversity loss predicted from conservation spending. Nature 551: 364–367. Read paper

Example: Sol et al. (2020) The global impact of urbanisation on avian functional diversity. Ecology Letters 23: 962–972. Read paper

Ecosystems image Rapid land-use change – including urbanisation and forest fragmentation – is reducing biodiversity and impairing ecosystem function worldwide