Our lab aims to understand the mechanisms promoting the emergence of biodiversity patterns and to identify the dimensions of biodiversity that hold the most information for predicting outcomes of global change. The work in the Lab spans a range of invertebrate and vertebrate taxonomic groups and traverses multiple spatial, temporal, and biological scales.

The general themes of our research are:

  • Evidence of biodiversity change

  • Effects of global change on biodiversity

  • Scale dependence of biodiversity and its change

  • Trait-based ecology and biogeography

  • Ecological informatics and big data


Evidence of biodiversity change

Careful characterization of spatio-temporal variation in biodiversity lays the foundation for our research program. Such careful assessments are crucial for detecting the signature of anthropogenic impacts, evaluating the implications of biodiversity loss to humans, and informing conservation and monitoring programs.

Project 1: Changes in avian assemblage structure across the continental USA over decadal time scales


This Yale Climate and Energy Institute-funded project aims to evaluate five decades of change in bird communities across the continental US. In order to do that, we developed a rigorous method that accounts for biases associated with missed species detections by extending occupancy modeling and dendrogram-based techniques and integrates a range of spatial and temporal scales into assessments of biodiversity change in order to reconcile often disparate patterns across scales.


Effects of global change on biodiversity

Biodiversity is increasingly threatened by global change, but the consequences of climate change for species, communities, and ecosystems are not yet fully understood. Work in the lab focuses on understanding the implications of changing climatic conditions for distributions and phenology of organisms and the resulting reshuffling of ecological communities.

Project 1: Macroecology of breeding birds of New York State: Influences of climate change, land cover dynamics, and spatial scale


In this NASA-funded project, we explore the consequences of global change for ecological communities across New York. Specifically, we investigate effects of land cover and change in climate on the temporal turnover, extinction, and colonization patterns of birds and found that fragmented landscapes support assemblages that are more robust to climate change than assemblages in contiguous habitats. Consequently, and conservation actions must take such heterogeneous ecological responses into account.


Project 2: Species on the Move


Pervasive shifts in species’ distributions are widely recognized as a fingerprint of climate change, but the mechanisms driving such range shifts remain poorly understood. In 2016, a group of scientists and natural resource managers working in the disciplines of global change, biogeography and evolution, and biodiversity management and conservation got together to identify the consequences of such species redistribution for ecosystems and human livelihoods. The meeting was a part of the Species on the Move conference organized by the University of Tasmania, Australia.


Scale dependence of biodiversity and its change

Biodiversity patterns and the mechanisms driving these patterns are inherently scale dependent. Examination of scale dependence concurrently in space and time has the potential to resolve inconsistencies in biodiversity patterns, identify the scales relevant to different ecological processes, and identify the environmental drivers of biodiversity that would be missed with a singular spatial or temporal approach. By exploring scaling patterns concurrently in space and time we hope to identify the scales relevant to different ecological processes.

Project 1: Scaling of temporal change in bird assemblages across contiguous USA


The project explores the scale dependence of five decades of temporal change in taxonomic- and trait-based characteristics of bird assemblages. We find that biodiversity gains or apparent stasis at one scale may be fully reconcilable with losses at others and that functional implications of biodiversity change also vary by scale. These findings will require that ecologists explicitly consider scale dependence of ecological processes driving biodiversity assembly and disassembly.


Trait-based ecology and biogeography

Traits are important in determining species' responses to global change and recognizing species' trait-based attributes is increasingly seen as vital for conservation prioritization. Even though trait-based ecology has recently been heralded as the key to making generalizable ecological predictions, lack of knowledge regarding the responses of organismal traits to environmental changes has hindered efforts to make trait-based ecology a predictive science. Our work takes advantage of the recent statistical advances and a growing repository of species geographic distributions and trait compilations to pursue trait-based ecology research on a global scale.

Project 1: Elevational gradients of functional and trait diversity


Mountain ranges are under increasing threat from human development and climate change, yet hold some of the planet’s greatest biodiversity and are key to understanding its origination and maintenance. Functional and trait aspects of biodiversity offer a particularly interesting lens into the mechanisms underlying community assembly, ecosystem-level consequences of global change, and crucial conservation actions, but to date lack a comprehensive and global evaluation across elevational gradients. This project fills this gap with a global assessment of the elevational gradient in functional diversity and trait space of birds.


Project 2: Functional dimensions of change in bird diversity


This Yale BGC-funded project investigates the functional implications of changes in bird diversity. Results suggest increasing functional homogenization and strong spatial and temporal heterogeneity of changes in individual functional components. For example, specific traits such as scavenging and vertebrate diets became more prevalent whereas others such as invertebrate and granivorous diets became less common.


Ecological informatics and big data

Project 1: ButterflyNet (Geneology of Life)


The ButterflyNet project will produce a complete species-level butterfly phylogeny, the first of any major insect clade, that will let us organize the approximately 18,800 butterfly species according to their evolutionary relationships. To each species we will then attach all available data on geographic distributions, host plant associations, and other interesting life history traits, collected and compiled from digitized field guides and online resources. When our work is done, the accumulated knowledge from centuries of observations and ongoing research will be made available through ButterflyNet to expert scientists and amateur butterfly enthusiasts alike.