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Ecochange Newsletter N. 4

Aug 19, 2011

Fourth newsletter of the EcoChange project, which assesses the capacity of ecosystems to supply humans with required goods and services and to buffer against climate and land use change.

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The end of the project is approaching fast. Therefore, we are presenting first interesting results. Moreover, find below an interview with Heather Binney on the management of databases in EcoChange as well as a contribution of Eliane S. Meier on her EcoChange research on the migration of tree species.

Please note that the FINAL CONFERENCE of ECOCHANGE will take place on March 21st and 22nd in Zürich. Further information will be sent out within the next weeks. It will be a public conference addressing researchers as well as stakeholders in order to allow for a discussion of implications that can be drawn from the EcoChange results. Save the date!

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1) Database Management in EcoChange- Interview with Heather Binney
2) Hot-topic - Interactions among species and their capacity to migrate affect their ability to cope with climate and land-use change 
3) Short news from the project’s activities
4) (Un)Subscribe and Imprint


1) Database Management in EcoChange

Interview with Heather Binney, University of Southampton

HBinnCould you please briefly explain your tasks within EcoChange and their relation to the overall project?

My role within EcoChange is to manage the data produced for those parts of the project that deal with the validation of models through historic and current trends. The majority of the data are DNA sequences from modern and fossil flora and fauna that come from soil samples from the Arctic. In addition, data from pollen and vegetation analyses were collected.

This is a huge amount of data and it is supplied by many different people. Due to this situation and due to the fact that levels of available meta-data (background information on e.g. sample location, types of sediment, sample age assignments) vary it is important to have one person responsible for the data storage and management – and that is me.

How far does your work relate to the accuracy of modelling outputs / projections of future biodiversity developments?

In order to make future projections more accurate, it is important to compare and validate them against historic and current developments. The modern DNA calibration work, and fossil DNA analysis (supplemented by fossil pollen data) within EcoChange are an important input for such comparisons and validations of models.

The accuracy of the primary data, for example site location and sample age, is essential and this is where I can help with the checking of the database by referring to original publications where available and asking colleagues to confirm maps of the sites. It is very easy for errors to get into a database. For example, some sites were found to have incorrect coordinates and if not corrected this would obviously not be good for the quality of the data analysis.

Working on databases might sound a little bit tedious for non-experts. What fascinates and motivates you about this work?

Fascination with databases is probably not how I would want to be remembered but data management and rigorous checking of the data takes up a large proportion of my time. With such a big group of researchers contributing data the potential for mistakes to enter the database makes proper data management essential. Also, my role is to facilitate other group members’ analyses by extracting relevant combinations of data. The results and subsequent analysis is the main motivation and working with colleagues from such diverse disciplines is exciting and inspirational.


2) Interactions among species and their capacity to migrate affect their ability to cope with climate and land-use change

Hot-Topic by Eliane S. Meier, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL

How fast are individual tree species able to migrate under specific biotic, climatic and land structural conditions? Which species will effectively be able to adjust their large-scale distributions to changes in climate and land use? To answer these questions, migration patterns have been studied in a complex simulation experiment.

Animal and plant species must adapt to global changes in climate and land-use. They can either shift their spatial distributions in order to track changing conditions, they can evolutionary adapt to the new conditions, or they may go extinct. Eliane Meier (Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL) investigated in her research the factors that affect how fast plants, and especially trees, can adapt to climate and land use change by shifting their spatial distributions.

Her results showed that in addition to macroclimate (e.g. temperature or moisture), competition between species was a key factor influencing current large-scale species distributions, and was also a key factor influencing the responses of species to changing environmental conditions.

More specifically, she found that current large-scale distributions of slow growing tree species that appear late in forest communities (late-successional tree species; e.g. European beech or oak species) were more strongly affected by competition than the distributions of early-successional tree species such as silver and downy birch or common aspen, possibly because the latter simply avoid such interactions by faster growth and faster spread. She found further that competition was delimiting the distribution of species especially under favourable climatic conditions (i.e. warm and wet conditions for trees in Europe), while under unfavourable climate conditions (i.e. cold and dry climate) the distribution of species was rather limited by physiological stress. For trees in Europe, this results in geographic space in strongest competition effects towards low elevations and the south of Europe.

Further, she identified four main factors limiting species’ responses to changing environmental conditions and thereby shaping future species distributions. She found that species migration, which is consisting of the rate of establishment, growth and survival at the new location and species’ dispersal abilities, was mainly affected by the occurrence of high numbers of competing species, non-optimal climatic conditions, habitat fragmentation and species traits. As a result, late-successional tree species that are occurring in competitive communities seem unable to keep pace with climate and land-use change as predicted for the 21st century over Europe, while early-successional species that quickly grow and disperse on disturbed sites may have only minor delays in the readjustment of their distribution due to changing conditions.

Overall, the findings of Eliane Meier’s research allows for improved projections of large-scale species ranges under global change scenarios and for developing mitigation strategies to reduce the extinction threats of species due to global change. For example, one option would be to plan assisted migration of economically or ecologically important species.


3) Short news from the project’s activities

The EcoChange project will finish by march 2012. Thus, a large amount of results are currently published. For a detailed description and references to publications on EcoChange results, please follow this link:

In the following find a short summary of the Activities´ results as well as links to the more detailed descriptions of finished Tasks.

Activity 1 (Assembling available data and complementary sampling):

Activity 1 aimed at preparing all relevant data and information for later modelling and analysis activities throughout EcoChange. It finished in 2009. A Briefing Sheet (BS1_A1) provides further information on the generation of land cover and land use data sets for the assessment of global change impact in biodiversity and ecosystems.


Activity 2 (New DNA-based paleo-data):

This activity deals with the production of a database of DNA sequences to identify plant DNA and analyse plant community composition over time. Soil and pollen samples have been amongst others collected and analysed from permafrost dominated regions.

Links to the description of results:

Production of the DNA database for the Arctic region
Experimental protocol for the permafrost
Permafrost sampling in the Arctic
Dating of permafrost samples
Pollen analysis of permafrost samples
DNA analysis of permafrost samples

Activity 3 (New DNA-based data on plant dispersion):

This activity provides the theoretical basis and practical application for several plant species to estimate migration rates using novel statistical techniques. It provides an important input to improve the accuracy of species distribution models, hence, makes them more useful for decision makers.

Links to the description of results:

Theoretical aspects and simulations
Tests on available data from IntrBioDiv
Sampling of two key plant species
DNA-Analysis (AFLP)
Data Interpretation

Activity 4 (Assessment of spatial and temporal stability of niches and communities):

This activity tests the stability of ecological communities by addressing compositional and functional structure of plant communities either in spatially separated dynamic stages of communities, in model systems undergoing climate change, or in permafrost samples of different age.

Links to the description of results:

Data preparation: species data & species traits
Testing assembly rules
Assessing stability of ecological communities

Activity 5 (Improvement of modelling and uncertainty assessment):

This activity works on the improvement of modelling and uncertainty assessments, e.g. by analysing scale effects of species models, designing and testing consensus methods for species distribution forecasting or developing and implementing dispersal and migration models.

Links to the description of results:

Evaluation of new remote sensing and land use predictors
Scaling between fine and large scales
Optimizing biodiversity scenarios by multi-model predictions
Develop and improve tools
Simulating past migrations
Plant functional types and landscape modelling (BioMove)
Protocol for evaluating models
Testing model by back projection

Activity 6 (Integrating data and models to derive final projections and link results to humans):

This activity integrates data and models to derive final projections and link results to humans. This happened e.g. via the BIOMOD computer platform for ensemble forecasting of species distribution or by modelling the distribution of invasive species in Europe, the effects of climate change on the European Tree of Life or assessing the socio-economic implications of various EcoChange models.

Links to the description of results:


Activity 7 (Dissemination):

Within this activity several activities to disseminate the results of EcoChange are carried out. Besides a huge list of scientific articles, videos, briefing sheets, etc. are currently prepared to inform the general public.

The final EcoChange conference will take place in Zürich on March 21th and 22st, 2012.It will be a public conference addressing researchers as well as stakeholders in order to allow for discussion of implications that can be drawn from the EcoChange results. Further information on the conference will be send out soon.



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The newsletter is distributed to a wide range of European stakeholders and researchers. It aims at providing interesting, easy to read news from the FP7 EcoChange project (Ecochange – FP6-2005-Global-4 – IP – Contract Number: FP6 2006 GOCE 036866).

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