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Title: Understanding drivers of species distribution change : a trait-based approach
Author: Powney, Gary
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2013
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The impacts of anthropogenic environmental change on biodiversity are well documented, with threats such as habitat loss and climate change identified as causes of change in species distributions. The high degree of variation in responses of species to environmental change can be partly explained through comparative analyses of species traits. I carried out a phylogenetically informed trait-based analysis of plant range change in Britain, discovering that traits associated with competitive ability and habitat specialism both explained variation in range changes. Competitive, habitat generalists out-perform ed species specialised to nutrient-poor conditions; a result which can be attributed to the impact of agricultural intensification in Britain. A limitation of the comparative approach is that the models do not directly test the impact of environmental change on species distribution patterns, but instead infer potential impacts. I tested the potential of comparative analyses from a spatial context by conducting a spatial analysis of plant distribution change in Britain, examining the direct impact of environmental change on the spatial distribution of the trait characteristics of species that have gone locally extinct. I discovered a loss of species associated with nitrogen poor soils in regions that had an increase in arable land cover, a result that supports the results from the trait-based analysis of plant range change and demonstrates that comparative studies can accurately infer drivers of distribution change. I found that the cross-region transferability of trait-based models of range change to be related to land cover similarity, highlighting that the trait-based approach is dependent on a regional context. Additionally, I discovered that traits derived from distribution data were significant predictors of range shift across many taxonomic groups, out-performing traditional life history traits. This thesis highlights the potential of the data accumulated through the increased public participation in biological recording to address previously unanswerable ecological research questions.
Supervisor: Roy, David ; Purvis, Andy Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available