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Title: Mechanistic models of global biodiversity
Author: Hintzen, Rogier Eduard
ISNI:       0000 0004 8504 8301
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2019
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In a rapidly changing world, society needs ways to understand the distribution of biodiversity and predict its future trajectory. Mechanistic simulation models provide an alternative to traditional statistical correlative methods in explaining the patterns of biodiversity and their underlying processes. I frame the research in mechanistic models and their potential practical applications in conservation using a computational linguistics approach to assess 35,000 full text publications and their citations. I show that conservation and ecology have been steadily drawing apart in topics they discuss. However, there remains cross-dialogue: conservation maintains a strong interest in trophic interactions, community ecology and macroecology in particular. This motivates my focus on global-scale mechanistic models of complete ecological communities. I first study the predictions of an existing general ecosystem model: the Madingley model and test their relationship to empirical data. I find that general trends - the Bergman cline in average body size and allometric scaling of the pace of life with body size - match fairly well. However I also discover that the pace of life, on the whole, is far too fast and small organisms are far too vulnerable to local extinction, leading to suggestions for further model development. I then present a prototype integrated model which nests the Unified Neutral Theory of Biodiversity in subsets of Madingley model organisms, allowing the model to report on a metric of broad ecological and conservation importance: species diversity and associated patterns in range size and local richness across trophic levels and a body size spectrum. Lastly, I develop an eco-evolutionary simulation showing how varying abundance and speciation rate can cause stable latitudinal gradients. I find that the evolutionary process that affects the relative fitness along this gradient can change the origin of lineages, but not the pattern of richness.
Supervisor: Rosindell, James Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral