Kenyon Macroecology Laboratory

Biodiversity and functional ecology, mostly plants

KerkhoffLab rocks IBS in Tucson

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The International Biogeography Society (IBS) held its semi-annual meeting in Tucson, AZ, US from January 8-13. Two students from the Kenyon Macroecology Lab, Toby SantaMaria and Cecina Babich Morrow, presented posters, attended workshops and talks, and got to hang out with hundreds of scientists from around the world.

Cecina presented research done in collaboration with Ben Blonder , Brian Maitner, Brian Enquist, Christine Lamanna, Cyrille Violle, and me. Cecina analyzed data from the BIEN database to evaluate the effectiveness of new methods that Ben developed for quantifying n-dimensional hypervolumes – multidimensional geometric objects (“blobs” really!) that describe how species or ecological communities “fill” environmental space. It sounds abstract, but these methods are incredibly useful for describing the environmental niches of species as well as the functional diversity of whole plant communities or biomes. Since the conference, we’ve submitted a paper to Methods in Ecology and Evolution, and the new methods will be part of the 2.0 version of Ben’s hypervolume R package. The proud moment for this advisor came when I heard one of the scientists talking to Cecina ask her when she was going to “finish her PhD.”

Toby and I presented a poster together, describing a project that we did with the students in Kenyon’s Ecology Lab class last fall. To gain skills in climate change research, we modeled the responses of species using species distribution models. Each student in the class selected one species of plant or animal from our region (Ohio), then used data resources from the GBIF and Worldclim (including climate change scenarios from the IPCC) to model the potential changes in the distribution of their species habitat. To practice communication about the science of climate change, we then held a poster session for students and faculty. Tag teaming the poster really worked well. I was able to give some of the pedagogical rationale for the project and fill in some of the modeling details, while Toby gave insight into the challenges the students faced and how she was able to help them work through the project – even as she was just learning the modeling techniques herself! I am super excited to repeat (and maybe expand!) the project next year.

Both Toby and Cecina are from Arizona, so the locale was not as exotic for them as it would have been for some. Still, it was great to get out of Ohio in January, to see the Sonoran Desert again, to catch up with old friends and meet new colleagues, and to share some of the science we’ve been doing with the larger community.

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