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NIMBioS Investigative Workshop

Species' Range Shifts in a Warming World

Topic: Methods for integrating niche models, genetics, and fossil pollen data to understand species' range dynamics under changing climates

Meeting dates: May 3-5, 2017

Location: NIMBioS at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Sean Hoban, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL
Allan Strand, Biology, College of Charleston, SC
Andria Dawson, Statistics, Univ. of California, Berkeley; Geosciences, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson
Michelle Lawing, Ecosystem Science and Management, Texas A&M Univ., College Station

Objectives: Climate change is dramatically altering species' ranges and community composition, which will impact forest productivity, carbon cycling, and global biodiversity. Understanding how species and communities responded to past climatic changes, especially to dramatic warming following Ice Ages, can help us predict and mitigate future outcomes. However, our current understanding of historic ranges and species' dynamics, based on single data types and outdated methods, is deficient (and sometimes misleading). Moreover, we lack a framework for explicit hypothesis testing of post-Ice Age biogeographical inference. This workshop aims to improve our ability to understand species' and community response to climate change by identifying new modeling and analytical tools for integrating currently isolated datasets and fields of research on large-scale ecosystem shifts. Specifically, this workshop will focus on integrating paleoclimatic niche modeling, fossil pollen data, simulations of forest stand processes, and genetic marker data. These approaches vary in spatial and temporal resolution. At this workshop, researchers from diverse fields will: explicate the advantages and assumptions of each data type; discuss ways to analyze disparate data in a statistically coherent manner, while quantifying uncertainty across scales; and define a framework to examine species jointly at the community level rather than individually, leveraging power from many datasets. Synthesis findings from the workshop will be published, and a funding application will be organized to test this framework. Accomplishing these goals requires combining mathematical and computational approaches from very different fields – an exciting prospect. This workshop will help link and utilize large but underused datasets developed over decades, and lay foundations for genuinely interdisciplinary, collaborative paleoecological science.

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Range photo. Summary Report. Ongoing changes in species ranges, demography, and community stability may positively or negatively impact ecosystem function and human well-being, forest and crop production, nutrient cycling, and global biodiversity. In order for humans to mitigate possible future change and ensure a positive net social-economic impact in the coming decades, we will need to better understand, forecast, plan, and react to ongoing ecosystems shifts. Evidence of range changes are found in multiple data types (paleoclimatic niche modeling, pollen cores, simulation of populations and of forest stand process, genetic marker data), which vary in spatial and temporal resolution and which represent different but related processes. Our central theme was to integrate data and modeling approaches at different scales and across scales, from disparate fields (genomics, archeology, mathematical modeling, and niche models), to better understand changes in species' distributions and abundance. In addition to applied outcomes we aimed to generate new ways of answering fundamental questions about the limits to species' ranges, adaptation, the degree of community composition coherence over time, and the relative roles of traits, geography, and chance in determining species shifts and survival. On day 1, we had four invited speakers along with questions and discussion, in which we identified key attributes of successful data analysis, ongoing challenges with scale and uncertainty, and new approaches. We then used a collaborative, large group activity to brainstorm and rank potential, feasible solutions for data-model linkages and hierarchical models that can use many data inputs. We then formed six groups focusing on the six most feasible but ambitious possible solutions. These ranged from modeling species' interactions to inferring long distance dispersal to using fossil data as priors for genetic inference models. Our workshop led to plans for several modeling papers, synthesis papers, new collaborations, and research proposals for developing, evaluating and distributing new mathematical and statistical approaches. We have chosen tentative journals for these products, which we will work on over the coming 6-12 months. We accomplished our workshop aim: to explore and test new modeling and analytical tools and to integrate currently isolated datasets and fields of research, with the goal of improving understanding of species' range shifts.

Playlist of online videos:

NIMBioS Investigative Workshops focus on broad topics or a set of related topics, summarizing/synthesizing the state of the art and identifying future directions. Workshops have up to 35 participants. Organizers and key invited researchers make up half the participants; the remaining participants are filled through open application from the scientific community. Open applicants selected to attend are notified by NIMBioS within two weeks of the application deadline. Investigative Workshops have the potential for leading to one or more future Working Groups. Individuals with a strong interest in the topic, including post-docs and graduate students, are encouraged to apply. If needed, NIMBioS can provide support (travel, meals, lodging) for Workshop attendees, whether from a non-profit or for-profit organization.

A goal of NIMBioS is to enhance the cadre of researchers capable of interdisciplinary efforts across mathematics and biology. As part of this goal, NIMBioS is committed to promoting diversity in all its activities. Diversity is considered in all its aspects, social and scientific, including gender, ethnicity, scientific field, career stage, geography and type of home institution. Questions regarding diversity issues should be directed to Dr. Ernest Brothers, the NIMBioS Associate Director for Diversity Enhancement ( You can read more about our Diversity Plan on our NIMBioS Policies web page. The NIMBioS building is fully handicapped accessible.