Eco-evolutionary dynamics in spatially structured systems

Biodiversity is severely under pressure from global change. Especially climate warming, land cultivation and urbanisation are causing rapid biodiversity changes in terrestrial, aquatic and marine environments. Because species are connected to each other via multiple interactions, any species loss puts the integrity of ecosystems at risk, and thereby the associated ecosystem services that are provided to humans. Land-use and climate change force species to move locally to survive in fragmented landscapes, or globally to track their optimal climate. These spatial dynamics impose changes in species diversity patterns, but also their genes, associated microbiomes and parasites, thereby fuelling evolutionary processes of adaptation and speciation. A thorough understanding of both the causes and consequences of species movement is therefore central to biodiversity conservation. It not only allows forecasting of future responses to global change, but also hindcasting of current biodiversity patters at local, regional and global scales.

Coexistence, metacommunity and biogeographical theories provides a framework to understand processes that underpin population and biodiversity dynamics at local, regional and global scales. Recent research from collaborators to this proposal, shows however the need to include feedbacks between ecology and evolution, as well as species interactions into existing frameworks. This is crucial to further improve our ability to understand and forecast biodiversity change. Evolution impacts single species population dynamics, and therefore the connectivity between local populations and the strength and direction of species interactions (e.g., from positive mutualisms to negative predation, parasitism and competitive interactions). Such eco-evolutionary dynamics are therefore key to adaptation and biological diversification in heterogeneous environments. These interactions also steer the three processes of dispersal (departure, transfer and settlement), and therefore the organization of biodiversity in space, but a qualitative and quantitative theory is to date, lacking. Species at different trophic levels show different characteristic scales with respect to their space use, life cycle and evolutionary potential. The different ecological and evolutionary scales at which demography, dispersal and evolution are acting make evolving metacommunities difficult to study. Any progress in the field can therefore only be achieved by a tight integration of researchers covering diverse spectra of (model) species, spatial scales and methodologies.

The FWO funded Scientific Research Network EVENET has as objective to foster direct interactions between researchers working in the fields of evolution, ecology and computational biology. The research network will further promote their integration, not only by stimulating mobility, but also by the further development of collaborative experiments and synthesis actions. The participating groups show large complementarity with respect to model systems and tools (a.o., experimental infrastructure, modeling platforms, eDNA & metabarcoding).

Spokesman: Dries Bonte

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