Research

I think community ecology and biogeography have much more to offer to conservation than is currently being used, and much of my current research addresses this problem. I like a good mix of fundamental ecological questions and quantitative solutions.

Three things I’m currently working on:

  1. Community ecology with models
  2. Diversity and conservation
  3. Species interactions and ecological networks
  1. Community ecology with models

The questions ‘where do species occur and why do they occur there’ are possibly the most long-standing and often poorly understood questions in ecology. I typically approach these questions with models, because I think they offer unique insights into ecological process and the ability to predict change. These models predict species occurrence taking into account functional traits (trait-SDM) or the presence of other species (Joint Species Distribution Model JSDM). These types of models offer some statistical advantages. Read here, here, and here for more info.

Stats aside, the field biologist side of me finds the results easier to interpret and more ecologically informative. I also think they offer the best chance of squeezing lots of information out of the existing community/biogeography datasets that we already have. The question is how much squeezing can we do?

I am currently working with researchers from QAECO and LECA in France to further develop and test these predictive community models for real and simulated datasets.

Refs:

Pollock, L.J., Tingley, R., Morris, W.K., Golding, N., O’Hara, R.B., Parris, K.M., Vesk, P.A., and McCarthy, M.A. 2014. Understanding co-occurrence by modelling species simultaneously with a Joint Species Distribution Model (JSDM). Methods in Ecology and Evolution 5:397.

Pollock, L.J., Morris, W., Vesk, P. A. 2012. The role of functional traits in species distributions revealed by a hierarchical modelEcography 35: 716-725.

2. Diversity and conservation

Diversity measures are rarely considered in conservation planning, and part of the problem is that we need techniques to integrate diversity with other conservation concerns. This was a major part of my first postdoc with the National Environmental Research Program (NERP) in Australia and my current Marie Curie Project, ‘Conserving

Where do we expand protected areas to capture evolutionary diversity?
Where do we expand protected areas to capture evolutionary diversity?

the Legacy of Evolution into the Future’ (CLEF).

So far, we have a way to link phylogenies to Species Distribution Models (SDMs) and a way to use Phylogenetic diversity in spatial conservation planning. We have some exciting new extensions in the works.

I’m also interested in the more fundamental aspects of how diversity plays out across space, which diversity metrics we should use for which purpose, and how best to link these metrics to distribution data (especially modelled distributions!).

Refs:

Thuiller, W, Pollock, LJ, Gueguen, M, Münkemüller, T. 2015. From species distributions to meta-communitiesEcology Letters DOI: 10.1111/ele.12526

Pollock, LJ, Rosauer, DF, Thornhill, AH, Kujala, H, Crisp, MD, Miller, JT and McCarthy, MA. 2015. Phylogenetic diversity meets conservation policy: small areas are key to preserving eucalypt lineagesPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 370(1662): 20140007.

3. Species interactions and ecological networks

In theory, species interactions are important to where species occur, but in practice, interactions can be elusive. What is an interaction? which interactions are important for which organisms at which scale?  Would we be able to spot an interaction if we saw one? Would we be able to detect an interaction in our dataset if it was there?

I’m particularly interested in the question of whether we can detect interactions in the commonly held community datasets (presence/absence or abundance in plots). Some combination of models (such as JSDM) along with considerations of traits and space might shed some light, and I am testing these ideas with some datasets with known interactions.

My first ecological network! This image immediately brought clarity to my understanding of this system.
My first ecological network! This image immediately brought clarity to my understanding of this system.
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