27 February 2013. Giving latitude to using latitude as a "natural laboratory"
Macroclimatic variation along latitudinal gradients provides a useful natural laboratory to investigate the role of temperature and the potential impacts of climate warming on terrestrial organisms. We review the use of latitudinal gradients for ecological climate change research and illustrate their use with a meta-analysis of latitudinal intraspecific variation in important life-history traits of vascular plants. An integrated approach combining observational studies along temperature gradients, experimental methods and common garden experiments are recommended as the way forward to further our understanding of species and community responses to climate warming. De Frenne et al. 2013
14 February 2013. Thoughts on death
Dynamic Global Vegetation Models (DGVMs), which predict carbon fluxes between the land and atmosphere, largely derive their results from physiological equations governing gas exchange across leaf surfaces; such models typically omit important ecological processes that mediate carbon cycling across different scales of biological organization. A ‘balanced complexity’ approach to modelling the global carbon cycle is evolving, incorporating the key processes driving forest change at stand (e.g. growth, mortality of individual trees) and landscape scales (e.g. natural and anthropogenic disturbance) to complement the bottom-up, physiological processes represented in DGVMs. Two of our recent papers quantify how mortality rates vary at the regional scale, the second of which uses a simulator to explore the effects of natural disturbance on regional carbon fluxes. See Ruiz Benito et al 2013 and Vanderwel et al. 2013
2 February 2013. Shedding light on forest conservation status
This year is an important milestone in the implementation of the European Union Habitats Directive. Member states will be submitting a second round of six-yearly Article 17 national reports on progress towards achieving Favourable Conservation Status (FCS) for important habitats and species. Last time round, information was lacking on many of these, so new technologies and approaches are urgently required to track what is going on and support the implementation of this key environmental legislation. In January’s issue of Ecological Indicators we describe an approach in which both the extent and condition of oak forests in a Portuguese Natura 2000 site are assessed using a combination of optical and lidar airborne remote sensing and field data calibration. See Simonson et al 2013.
9th November 2012. We get ourselves into hot water over the link between biodiversity and ecosystem multifunctionality
Maestre et al.(2012) provided the first global study of the relationship between plant species richness and a variety of ecosystem processes linked to nutrient cycling in the world's major dryland ecosystems. A positive relationship was found between biodiversity and ecosystem multifunctionality (B-EMf), but it was statistically weak (R2 = 0.03) and that made us curious. Tommaso Jucker re-analysed the dryland dataset having first classified sites into low, medium and high "stress" categories. He found that the strength of the B-EMf relationship changed consistently along the "stress" gradients, becoming strongly positive in the most "stressed" habitats (R2 = 0.22). Science published our findings as a Technical Comment, but our approach was criticised by Maestre et al. in a response article. These criticisms arose because Maestre et al. misunderstood the way we had transformed data prior to analysis, and didn't seek clarification from us before publication. For further details read here and see our online comment on the Science website.
12th October 2012. Do species with similar traits compete more strongly for resources?
A flurry of recent papers have attempted to use phylogenetic information to make inferences about the processes structuring plant communities. Our recent Ecology Letters paper showing that competitive interaction strengths between pairs of tree species are closely related to their positions in a species' trait hierarchy and not to their phylogenetic similarity has been discussed by Jeremy Fox on his blog. It seems to be generating some interesting debate! See the original article here: DOI link
1st October 2012. Will Simonson completes his PhD in 2 years and 364 days. Congratulations!
Will hardly seemed to break into a sweat, even in the final week - quite a remarkable feat. He has taken up a postdoc in the group, working on assessment of carbon storage using lidar imageryWill Simonson's page.
17th July 2012. Canopy commerce: forest conservation and poverty alleviation
Our work with the RSPB and UNEP-WCMC on the challenges of carbon accounting in African forests has featured in Cambridge University's the slideshow - THIS LINK IS BROKEN. To see some lovely photos, go to the
1st April 2012. Understanding forest carbon dynamics
A matter of much debate is whether the current global forest carbon sink is driven by CO2 fertilization, rebound from disturbance or a mixture of both. The centenary issue of Journal of Ecology featured an article by us explaining how simulators and theoretical models can be used to gain a better understanding of transient changes in forest carbon fluxes arising from disturbance. In the case of New Zealand Nothofagus forests, we found no evidence that climate change was directly influencing forest processes; instead a series of disturbance events have led to widespread release of carbon from the forests over the last 35 years. See the paper here and the accompanying magazine article here.