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Organised by Professor Matthew Evans, Professor Tim Benton and Professor Ken Norris.
Prediction is needed in ecology, not least because the world is changing and there is a demand for robust predictions about the ecological impact of these changes. Prediction is best when underpinned by process-based models, but complex ecological systems are problematic to model. We will explore different modelling approaches for ecological systems and the strengths and limitations of systems approaches.
Download the programme here (PDF).
The proceedings of this meeting have been published in a dedicated issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
Biographies and audio recordings are available below.
Professor Matthew Evans, University of ExeterModelling ecological systems in a changing world
Matthew Evans is Professor of Behavioural Ecology at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall Campus. Research interests are now in mainly in conservation and in particular in understanding how we can predict the impact of environmental change on the natural world. This represents a considerable shift from an early interest in mate choice and sexual selection, which included the first theoretical and empirical examinations of the aerodynamics of birds’ tails and the first experimental investigations of the effects of endocrine hormones on the immune system and on signalling traits. Matthew was a founder member of the School of Biosciences on Exeter’s Cornwall Campus and the Director of the Centre of Ecology and Conservation until 2007, and was Provost of the Campus until 2009.
Professor Tim Benton, University of LeedsSystems approaches in population biology: lessons from a mite model system
Tim Benton is currently Research Dean in the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds, and Professor of Population Ecology. His research career has been mostly centred on the relationship between the environment, how it influences life history and therefore how it impacts upon population dynamics. The core ecological work has revolved around an experimental model system – soil mites – and this has informed theoretical work in many areas. Applications of the life-history-to-dynamics has taken Tim into agricultural ecology, initially based on understanding how farming management affects invertebrate populations and how this may impact on bird life-histories through trophic interactions. Systems approaches are at the core of his work, and recent agricultural work has taken him into human-dominated systems, where he collaborates with social scientists and policy makers on issues around sustainable farming in Europe and more widely.
Professor Ken Norris, University of ReadingChallenges for applied ecology
Ken Norris is Professor of Agro-ecology and Director of the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research (CAER) at the University of Reading. He works on biodiversity and ecosystem services in a changing environment, particularly in relation to changes in land-use and management. His work focuses on developing novel approaches to assessing the biodiversity impacts of environmental change, assessing the functional role of biodiversity in agro-ecosystems and linking these functions to the values and benefits people experience. He is also leads NERC’s Biodiversity Theme.
Welcome Dr Julie Maxton, Executive Director, Royal Society, and Professor Matthew Evans
Professor James S Clark, Duke UniversityInference to prediction in high-dimensional systems: the interactions behind biodiversity response to global change and resource competition
Clark’s research on dynamics of forests combines empirical analysis of population, community, ecosystem data with modelling and computation. To improve techniques for understanding environmental effects, Clark has developed long-term collaborations with computer scientists and engineers. With computer scientists he has developed techniques to rapidly simulate fine scale interactions over broad geographic regions. He has collaborated with engineers to develop wireless network technology for understanding controls on forest change. Current research involves real-time control of measurement and transmission, driven by inferential ecosystem models.Clark has developed Bayesian methods for assessment and prediction of biotic responses to global change. Applications have provided the first estimates of forest tree fecundity (including those for trees grown under elevated CO2), they have demonstrated the vulnerability of tree populations to global warming due to migration constraints, and they have allowed for quantification of the role of colonization and recruitment limitation for tree species diversity.Clark’s involvement in development of computational tools involves outreach to the full ecological community. He has organized workshops, symposia, and a NSF-sponsored summer school for training in modern computational statistics. He has published two books on the subject for graduate courses.
Professor Volker Grimm, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental ResearchPattern-oriented modelling: a ‘multiscope’ for predictive ecology
Volker Grimm studied biology (Diplom) and physics (PhD) and is senior researcher at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, Leipzig. He is also Associate Professor (Privatdozent) at the University of Potsdam. He has been involved in developing many specific and general models, but his main research interest is methodology of ecological modelling: individual-based modelling, optimizing model complexity (‘pattern-oriented modelling’), model analysis and validation, and model communication (‘ODD protocol’). Further research interests include population viability analysis, resilience research and ecological buffer mechanisms. Currently, he coordinates the EC-funded training network CREAM (http://cream-itn.eu) which tries to establish using population models for ecological risk assessments of pesticides. He co-authored a monograph on Individual-based Modelling and Ecology (2005) and a textbook on Agent-based Modelling and Science (in press). He is on the editorial board of five international journals.
Professor David Rand, University of WarwickMatching the complexity of models and data: lessons from molecular systems biology and mathematics
David Rand directs the Warwick Systems Biology Centre, is a Professor of Mathematics and a EPSRC Senior Research Fellow. Until 1990 his primary research field was dynamical systems for which he was awarded the London Mathematical Society's Whitehead Prize. Since then he has been working at the interface between mathematics and biology. More recently he has developed substantial systems biology programmes in areas such as circadian rhythms (with Andrew Millar, Edinburgh), NF-kappaB signalling (with Mike White, Manchester), cancer chronobiology (with Frances Levi and Albert Goldbeter, INSERM and Brussels), prolactin transcription (with Julian Davis and Mike White, Manchester) and plant stress (with Jim Beynon, Warwick). He has recently developed a range of mathematical tools for the analysis of complex network systems and for experimental optimization, and, with Bärbel Finkenstädt (Statistics, Warwick), he has developed new statistical techniques for model-based data analysis and for the analysis of transcriptional and other molecular data.
Professor William Sutherland, University of CambridgeWhy predict?
William Sutherland joined the Zoology Department in Cambridge as the first holder of the Miriam Rothschild Chair in Conservation Biology. One major interest has been in combining the subject areas of behavioural ecology, population ecology and conservation biology in order to answer a wide range of applied problems, such as predicting the impact of human disturbance, agricultural change, GM crops and climate change. He has a broad interest in global conservation, especially of threatened birds; and he has the objective of changing global conservation practice through evidence-based conservation. He has written two books (The Conservation Handbook: Research, Management and Policy Techniques, Blackwell Scientific, and From Individual Behaviour to Population Ecology, Oxford University Press) and edited six others. He set up the Gratis book scheme to give conservation books to developing countries, which donated over five thousand new books to 132 countries.
Dr Steve Orzack, Fresh Pond Research InstituteThe philosophy of modelling
Steven Orzack received a PhD in Biology from Harvard University. He has worked at the University of Chicago and is currently Head and Senior Research Scientist at the Fresh Pond Research Institute, a non-profit research institute in Cambridge, MA, USA. His research interests include demography, population dynamics, population genetics, conservation biology, and history and philosophy of biology.
Dr Allan Tucker, Brunel UniversityBioinformatics tools in predictive ecology: applications to fisheries
Dr Allan Tucker received a BSc degree in cognitive science from the University of Sheffield in 1996, and a PhD degree in computer science from Birkbeck College, University of London, in 2001. For four years, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre of Intelligent Data Analysis, Brunel University. He is currently a Research Lecturer with the School of Information Systems, Computing and Mathematics, Brunel University. His research interests include machine learning, data mining, Bayesian networks, bioinformatics, medical informatics and ecological data analysis. His current projects include building gene regulatory networks from microarray data in collaboration with Leiden University Medical Centre, Netherlands; developing models to explain and to predict glaucoma onset from clinical test data with Moorfield’s Eye Hospital, London; and building dynamic models to understand species interaction from fisheries data in conjunction with the Department for Oceans and Fisheries, Canada.
Professor Mark Rounsevell, University of EdinburghScenarios of land use change and ecological impacts
Mark Rounsevell is Professor of Rural Economy and Environmental Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on the effects of environmental change on rural and urban landscapes with particular emphasis on land-use change modelling. Model applications include exploration of the impact of alternative futures of climate and other environmental change drivers and the response of individuals and society to these changes. He was a lead author to the Working Group II Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a leader of the society theme of the Scottish Alliance for Geosciences, Environment and Society (SAGES), a pooling initiative involving Scottish Universities, and has also contributed to the expert group on scenarios for the National Ecosystem Assessment and to the DIUS Foresight land use futures project.
Professor Hanna Kokko, Australian National UniversityEcology and evolution – why they should form a two-way street
Hanna Kokko is an evolutionary ecologist who until 2010 was a professor at Helsinki University, and is now based at the Australian National University as an Australian Laureate Fellow. With a background in applied mathematics and systems analysis, she has strived to improve the communication between theoreticians and empiricists in the biological sciences. Similarly, her work builds bridges between evolutionary biologists and ecologists, by showing that evolutionary processes often cannot be understood without taking into account the ecological consequences of each evolutionary change. She is the recipient of the 2010 Per Brinck Oikos award for her contributions to ecological research.
Professor Paul Moorcroft, Harvard UniversitySystems approaches in ecosystem modelling
Paul Moorcroft is a Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University who specializes in terrestrial ecosystem dynamics. His research investigates how ecological processes affect the structure, composition, and biophysical and biogeochemical functioning of terrestrial ecosystems at regional to global scales.Paul did his undergraduate degree at the University of Cambridge and his doctoral research in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. After spending three years as postdoctoral researcher at the Princeton Environmental Institute, he joined the Harvard faculty in 2001.
Dr Emily Nicholson, Imperial College LondonInteractions between human behaviour and ecological system dynamics
Emily Nicholson is currently a Marie Curie Post-doctoral Fellow at Imperial College London. She completed her PhD on conservation planning at the University of Queensland in 2006, and held a one-year postdoctoral position at Princeton in 2007-2008, before coming to Imperial College to work with E.J. Milner-Gulland. Her research focuses on decision-making for conservation and environmental management using a decision theory framework, where the goals, constraints and uncertainties are made explicit. In particular she is interested in integrating socio-economic aspects, including human behaviour, and system dynamics into conservation. Applications include conservation planning, monitoring, decision-making under uncertainty and modelling social-economic systems
Dr Steven Penfield, University of YorkFrom genes to ecology
Steven Penfield is a plant geneticist and molecular biologist using systems biology to understand how plants coordinate their lifecycle with seasonal cues. After completing a PhD in seed biology at the John Innes Centre, Steve has been a Royal Society Research Fellow at the University of York since 2006. Steve collaborates among others with Prof. David Rand to understand how plant circadian clocks perform robustly across the range of environmental temperatures, and is interested in the molecular signalling networks that allow plants to sense and respond to temperature. A key focus of the lab is understanding how circadian clock components control key developmental decisions underlying plant phenology, with a focus on the control of seed dormancy by the onset of winter. Central to this work is that we are discovering multiple roles for the same gene network at different stages of plant life cycles, and this we believe allows the rapid evolution of new life histories in annual plants. We are interested in combining knowledge on the environmental perturbation of gene networks to phenomenological models of plant development in simulated real environments to understand the consequences of this pleiotropic gene network function.
Professor Pete Smith, University of AberdeenSystems approaches in global change and biogeochemistry
Pete Smith is the Royal Society Wolfson Professor of Soils and Global Change at the Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, School of Biological Sciences at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland, UK). Since 1996, he has served as Convening Lead Author, Lead Author and Author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, as the Convening Lead Author of the Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Mitigation chapter of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report and for the Agriculture and Forestry chapter of the Fifth Assessment Report (Working Group III). He has coordinated and participated in many national and international projects on soils, agriculture, greenhouse gases, climate change, mitigation and impacts, and ecosystem modelling. He is a Fellow of the Society of Biology, a Rothamsted Research Fellow, a Research Fellow of the Royal Society (London), and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Dr Colin Beale, University of YorkPredicting species distributions in a changing world
Colin Beale is a Research Fellow in the Department of Biology and the University of York. Previously, he received a BSc from Imperial College London and his PhD from University of Glasgow between which he worked for conservation organisations in Portugal and Lebanon. He undertook post-doctoral research with RSPB and then the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute. His main research interests are in the processes that determine distribution limits and all aspects of conservation biology. Although he likes to think of himself as a field ornithologist, he has also spent time developing mathematical and statistical methodologies to address particular problems in ecological analysis. He is currently based in Tanzania studying climate impacts on savannah ecosystems and trying to explain the ecological processes that underlie recent shifts in bird distribution in savannah habitats.
Panel discussion 25 May
Public lecture 29 May
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