Case study: Dr Tim Newbold

Dr Tim Newbold is a Royal Society University Research Fellow based at University College London. His research is supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund.  Dr Newbold has also received International Exchange Award in 2017 to study climate, land use and the future of bumblebee diversity with Dr Jeremy Kerr at the University of Ottawa.
Quantifying the joint impacts of land use and climate on ecological assemblages

Dr Newbold’s research broadly concerns understanding and predicting how human activities are reshaping ecological communities.   Land use and climate are likely to present the two greatest pressures on biodiversity in the coming decades, but our understanding of their joint and interacting effects is still very limited.  Dr Newbold is leading a project that seeks to quantify these interacting effects and make predictions about the future effects of these pressures.

Tell us about your research

"My research is aimed at understanding how human activities are changing biodiversity across the whole of the Earth’s land surface. I analyse very large datasets and use this information to make predictions of future changes to biodiversity under different scenarios for how the future might unfold. I am particularly interested in why certain species are more impacted than others by environmental changes.

What challenge is your research addressing?

Mathematical and statistical models can help to understand and make predictions about the response of biodiversity to threats.  There have been several high-profile applications of models to understand the impacts of climate and land-use change but there have been no rigorous attempts to combine models predicting responses at a global scale.  This is because the methods used to understand them are almost entirely separate and because until now there hasn't been a truly global-scale and robust model of the response of species in multiple taxonomic groups to land-use change.

How will your research help solve this global issue?

Understanding how environmental changes are impacting biodiversity is critical, in all countries but especially developing ones.  While habitat change will create agricultural areas needed to support growing human populations and to create essential economic growth, both habitat and climate change will cause a loss of biodiversity. Biodiversity loss is likely to have a negative feedback on agriculture, because biodiversity supports certain critical functions in agricultural systems, such as pollination.  Biodiversity science has often been limited by a bias in information toward developed countries and I am pioneering methods that can be applied across the world.

What impact will your research have in the long term?

Combining distribution models will allows us to advance our understanding of how the effects of climate and land-use change will interact, which species are most vulnerable to each threat, and how trade-offs between mitigating climate change and avoiding future habitat conversion will impact upon biodiversity.

My research has been used in international reports by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the Convention on Biological Diversity. I am building partnerships with organisations working in science-driven policy at national scales, such as the Institute for Environment and Development.”