2014 IBS Early Career Conference

IBS Special Meeting

Canberra, Australia (January 7-10th, 2014)

The 2014 IBS Early Career Conference conference took place in Canberra, ACT, Australia between the 7th and the 10th of January 2014, jointly supported by the IBS, the ANU Centre for Macroevolution and Macroecology (http://macroevoeco.com/), and the ANU-CSIRO Centre for Biodiversity Analysis (http://cba.anu.edu.au/).

The event brought together 150 participants – early career researchers, along with more experienced scientists, working on many aspects of biogeography, to present and discuss their work and increase networking opportunities. Contributions included keynote talks, oral presentations, and posters, and pre-conference workshops.

Local Organizing Committee:

  • Dr Haris Saslis-Lagoudakis
  • Dr Peter Cowman
  • Dr Dan Warren
  • Dr Dan Rosauer
  • Dr Renee Catullo
  • Assoc. Prof. Marcel Cardillo

8th January 2014: Species distribution across time and space (Dan Warren – ANU)
Species distribution modelling (SDM, alternatively ecological niche modelling or ENM) is one of the most broadly used tools in evolution, ecology, and conservation biology. These methods use presence data for species in conjunction with environmental variables in order to construct mathematical models of the species’ tolerances, which are used to predict the relative suitability of different patches of habitat. Although these methods have proven their utility very broadly, there are still fundamental limits to our ability to infer species ecology from presence-only data. This symposium focuses on methods for integrating phenomena such as physiology, evolutionary history, biotic interactions, and dispersal into the modelling process to improve model construction and validation beyond what is possible with presence-only data.
Confirmed Keynote Speakers: Dr Michael Kearney, University of Melbourne, & Dr Catherine Graham, Stony Brook University

9th January 2014: Advances in phylogenetic methods for biogeography (Marcel Cardillo, Haris Saslis-Lagoudakis, Peter Cowman – ANU)
The continuous development of computational techniques, increasing sequencing efforts and advances in divergence time estimation in recent years have led to a better understanding of the relationships and time frame of the Tree of Life. A growing number of studies are exploring large phylogenetically informed datasets with statistical methods to reveal large-scale present and past patterns in evolution and ecology. This symposium presents new methodological and theoretical advances in the application of phylogenetics to questions in biogeography. Empirical studies from a wide range of taxa integrating phylogenetics, phylogeography, ecology, palaeontology and statistical modelling will be presented. These studies will highlight the roles played by ecology and evolution with respect to the past, present and future distribution of biodiversity.
Confirmed Keynote Speakers: Prof Craig Moritz, Director of Centre for Biodiversity Analysis, ANU-CSIRO & Dr Hélène Morlon, École Polytechnique

10th January 2014: Biodiversity turnover across spatial scales (Dan Rosauer – ANU)
Beta diversity, or compositional turnover, is a powerful integrative concept for understanding how biological diversity is distributed spatially, and how diversity varies with spatial scale. A range of recent approaches have sought to statistically model compositional turnover to address questions including conservation priorities, impacts of climate change (past and future) and habitat loss.

Determining the contributions of environment and isolation to dissimilarity (species, phylogenetic, genetic, morphological) is adding to knowledge about the basic processes by which biological diversity is generated and maintained. This symposium explores new approaches to model and investigate the drivers of compositional turnover.
Confirmed Keynote Speakers: Dr Simon Ferrier, CSIRO & Dr Matthew Fitzpatrick, University of Maryland

Workshop 1 (Full day):

Introduction to species distribution modelling
Presenters: Dan Warren (ANU) and Jane Elith (University of Melbourne)

Species distribution models (SDM) combine data on the occurrence of species with environmental predictors in order to construct a statistical model of species’ habitat tolerances and preferences. These models are used across evolution and ecology to estimate the effects of climate change, find new populations, and estimate species’ niches. In this course, we will cover the concepts and methodology used in modelling species distributions from occurrence data. Topics will include finding, accessing, and formatting data, selection of appropriate predictor variables, basic R skills for SDM, and statistical methods including regression trees, GAM, GLM, and Maxent.

Workshop 2 (Full day):

Modelling compositional turnover using generalised dissimilarity modelling
Presenters: Dan Rosauer (ANU) and Karel Mokany (CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences)

Predictive models of beta diversity, or compositional turnover, are increasingly being applied to studies of conservation priorities, impacts of climate change (paleo and future) and habitat loss. A commonly used approach is generalised dissimilarity modelling (GDM). GDM is particularly useful for spatial analyses of biodiversity where the patterns of interest involve hundreds or thousands of species. GDM compares the community composition and environmental conditions across pairs of sites to predict compositional difference as a function of environmental difference, extrapolating the prediction beyond surveyed sites. The resulting models give a spatially continuous prediction of turnover, and thus of the spatial structure of diversity. GDM has been used to study compositional turnover in space and time, as well as species, phylogenetic, genetic and functional turnover.

This hands-on workshop will introduce the concepts and practical steps involved in fitting GDMs. Participants will fit and interpret models of community dissimilarity, and explore a number of ways of applying and visualising them. Applications covered may include identifying conservation priority areas, defining biological regions, projecting community change over time and biological survey planning. Participants may use the open source statistical package R, and various stand-alone tools.

Workshop 3 (Half day):

An Introduction to R for beginners
Presenter: Rob Lanfear (ANU)

R is a fantastically useful piece of software for biologists. This half-day course will introduce R for beginners, and briefly cover some popular biogeography packages.

Workshop 4 (Half day):

Free your mind: Model comparison and model testing in historical biogeography with the R package ‘BioGeoBEARS’
Presenters: Nick Matzke (UC Berkeley) and Peter Cowman (ANU)

Biogeographers who wish to infer biogeographic history on phylogenies have traditionally been limited to just a few models implemented in programs such as LAGRANGE, DIVA, or Mesquite. The R package BioGeoBEARS implements these models and many others in a common framework that allows users to statistically compare how well each model fits the data. The best models can then be objectively chosen using Bayesian or likelihood-based model choice procedures (e.g., Bayes factors, AIC). New models in BioGeoBEARS include jump dispersal and dispersal as a function of distance. BioGeoBEARS also makes use of R’s graphics capabilities to easily plot ancestral range estimates on phylogenies.

This workshop will introduce the basic theory behind historical biogeographical models and statistical model choice. Participants will then work through a number of examples on their computers, with the help of the instructor. The examples will teach how to use BioGeoBEARS to load phylogenies and geography data, run maximum likelihood and Bayesian estimation, compare models statistically, and graphically display results. Remaining time will be used to help users run their own datasets (the basic inputs are just a newick file, and a PHYLIP-format geographic ranges file, for example as used by the C++ version of LAGRANGE).

Canberra is the capital of Australia, and is surrounded by beautiful nature, including several nature reserves, where visitors can see many iconic Australian animals (the platypus, koalas, kangaroos, wombats, wallabies), and plants (banksias, eucalypts), as well as cave systems. The coast is only a couple of hours away and Sydney approximately a 3 hour drive.

Half day trip – Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve

Nestled between Tidbinbilla and Gibraltar Ranges the reserve forms part of the Australian Alps National Park. The Australian Alps are National Heritage listed, recognising that their natural and cultural values are of outstanding national significance. Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is home to a wide range of Australian animals living in diverse sub-alpine habitats including wetlands, grasslands, wet and dry forests and woodlands.

Full day trip – Booderee National Park

Thanks to the vast range of habitats found in the area – coastal cliffs and heaths, sandy beaches and rock platforms, mangroves and ocean, swamps, lakes and forests – Booderee is home to several plant and animal species. The park contains many species that are at the limits of their bio-geographical range. The habitats protect a high concentration of rare and threatened plants and animal species.  There are over thirty species of native mammals including ten species of bats, thirty-seven reptiles, seventeen amphibians and at least 180 species of fish. Over 460 native plant species have been recorded in the Jervis Bay Territory. Several iconic Eucalyptus and Proteaceae species can be encountered at the park.