Our projects focus on understanding how communities of species are assembled over short- and long-timescales and how this might influence the benefits that ecosystems deliver to people.
Evolutionary drivers of the world's biodiversity hotspots (2015 - 2018, Gatsby Charitable Foundation)
We are interested in knowing why some places on Earth have so many more species than others. These "hotspots" of diversity include among the most stunning and unique landscapes on Earth, ranging from the Mountains of Central Asia to the Tropical Andes and the Cape of South Africa.
For the past several years, we have been developing an approach to estimate how the variety of species found in biodiversity hotspots has been generated. Our approach has involved using sophisticated computational models to estimate the rate at which species have formed through time and reconstruct historical migration patterns. We have been focusing our work on mammals and birds because these groups have relatively complete phylogenetic and distribution data. This complete dataset will help us refine our methods so that we can apply them to other more species-rich groups that have sparser data coverage, such as plants.
We are currently offering a competitively funded PhD studentship for UK residents to extend these methods to the much greater diversity of plants.
Priority effects in explaining plant diversification (2012 - 2016, Royal Society Te Apārangi)
Uneven diversification of plant lineages on islands is a central and unresolved question for understanding the origin of biodiversity.
We have been part of a Marsden Fund project that aimed to test whether colonization order influences the evolution of species richness within the spectacular radiations of New Zealand flowering plants, and how these associations are shaped by environmental and disturbance gradients. We have also linked molecular timetrees for the New Zealand flora with large-scale data sets on plant traits and geographic distributions.
We are continuing this work as part of another Marsden Fund project that focuses on the role of whole-genome duplication in promoting the evolutionary success of polyploid species.