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From large-scale distribution patterns to efficient conservation plans (HistEnvPatterns)
Start date: Feb 1, 2014, End date: Jan 31, 2016 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Distinguishing historical from environmental effects on species' distributions is crucial for effective conservation planning, especially under changing environmental conditions: we need to know how strongly each species responds to the environment. Data sets with explicit information (fossil records, physiological experiments) are rare, and environmental models applied so far have unverified assumptions and often ungrounded conclusions. I aim to improve the efficiency of data analysis and conservation plans by combining chorotypes (groups of species with similar distribution patterns, which can serve as natural units in conservation) with comparative phylogeography (mainly dispersal centres and routes) for European terrestrial vertebrates - mammals, amphibians and reptiles. If species within a chorotype have matching phylogeographic histories and stayed close to a common dispersal centre, their distributions are more stable than if they have disparate histories and concentrate away from their origins. I will quantify the strength of association of each chorotype with its species' dispersal centre(s) and with environmental factors, to infer the responsiveness of each species to environmental change and, thus, the predicted efficacy of environmental models. I will then propose conservation measures accordingly. I will also control the robustness of data and methods at every step of the analysis. This project will generate important insights into the origin and generality of species distribution patterns, and improve the efficacy and efficiency of conservation planning under climate change. It will also provide innovative tools (including software) that can be applied to other species systems and research areas.

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