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Describing ignorance: Mapping biodiversity knowledge shortfalls

16 Nov 2022 - Joaquin Hortal, Department of Biogeography and Global Change, Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (MNCN-CSIC), Madrid | 15h00 - Hybrid Seminar
Describing ignorance: Mapping biodiversity knowledge shortfalls

Ecologists and evolutionary biologists are increasingly using approaches based on massive data analysis to investigate the origin, distribution and dynamics of biodiversity at large spatial, taxonomic and temporal scales. Great efforts are being made to bring together in large databases the information collected by expeditions and fieldwork over more than two centuries of biodiversity inventories. However, despite the mobilization of this vast amount of information, our ability to answer many key questions in ecology and evolution is limited by the lack of data of sufficient quality. I will explain the concept of shortfall or knowledge gap, reviewing the conflicts between generality and uncertainty in research results. I will also describe the seven major deficiencies in current biodiversity data, corresponding to lack of knowledge about taxonomy (Linnaean deficit), distribution (Wallacean), abundance (Prestonian), evolutionary relationships (Darwinian), abiotic tolerances (Hutchinsonian), functional traits (Raunkiaeran) and biotic interactions within and between species (Eltonian). Then, I will review briefly current developments of in the analytical framework that allows us to measure these deficits, determine their impact on research, find ways to overcome or reduce these seven knowledge gaps, and deal with the uncertainty they generate. Finally, I will show examples of application of this conceptual framework, such as bias analysis, the study of knowledge stabilization or maps of biogeographic ignorance. The latter allows estimating the spatio-temporal uncertainty in both the geographic distribution of biodiversity data and the estimates and models generated with these data, and may even allow to improve model predictions.

Joaquín Hortal is a biogeographer and community ecologist, working as scientific researcher at the Department of Biogeography and Global Change of the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales (CSIC). He is also scientific collaborator at the Postgraduate Course on Ecology and Evolution of the Universidade Federal de Goiás and the Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes (cE3c) of the Universidade de Lisboa, and member of eBryo – Research Group on Experimental Bryology. His main research aim is to understand why is biodiversity distributed the way it is in space and time, with particular interest on community structure. This requires identifying the processes that drive the spatial and temporal dynamics of ecological assemblages. His current work aims at unifying into a single framework the different hypotheses about the origin of geographic gradients of biodiversity and community dynamics; in particular, the interplay of niche and coexistence as determinants of species co-occurrence, and the effects of the evolutionary history of species, glaciations and current climate.

[Host: Richard James Ladle, 21st Century Conservation Lab - LACOS21]

Click here to watch the seminar recording

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