Biocomplexity: Understanding biological patterns in space and time
Principal Investigator: Prof Bettine van Vuuren
Discipline: Biology; Molecular Ecology
Short description of the project:
Biocomplexity can loosely be defined as the study of complex biological patterns that arise from interactions within the physical and biological arena. Understanding spatial and temporal patterns and processes of biotic diversity across hierarchical spatial scales has become particularly critical in the face of rapid environmental change and increased numbers of alien invasive species driving biodiversity loss. The combination of spatial genetic structure with historical information on climate and geology, linked to ecological information on species abundances and distributions, provides a powerful approach to achieving this goal. Southern Ocean islands have simple yet well-developed terrestrial ecosystems that represent a continuum of increasing complexity from the low diversity found in the Antarctic to the species rich and complex continents to the north. The Southern Ocean islands were also markedly affected by past climate change, with a notable range of geological and glacial histories characterizing the various islands. Therefore, the Southern Ocean islands represent ideal model terrestrial ecosystems to investigate the history and evolution of biodiversity by being comparatively bounded systems with lower complexity than that characteristic of continental biotas. Our overall aim is to understand biological complexity in space and time. For this, we focus on micro-organisms, arthropods, and plants; from the scale of the Southern Ocean (biogeography and colonization), individual island (phylogeography driven by adaptation, geology and climate), to patterns across tens of meters (population ecology linked to ongoing dispersal).
Address: Centre for Ecological Genomics and Wildlife Conservation, Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg
Tel: +27(0) 11 559 2457