Scientists argue for the merging of biogeography and behavioral ecology in order to respond quickly to biodiversity loss.

An opinion piece advocating for convergent research that combines the disciplines of behavioral ecology and biogeography has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the University of Oklahoma. The article argues that in order to more quickly address the issues of climate change and biodiversity loss, convergent research that combines these two disciplines is necessary.

The crisis of biodiversity loss has received less attention than the crisis of climate change, which dominates headlines. The authors of the article claim that “finding solutions that prevent large-scale extinction requires addressing critical questions about biodiversity dynamics that, despite widespread interest, have been difficult to answer thus far.”.

Protecting ecosystems and the variety of plants and animals within them is essential for the health of the planet and for humanity to flourish. This is true for a variety of reasons, including the microorganisms that support soil health, the fish that we eat, the forests that clean water, pollination, lumber, and medicine.

“How we respond to climate change has a significant impact on biodiversity outcomes—which is also a critical component of how the global climate system works,”

CO-author Katharine Marske, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biology,

According to the co-author of the article, Katharine Marske, Ph., “The ways that we respond to climate change also have a big impact on outcomes for biodiversity—which is also a critical part of how the global climate system works.”. D. in the Dodge Family College of Arts and Sciences’ Biology Department as an assistant professor.

Although it’s not the only danger, climate change poses a serious threat to biodiversity. We also have habitat loss and degradation, direct overharvest of some species, and other issues, so it is also a distinct crisis that needs to be taken into account equally.”.

According to co-author Hayler Lanier, Ph., “Historically in Oklahoma, we can point to cases where we have quickly altered or removed natural habitats, such as the Dust Bowl.”. D., assistant professor of biology and the Sam Noble Museum’s mammalogy curator.

“That was a case where we came through and stripped out a lot of the existing natural systems that do things to hold onto the soil and create nutrients. We must consider the kind of world we want to live in as we move into the future, and it will undoubtedly include these kinds of ecosystem services.”.

The authors contend that by combining the disciplines of behavioral ecology and biogeography, or the study of how and why biological diversity varies across the Earth, researchers will be better able to use “existing biodiversity knowledge into predictive frameworks for how biodiversity will respond to environmental change and where habitable ecosystems are located.””.

According to Laura Stein, Ph.D., “Up to this point, there hasn’t been a strong interdisciplinary connection between behavioral ecologists and scientists who study biogeography. D. is the co-author of the article and an assistant biology professor.

“I believe that in many instances, behavioral ecologists do not necessarily take into account differences and overlaps in both current and historical ranges, as well as how behaviors have been shaped by past geographic events that might help predict where they will be in the future. Biogeographers, on the other hand, frequently think about the daily activities of animals more than behavioral ecologists do. Therefore, by combining these two fields, we can get a much bigger picture of what we can do right now and what will be crucial for maintaining biodiversity in the future.

The authors of the article oversaw a University of Oklahoma pilot project for similar integrative initiatives.

Cameron Siler, Ph.D., is the co-author of this article. D. “We, in the Department of Biology, together with the Sam Noble Museum, carried out a series of cluster hires over the last five years aimed strategically at bringing integrative researchers with the capacity to think beyond these typically isolated fields. What’s exciting is that this work is a culmination of the success of that early effort to bring scientists together,” said Sam Noble, associate professor of biology and associate curator of herpetology at the Sam Noble Museum.

Lanier characterized their work as encouraging. The loss of biodiversity and climate change are both significant, intricate, and difficult issues to resolve. “What we’re attempting to do is harness a lot of the information that the scientific and conservation communities already possess and bring it together in new ways to very quickly answer some of these questions.”.

In agreement, Marske continued, “The scope of the challenges that society faces require integration, so providing opportunities for this across biology and amongst all disciplines increases your chances of bringing people together and talking about novel solutions. At that table, the more guests you can accommodate, the better.”.

More information: Katharine A. Marske et al, Integrating biogeography and behavioral ecology to rapidly address biodiversity loss, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2110866120

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