All forms of Life on Earth exist in their own unique niches defined by their appearance, behaviour, and preferred environment. These niches allow species to coexist and for biodiversity to accumulate at local, regional, and continental scales. By quantifying these niches in many dimensions we can build a hypervolume that describes diversity through variation in niche axes. While high dimensional trait data of this kind exist for birds and mammals, reptiles—which account for 30% of terrestrial vertebrate species—are poorly represented in these data and empirical studies of niche evolution. In EARtH I aim to fill this knowledge gap by building a high dimensional niche database for all Australian lizard and snake species (15 morphological measurements, 10 environmental variables, >1,000 species, ~10% of global reptile richness). Both biotic (character displacement through competition) and abiotic (habitat filtering) influences are expected to have predictable effects on niche evolution. By investigating hypervolume properties through time and across Australian reptile radiations I will test for the influence of biotic interactions on niche evolution. This novel approach will provide insight into the community assembly process which has made Australia the world’s richest reptile hotspot. By comparing trends across the Australian landscape I will also test for associations between hypervolume occupancy, phylogenetic turnover, and climate. Undertaking this fellowship will help me to develop comparative methods, museum curatorial, and reproducibility skills that complement my background in phylogenetics and macroevolution, making me a stronger and more independent researcher. In return, I look forward to sharing my skills and findings with the staff and visitors of the Natural History Museum in London and beyond.
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