The strength and nature of the suggested link between climate change and ecosystem function (across spatial and ecological scales) is still unclear. Beside climatic factors determining niche heterogeneity, and community composition, there is a complex interplay of environmental variables (e.g. CO2 levels, anthropogenic players) and ecological factors (e.g. area effects, dispersal, past climate dynamics) shaping species distributions. Processes at range margins determine ecosystem shapes as well as species’ capacities to respond to changes. Yet, abrupt ecological break-ups are rare suggesting that ecosystem edges are transient. The proposed research will address the knowledge gap regarding the understanding of environmental - ecosystem relationships by 1) generating models for forest diversity in East Africa based on prevalent environmental niche gradients, and 2) by quantifying the relevance of African forests in vegetation-atmosphere feedbacks. Dispersal kernels and climate predictions will be implemented into Bayesian models to model forest biome distributions. Earth observation (EO) data and existent pollen coring data will be used to reconstruct past forest dynamics. Reflectance values derived from EO and field data and structural measurements will be used to study forest’s role in the carbon cycle from local to regional scales. East Africa is the focus of this proposal as it is an area of strong gradients in ecosystems and environment, it is an area where this independent research will fit within, and be fertilized by, existing research strengths at the host institution, and an area where future impact of climate change is expected to have a significant impact on wildlife and humans. Research output will be utilized by the EU Network Project Rationalising Biodiversity Conservation in Dynamic Ecosystems (www. rubicode.net) that uses a functional approach in the analysis of ecosystems as a base for developing flexible and effective conservation strategies.
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