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Speaker: Prof Carla Staver, Assistant Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University
A mechanistic understanding of biome distributions is a critical issue in modern ecology, especially in the context of predictive models of past and future climate change. While we can explain the current distribution of many biomes accurately, our predictions are less successful in dynamic systems where vegetation-environment feedbacks are significant. The challenge is to integrate feedbacks more fundamentally into a coherent theory of ecological process that determines biome distributions currently, and that will shape them into the future. Savannas and grasslands cover ~40% of the Earth’s land surface and forests cover another ~30%. Understanding the dynamics among these biomes will help explain biosphere dynamics, past, present and into the future. Carla will combine empirical and theoretical work for insights into the mechanisms that give rise to the emergent stability of savanna, despite variability in vegetation structure within the biome.
Carla’s lab’s work focuses on the dynamics and distribution of biomes, especially within and at the intersection of savanna and forest. They use a combination of empirical and modeling approaches to understand how local interactions of trees with their resource and disturbance environment scale up to predict landscape- and continental-scale patterns in tree cover and the distributions of biomes. She personally is especially interested in the idea that historical ecological patterns are fundamental drivers determining current and future distributions of ecological pattern. Hysteresis and historical contingencies are major, but relatively under-appreciated, determinants of ecological dynamics. The lab’s field work has focused primarily in savannas in South Africa, especially Kruger and Hluhluwe iMfolozi Parks, but they are also involved in field work in both savannas and forests elsewhere in Africa and in tropical Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia.