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Miami ecologist co-authors Science magazine cover story


Science magazine
Thomas Crist, director of the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability and professor of zoology at Miami University, is a coauthor on the cover story in the Sept. 23 issue of Science magazine. The paper stemmed from his collaboration with 15 other scientists who were assembled from four countries for a working group at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at University of California, Santa Barbara.

In the paper, “Disentangling the drivers of beta diversity along latitudinal and elevational gradients" (available online), Crist and colleagues developed a statistical model that showed high levels of beta diversity in the species-rich tropics or lowlands can be explained almost entirely by the larger number of species in these regions. Beta diversity, also called species turnover, refers to the change in the kinds of species found among different habitats.

“For decades, ecology textbooks have described how biodiversity increases towards low latitudes and elevations, but higher rates of species turnover were assumed to result from different ecological processes that were operating across latitude or elevation,” Crist explained.

The scientists tested their model using data on tree species diversity collected from over 200 locations at different latitudes and elevations.

“We tested our approach using data on trees because they are well studied, but it likely applies to a wide range of organisms,” Crist added. “Our findings suggest that the ecological mechanisms governing species turnover among habitats may be similar in tropical and temperate zones, and that high or low rates of species turnover can be explained largely by evolutionary processes that resulted in different levels of biodiversity among regions.”

The NCEAS working groups provide travel and other support for 10-15 researchers to come to NCEAS for one to two weeks to focus intensely on the analysis and synthesis of existing information in their fields. Crist’s record of research accomplishment and collaboration led to an invitation to participate in the NCEAS working group with other scholars in the field of biodiversity.


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