Biodiversity in pattern and process

How can we best quantitatively describe and analyse ecosystem dynamics?

After more than 150 years of ecological research, we still face challenges in understanding how ecosystems function, let alone how to predict future changes. This knowledge has never been more urgently needed than now, with humans driving the sixth mass extinction at an alarming rate and biodiversity rapidly declining on a global scale. Simultaneously, there is an ever-increasing amount of data available waiting to be used. Expanding our understanding of ecosystem dynamics in a data-driven approach using state of the art techniques will enable us to disentangle important drivers of the origin, maintenance and change of biodiversity in natural, semi-natural and degraded habitats.

What are we aiming for?

We focus on a data driven approach towards analysis of spatial and temporal patterns of biodiversity. We combine (empirical) ecology and evolution with the fields of mathematics, physics and information sciences to develop novel methodologies in order to quantify the various aspects of community assembly, the origin and maintenance of biodiversity. Specifically, we aim to include methodologies from information theory, non-linear dynamics, artificial intelligence (including deep- and machine learning). Our emphasis lies on the interaction between both natural selection and stochastic driven processes to disentangle primary drivers of ecosystem dynamics across levels of biological organization, primarily on Neotropical (primary and secondary forests) and Dutch systems (both restored and degraded) to test and apply these methods on a wide scope of different habitats.

How can we apply our results?

To stop and even reverse the degradation of natural systems we need efficient implementation of restoration efforts as well as revision of policies and regulations, which in turn ask for a firm understanding of the underlying system dynamics. Due to the complexity of natural ecosystems, it has proven difficult to develop effective and efficient strategies towards conservation and restoration of natural areas. A fundamental understanding of ecological dynamics by quantitatively describing and analyzing both natural and degraded systems and application of this understanding is a prerequisite if we are to bend the curve of biodiversity decline. Novel data-driven methods capable to use the ever-increasing data can help in achieving these goals.