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Scaling up from individual interactions to biodiversity dynamics

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MMVW03 - Measures and Representations of Interactions

Biodiversity loss is one of the most pressing challenges of our time, requiring immediate action. Yet our understanding of the underlying dynamics remains limited, as prevailing ecological concepts, analysis and modelling approaches often overlook the underlying complexity. The urgency of the biodiversity crisis requires a paradigm shift in ecological thinking from simplistic approaches to a science that focuses on the fundamental agents of change, i.e. individual organisms, and their interactions. To develop ecology into a predictive science, it is necessary to elucidate the causal mechanisms that link individual variation and individual interactions to emergent properties in multi-species communities, ecosystems and their interactions with human impacts.  In this talk, I will discuss the need for and challenges of such a paradigm shift and illustrate it with examples from individual-based computer simulations: In a first example, I will show how mobile sensory networks emerge from individual interactions of insectivorous bats and under which conditions they provide foraging advantages. In the second example, I take the scale even further and show how resource competition between small mammal individuals affects community dynamics and thus determines the overall effect of landscape fragmentation on biodiversity. Zooming down to the energetic level of individual performance provides additional insights into the importance of bridging the individual and community levels.  These examples already show that scaling up from individual interactions to the level of biodiversity is both necessary and possible. However, a real paradigm shift towards a more mechanistic understanding of biodiversity change will require a further combination of empirical studies, ex- and in-situ experiments, novel approaches in eco-informatics, advanced metadata analysis, artificial intelligence and deep learning, and analytical, numerical and agent-based modelling.

This talk is part of the Isaac Newton Institute Seminar Series series.

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