Attribution of biodiversity change to global change drivers

(Supervised by Dr Isla Myers-Smith, Dr Maria Dornelas and Dr Anne Bjorkman)


I am investigating a range of metrics (population change, species richness, community dissimilarity over time (beta diversity), etc.) to test whether we can attribute differences in biodiversity trends to anthropogenic drivers on a global scale. In particular, I am focusing on land-use change as a possible driver of biodiversity change, and I will investigate whether there is an interaction between land-use change and other global change drivers, which could be simultaneously reshaping ecosystems. The overarching hypothesis of my thesis is that land-use change is the primary driver of population and biodiversity change around the world.

The specific research questions I am addressing are:

1. Do rarity metrics and global change drivers explain variation in vertebrate population change?


2. How is land-use change influencing biodiversity change?


3. How are land-use intensification and land abandonment influencing biodiversity change?


4. How can we statistically attribute biodiversity change to global change drivers using big data in ecology?


Tundra vegetation change

(Team Shrub collaborative research projects)


As part of my previous job as a lab and data manager for Team Shrub and now as a PhD student in the lab, I’m involved with some of Team Shrub’s collaborative research projects, including research on active layer depth changes on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island and how detection of vegetation attributes differs across scales, from field observations to drone imagery.

Myers-Smith, I.H., Grabowski, M., Thomas, H., Angers-Blondin, S., Daskalova, G.N., et al. Eighteen years of ecological monitoring reveals multiple lines of evidence for tundra vegetation change (in revision for Ecological Monographs, manuscript available on request)

Does rarity influence vertebrate population change?

(with Dr Isla Myers-Smith and John Godlee)

Species’ attributes such as rarity, conservation status, distribution and taxa are often widely assumed to predict extinction risk. However, there are very few empirical tests of the influence of rarity and conservation status on population change across taxa and biomes. We combined open source data from the Living Planet Index, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and the IUCN to 1) determine whether global biodiversity trends differ across biomes, taxa and species’ conservation status, and 2) establish the relationship between vertebrate population trends and rarity metrics.

This research project started at a tutorial discussion group part of the Critical Thinking in Ecology honours course at the University of Edinburgh. You can read more about how we designed our project, as well as some of our key findings on the Critical Thinking blog.

Daskalova, G.N., Godlee, J.L., Myers-Smith, I.H. Rarity and conservation status do not predict vertebrate population trends. (in review) Available on bioRxiv.


Species’ attributes such as rarity and conservation status are often assumed to predict population change which in turn can influence conservation decision-making; however, there are very few empirical tests across taxa and biomes. We use a database of 9284 vertebrate populations from 2084 species in the UK and globally to quantify population change across rarity, Red List status, biomes and taxa. We found that rarity metrics (geographic range, population size and habitat specificity) did not predict population trends in the UK and globally, but greater fluctuations were more likely for smaller populations and species with larger ranges. There was no consistent pattern of net declines with increasing Red List status. We found higher-order taxonomic, but not geographic patterning of population change at global scales, with pronounced declines for amphibians. On a finer taxonomic scale, within amphibian, bird and reptile classes species, for which species-level phylogenies have been especially well resolved, there was no strong phylogenetic or taxonomic signal in the variation in population trends and fluctuations. Our findings suggest that rarity metrics, conservation status and phylogenetic clustering are poor predictors of vertebrate population trends of well monitored species, but that species with smaller populations were nevertheless more likely to fluctuate, potentially increasing their extinction risk. Thus, improved population monitoring across a diverse range of taxa is required, as species rarity and conservation status alone are insufficient to inform conservation prioritization.

Population responses of five bird species to agri-environment schemes and land management options in Northeastern Scotland

(Supervised by Dr Ally Phillimore and Dr Allan Perkins)


The decline of farmland birds in the UK is one of the most well-documented cases of biodiversity loss globally, and despite land stewardship supported by funding from agri-environment schemes (AES), the negative trends have not yet been reversed. To investigate AES contribution towards farmland conservation, we compared the rates of population change of five priority farmland bird species across 53 farms in Northeastern Scotland. Integrating landscape complexity into scheme design and providing farmers with expert advice on land stewardship in their particular locality may improve AES cost-effectiveness and conservation merit.

Daskalova, G. N., Phillimore, A. B., Bell, M., Maggs, H., & Perkins. A. J. Population responses of five bird species to 12 years of agri-environment schemes in Northeastern Scotland. (revision submitted Journal of Applied Ecology)