Nav: Home

Islands and their ecosystems

June 14, 2016

A few weeks ago, the biologist Juliano Sarmento Cabral (33) celebrated a handsome success. Together with former colleagues from the University of Göttingen, he published an article in the journal Nature. One finding: In order to understand the diversity of species on islands such as Hawaii, Galapagos or the Canary Islands, you have to look far back into the past - at least as far as the last ice age 21,000 years ago.

During the ice ages, the sea level dropped by 120 metres. As a result, many islands became larger and better connected to each other or to the mainland. "The Seychelles, for example, were many times bigger," Cabral says. This promoted the diversity of species, especially of endemic species that occur exclusively on these islands: It is much higher than on islands whose size and isolation has remained more or less the same.

Simulating nature in virtual worlds

"Mountains on the mainland and on islands are very interesting for ecology research for a number of reasons," the new junior professor explains. "They often accommodate the development of new species unique in the world. And because these species are limited to a small geographical area, global change such as global warming and habitat loss can cause their extinction." Reason enough for the biologist to focus his research on the subject.

Anyone who wants to research ecosystems and their dynamics needs a thorough understanding of the processes inside the systems. Sarmento Cabral collects the required knowledge during field research but also using theoretical computer models and simulations. "In the simulation experiments, we create a virtual world inside the computer," he explains. The simulations are used to determine how varying temperatures, humidity or other environmental factors affect plants and animals.

Orchids and other epiphytes under the microscope

An example: Cabral's former doctoral student from Göttingen, Gunnar Petter, developed a model for epiphytic plants - including orchids, bromeliads and other plants that grow on trees in tropical rain forests. The model can be used to study the consequences of climate change, for example. When temperatures rise, forests will grow more quickly. This comes at a great cost for the epiphytes: Their number and diversity declines, because it spreads rather slowly and is therefore unable to keep pace with the forest.

Field research and computer modelling

The new junior professor will contribute to teaching by organising events about ecology and ecological modelling. Students wishing to join him in order to study such topics should take pleasure in ecological theories and in building computer-based models of ecosystems. They should also be willing to do field research.

Juliano Sarmento Cabral's career

Campina Grande is the second largest city in the state of Paraiba in the north-east of Brazil. Juliano Sarmento Cabral was born there in 1983. "In my country, even when you go for a short walk or hike, you already see many different plant and animal species," he says. Driven by a desire to understand this lush biodiversity, he studied biology at the Federal Rural University of Pernambuco in Recife, the capital of adjacent state Pernambuco.

How he ended up in Germany? "I was eager to learn about ecological modelling. But back then, this area was practised by very few Brazilian researchers." As an exchange student in the US, he heard of a research group at the University of Potsdam which was right up his alley.

So he relocated to Potsdam where he did his PhD in 2010. The universities of Göttingen and Leipzig were his next stops. At the start of the summer term 2016, Sarmento Cabral took on the newly created junior professorship for ecosystems modelling at the University of Würzburg. He is also a member of the new "Center for Computational and Theoretical Biology" (CCTB).
-end-


University of Würzburg

Related Diversity Articles:

Revealing Aspergillus diversity for industrial applications
In a Feb. 14, 2017 study published in Genome Biology, an international team report sequencing the genomes of 10 novel Aspergillus species, which were compared with the eight other sequenced Aspergillus species.
Important to maintain a diversity of habitats in the sea
Researchers from University of Gothenburg and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) show that both species diversity and habitat diversity are critical to understand the functioning of ecosystems.
Discovering what shapes language diversity
A research team led by Colorado State University is the first to use a form of simulation modeling to study the processes that shape language diversity patterns.
Making the switch to polarization diversity
New silicon photonic chip that offers significant improvement to the optical switches used by fiber optic networks to be presented at OFC 2017 in Los Angeles.
Deciphering the emergence of neuronal diversity
Neuroscientists at UNIGE have analysed the diversity of inhibitory interneurons during the developmental period surrounding birth.
Epigenetic diversity in childhood cancer
Tumors of the elderly carry many DNA mutations that can influence disease course.
Diversity without limits
Now, researchers at Temple and Oakland universities have completed a new tree of prokaryotic life calibrated to time, assembled from 11,784 species of bacteria.
Threatened by diversity
Psychologist Brenda Major identifies what may be a key factor in many white Americans' support for Donald Trump.
Diversity as natural pesticide
Monoculture crops provide the nutrient levels insect pests crave, explains a study led by the University of California, Davis, in the journal Nature. Returning plant diversity to farmland could be a key step toward sustainable pest control.
A missing influence in keeping diversity within the academy?
A new study of science Ph.D.s who embarked on careers between 2004 and 2014 showed that while nearly two-thirds chose employment outside academic science, their reasons for doing so had little to do with the advice they received from faculty advisors, other scientific mentors, family, or even graduate school peers.

Related Diversity Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Setbacks
Failure can feel lonely and final. But can we learn from failure, even reframe it, to feel more like a temporary setback? This hour, TED speakers on changing a crushing defeat into a stepping stone. Guests include entrepreneur Leticia Gasca, psychology professor Alison Ledgerwood, astronomer Phil Plait, former professional athlete Charly Haversat, and UPS training manager Jon Bowers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".