The Niche Concept under Contemporary Climate Change

I’m proud to announce the forthcoming PhD defense of Safaa Wasof who did her PhD under my supervision at Jules Verne University of Picardie (UPJV) within the research unit “Ecologie et dynamique des systèmes anthropisés” (Edysan, FRE3498 CNRS-UPJV). Safaa’s PhD defense is scheduled on Friday 27 November at 9H00 am at the Faculty of Pharmacy (Pôle Santé Saint Charles, 1 Rue des Louvels, 80037 Amiens Cedex, France). If you are somewhere around at that time, you are welcome to join. Please find below a short summary written by Safaa. You can also read more on Safaa’s work by downloading her papers on (i) “Disjunct populations of European vascular plant species keep the same climatic niches” and (ii) “Ecological niche shifts of understorey plants along a latitudinal gradient of temperate forests in north-western Europe“, both published in Global Ecology and Biogeography.

Ecological niche under climate change: conservatism and role in the biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationship

Abstract: The scientific literature has shown a revival of interest in the concept of the ecological niche for the recent decades. This interest was largely promoted by the increasing use of species distribution models (SDMs) to inform conservation and management strategies in relation to climate change. In this thesis, I studied and used the concept of the ecological niche to answer two research questions which are heavily debated in ecology: the niche conservatism hypothesis and the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. The first part of my work provides the first large-scale (i.e. Europe) assessment of the niche conservatism hypothesis between distinct populations of the same species and for a large number of vascular plant species (389 species) in their native geographical range. Main results from this work suggest that niche conservatism of vascular plant species is a widespread phenomenon. However, we also found that regional differences in niche width and optimum are common suggesting that other processes including adaptive responses are at play. Hence, while we conclude positively on the legitimacy of SDMs for predicting future species distributions, our results nevertheless show the importance of considering regional variations in the key parameters of species’ realized niche (cf. niche width and optimum) as well as the key mechanisms governing them (e.g. local adaptation), in order to accurately predict how these regional subtleties within the ecological space translate into the geographical space. In the second part of my thesis, I incorporated the concept of the ecological niche into the relationship between biodiversity and the net production of aboveground biomass in understory plant communities of temperate deciduous forests in Northern France. For this purpose, we first built a new set of diversity indices capturing the idea of ecological-niche diversity and then used it as an alternative or a complementary facet of biodiversity to test its relative importance for standing biomass in comparison with other facets of biodiversity that are more commonly used in ecology (cf. taxonomic and functional diversity). Among other things, results from this work highlight the importance of considering the ecological niche of species (sensu Hutchison) as an alternative and complementary facet of biodiversity having an important impact on ecosystem functioning, particularly the net production of aboveground biomass within the forest herb layer. These new findings suggesting a strong niche conservatism and supporting the idea to use the concept of the ecological niche as a facet of biodiversity will improve our understanding and our predictions of the effect of climate change on biodiversity and therefore on ecosystem functioning.

Keywords: community ecology, ecological niche, climate change, niche conservatism, biodiversity, vascular plants, forest.

Supervisors: Dr. Jonathan Lenoir & Prof. Guillaume Decocq, UR “Ecologie et dynamique des systèmes anthropisés” (Edysan, FRE 3498 CNRS), Jules Verne University of Picardie.

Exam committee: Prof. Antoine Guisan, Department of Ecology & Evolution, University of Lausanne; Prof. Martin Diekmann, Institute of Ecology, University of Bremen; Prof. Jean-Claude Gégout, UR “Laboratoire d’étude des resources forêts bois” (UMR 1092 LERFoB), AgroParisTech-ENGREF.


One thought on “The Niche Concept under Contemporary Climate Change

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s