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Young Scientist Awards

OSC2 Francesco di Castri Awards for young scientists

These prizes, in honor of Prof. Francesco di Castri, one of the founding members of DIVERSITAS, celebrate the efforts of young scientists (early carrer scientists with a PhD, less than 35 years old in 2009) active in the field of biodiversity science and policy.


Best oral presentations by a young scientist


Christophe Randin, Switzerland

University of Basel

Symposium S13: Mining biodiversity databases: examples for mountain biota and conservation planning

“Using georeferenced databases to assess the effect of climate change on alpine plant species and diversity”

Adam West, South Africa

University of Cape Town

Contributed oral session O12: Drivers of biodiversity 2

“Drought responses in fynbos species: improving predictions for a highly diverse flora”


Best poster presentations by a young scientist


Swamy Savitha, India

Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment

Poster session P18, Managing for ecosystem services

“Neighbourhood parks and ecosystem services in Bangalore, India: does size matter?”

Cécile Albert, France

Joseph Fourier University of Grenoble

Poster session P07, Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning

“Intraspecific functional variability: quantification along environmental gradients and implications in vegetation modelling – An alpine study case”



Abstracts of the best oral and poster presentations


Using georeferenced databases to assess the effect of climate change on alpine plant species and diversity

Randin Christophe, Engler Robin, Vittoz Pascal, Guisan Antoine

Background and Goal of the Study

Past and current climate change has already induced drastic biological changes. We need projections of how future climate change will further impact biological systems. Modeling is one approach to forecast future ecological impacts, but requires data for model parameterization. As collecting new data is costly, an alternative is to use the increasingly available georeferenced species occurrence and natural history databases. Here, we illustrate the use of such databases to assess climate change impacts on mountain flora.

Material and Methods

We carried out projections of future distribution over the 21st century for 287 mountain plant species in the Western Swiss Alps. For each species, simulations were computed with a cellular automaton accounting for dispersal limitation and potential barriers in the landscape under four climate change scenarios. We then assessed the relationship between decrease in a species' distribution by 2100 and two biological traits: migration capacity and altitudinal distribution optimum.

Results and Discussion

Simulations yielded extinction rates between ~1% and 25%, and decreases in distribution for ~70% to 90% of the 287 species by the year 2100 across scenarios. Furthermore, high elevation and/or slow dispersing species are the most at risk in the face of climate change. Finally, we showed how georeferenced data of species occurrences, climatic and land cover spatial layers, species dispersal and species traits databases can be combined effectively to derive dynamic impact scenarios, suggesting upward migration of many species and possible regional disappearance when no suitable habitat is available at higher elevations.


Systematically georeferencing all existing natural history collections data in mountain regions could allow a larger assessment of climate change impact on mountain ecosystems in Europe and elsewhere.


Drought responses in fynbos species: improving predictions for a highly diverse flora

West Adam, Dawson Todd, February Edmund

Climate change induced shifts in ecosystem water balance may have profound consequences for biodiversity in many regions around the world. In the Cape Floral Region (CFR) of South Africa, one of the six plant kingdoms of the world, future climate simulations predict warmer temperatures and a reduction in precipitation in the west, leading to more frequent and intense periods of drought. A change in the duration and intensity of drought is likely to severely impact the CFR as this flora appears to have radiated in relatively mesic and stable climate conditions, is highly endemic and has limited migration potential. However, uncertainly in climate predictions (particularly for precipitation) coupled with limited experimental data to test species’ environmental thresholds, leaves us with very little information about what the specific impacts may actually be. We conducted a rain-exclusion experiment to assess the responses of the three main growth types in the fynbos (proteoids, ericoids, restioids) to drought. Following severe summer drought there were marked differences in the responses of the growth forms. The anisohydric Ericas were most severely impacted, showing markedly reduced gas exchange, growth and flowering under drought stress, while the isohydric proteoids and restioids were less affected. Using a recently developed theoretical framework of plant responses to drought, together with our experimental data, we explore the potential for improving our predictive capability of drought-related impacts in the CFR. We show the potential for detecting categories of plant responses to drought that will improve our ability to predict the impacts of future climate in the region.


Neighbourhood parks and ecosystem services in Bangalore, India: does size matter?

Swamy Savitha, Devy Soubadra

In India, most conservation efforts are towards forested landscape and there is lack of emphasis on urban green space and its biodiversity related service. While, large green spaces within cities seem to get protection and support of both ecologists and citizenry, small neighbourhood parks are often ignored. It is increasingly being realised that to develop new parks and build stewardship towards green spaces and urban biodiversity understanding people’s attitude and perception towards them is essential. The aim of this study is to evaluate small green spaces within the city for the biodiversity and recreational services they provide to the citizenry groups and also study attitudes and perceptions of the communities towards these parks. All neighbourhood parks in Bangalore are identified and mapped using GIS and remote sensing techniques.

These parks are further categorized into 3 size classes to estimate if there is a critical park size that would support biodiversity and provide recreational services. Biodiversity will be assessed using key taxa such as birds and butterflies. A biodiversity fondness survey; attitude and perception survey will be conducted among park users and beneficiaries, and those who seek alternate options such as gyms and do not use parks.

Preliminary results show that people are fond of birds and butterflies, mainly because of their charismatic appearance. Small parks seem to support unique migrant bird species and a mix of wooded and open area butterfly species. Attitude survey revealed that people perceive only large parks to provide ecosystem services than small and medium parks.

This study would help in building stewardship among the citizens to develop parks which provide recreational services and support biodiversity. Long term goals would be to bring in local governing bodies, corporate, citizenry groups to collaborate and develop a co-management plan to conserve Bangalore’s biodiversity rich green spaces.


“Intraspecific functional variability: quantification along environmental gradients and implications in vegetation modelling – An alpine study case”

Albert Cecile, Thuiller Wilfried, Lavorel Sandra

Background and goal of study

In a global change context, understanding how species behave in different conditions seems essential to predict their response to the coming changes and the resulting effects on ecosystem dynamics. Intraspecific functional variability has been traditionally assumed to be negligible in comparison with the interspecific one without a clear quantification. Consequently, species were mainly described by mean traits in functional studies and by unique fixed parameters – and not as functions of the  environment - when modelled. Within this study, we: (1) quantify the intra-specific functional variability for a selection of plant species and describe its link with climatic gradients and species environmental requirements (species niche); (2) include and test the effects of functional diversity in landscape modelling.

Materials and methods

Providing steep gradients, and assumed to be particularly sensitive to global warming, alpine systems have been chosen as an ideal study system. After designing an appropriate sampling strategy, we sampled a set of functional traits (plant height, leaf dry matter content, leaf nitrogen content…) on 16 common species of the French Alps within a stratified landscape.

Results and discussion

The measured variability turned out to be large and mostly due to environmental effects and individual differences. Exploring multivariate traits patterns showed that intraspecific variability does not modify species strategy definition but that intraspecific variability was not necessarily negligible. We then managed to summarise the idiosyncratic links between traits and gradients showing a strong link between traits and species niche, estimated by habitat suitability models. Finally we also tested the introduction of functional intraspecific variability into a landscape model (LAMOS) and showed a strong sensitivity of it.

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