Ralph O. Dubayah

University of Maryland, Department of Geographical Sciences, 2181 Samuel J. LeFrak Hall, 7251 Preinkert Drive, College Park, MD 20742, USA

Renske Onstein

Head of research group Evolution & Adaptation, German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany

In June 2018, Renske Onstein became junior research group leader in Evolution & Adaptation at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig. She obtained her PhD at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, in 2015. Her research focuses on the evolution and diversification of flowering plants in biodiversity hotspots. In her work she often combines evolutionary data, such as genetics or phylogenetics, with ecological information, such as functional traits or plant-animal interactions. Currently, her group investigates the effects of megafaunal animal extinctions, such as giant lemurs, elephant birds and gomphothers, on genetic connectivity, diversification and adaptation of megafaunal-fruited plants on Madagascar and in the Neotropics.


The co-evolutionary dynamics of tropical fruits and frugivores
The interaction between fruits and frugivores (i.e. fruit-eating and seed-dispersing animals) is prominent in tropical rainforests. Both fruits and frugivores have evolved adaptive traits to facilitate their interactions, but whether this could facilitate diversification in a diffuse co-evolutionary scenario remains enigmatic. For example, large, megafaunal fruits (> 4 cm) are primarily dispersed by large-bodied, megafaunal frugivores, which frequently move across long distances. This behaviour may directly affect plant dispersal capacity, gene flow and ultimately speciation of plant populations. I therefore hypothesize that frugivory-related traits have influenced plant diversification, and evaluate this hypothesis in the palm (Arecaceae) family, which comprises >2500 species. Palms occur across all tropical realms and are keystone fruit resource for tropical frugivores. Using an unprecedented palm functional trait database and a phylogenetic comparative framework, I show that the evolution of fruit sizes, growth forms and island colonisations influenced palm speciation rates. Furthermore, I show that Quaternary global changes affected extinction and adaptation rates of palms with large, megafaunal fruits. Last, I provide support for the idea that colour vision systems in primates co-evolved with palm fruit colours. These results emphasize the importance of plant-animal interactions for our understanding of tropical diversification and the generation and maintenance of tropical biodiversity more generally.

Hans Verbeeck

Gent University, CAVElab Computational & Applied Vegetation Ecology, Coupure Links 653, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium

Hans Verbeeck obtained his Master degree in Bio-science Engineering at Ghent University in 2002. After completing his PhD on modelling carbon and water balances of temperate forest in 2007 at the University of Antwerp, he moved to LSCE (Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, France) as a Marie-Curie fellow. In 2015 he became research professor at Ghent University after obtaining an ERC starting grant. He is leading the research group CAVElab (Computational and Applied Vegetation Ecology) which he established in 2015.

With his group he studies vegetation dynamics and biogeochemical cycling in terrestrial ecosystems. He has a broad interest in all types of terrestrial ecosystems, with a strong focus on the ecology of tropical forest ecosystems. Process-based vegetation modelling is the core research tool, but the questions arising from the modelling work require dedicated field work activities. These field work activities are focused on improving uncertain process descriptions within vegetation models and on data-poor regions like the Congo Basin. The major research lines developed within the research group in recent years are: (1) the role of lianas in the climate response of tropical forests (ERC starting grant project TREECLIMBERS), (2) biogeochemical cycles of tropical forests in the context of climate and land-use change, (3) the interaction between functional diversity and biogeochemical cycles in (tropical) forests, (4) methodological aspects of vegetation modelling (5) integration of remote sensing data into vegetation models, (6) study of vegetation structure and biomass using terrestrial laser scanning.


The role of lianas in the climate response of tropical forests.

Anja Rammig

Professorship Land Surface-Atmosphere Interactions, School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan, Technical University of Munich, Germany

Anja Rammig, Assistant Professor for Land Surface-Atmosphere Interactions, Technical University of Munich, TUM School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan, Freising. Anja Rammig was appointed as Assistant Professor for Land Surface-Atmosphere Interactions at Technical University in Munich in 2015. She obtained a PhD in Environmental Sciences from ETH Zurich in 2006. After completion of her PhD, she worked at the Department of Physical Geography and Ecosystem Science at Lund University, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Her research focuses on the impact of global environmental change on ecosystems and potential feedbacks to the climate system. She develops and applies simulation models in combination with observational data to project ecosystem responses to climate and land-use change.


Amazon rainforest responses to climate change: New insights from observations and simulation models