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Wildlife Ecology and Conservation department

Wildlife Ecology and Conservation department

Research Interests and Themes

Research Themes

Tropical Ecology, Conservation Biology, Global Change Biology

Ongoing Research

Canopy science research - how might tree living affect animal biogeography?

I investigate multidimensional species distributions of frogs in Southeast Asia and show that behavior and morphology interact (dubbed the "arboreality hypothesis") to determine spatial distributions at local scales. Interestingly, these local processes scale up to influence broad biogeographic patterns in space and time, serving as a novel dimension of biogeography (Scheffers et al 2013, Proc. Royal Soc. B.).

Bird's Nest Ferns - epiphytes that promote biodiversity

Another component of my canopy science research focuses on frog usage of epiphytes in rainforest canopies. In addition to broad scale sampling of rainforest canopies, this research combines physiological and common garden experiments to assess thermal physiology of frogs and the climatic environment within epiphytes. My research shows that frogs use the moist, cool microenvironments of large ferns for breeding and daytime retreat, which supports the buffered microhabitat hypothesis—these plants promote species coexistence through habitat creation and amelioration of physical stress (Scheffers et al in press Global Ecol. and Conserv.). My current work examines how altered rainfall regimes lead to loss of the functional capacity of these important fern habitats.

Assessing species vulnerability to climate change

The impact of climate change on ectotherms (amphibians and reptiles) will largely depend on their ability to find cool refuges that buffer abnormally high temperatures. My research on microhabitats in tropical ecosystems revealed their importance in mediating extreme climatic events (Scheffers et al 2014, Biology Letters; Scheffers et al 2014, Global Change Biology). Inclusion of microhabitat buffering should improve future assessments of species vulnerability to climate change (Scheffers et al 2013, Biotropica).

Assessing landscape resilience to climate change

For the past two years, I have worked to develop a pantropical assessment of thermal heterogeneity in degraded and pristine rainforest systems. My research is ongoing in Colombia, China, Borneo, the Philippines, Australia and Madagascar, and I am actively working to expand this network of monitoring into Africa (e.g., the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda). In this pantropical assessment, I examine the effects of selective logging on thermal regimes and microhabitat-thermal buffering (sampled via new thermal infrared imagery technologies) from ground to canopy. I hope to better understand how logging and fragmentation might synergize with novel climates in the future.

Community Ecology - Late Quaternary climate change, species traits, and distributions

I have spent the last year researching how historic climate change has shaped current species distributions across the wet tropical rainforest of Northeast Queensland, Australia. I queried large empirical databases of ~400K vertebrate species records, distributional traits (e.g., arboreality, dispersal ability, climate and habitat specialization, and body mass) and paleo-climate data spanning the Last Glacial Maximum to assess how arboreality and a suite of other traits influence biogeography at multiple spatial and temporal scales. I am expanding this research theme to other taxa and ecologically important regions of the world.

Biodiversity - predicting how much, where it lives and what it looks like

My research considers how biodiversity is organized on Earth, what we know about it and where future research should be focused (Scheffers et al 2012, Trends Ecol. Evol.). I have interests in species rediscoveries and assessments of future extinction risk (Scheffers et al 2011, PlosONE) and how we might identify key areas globally that are expected to be highly threatened by human activities but contain large numbers of undescribed species (Giam, Scheffers, et al 2011, Proc. Royal Soc. B).

Amphibian Research in North America

In Canada and the southeastern USA, my research examines the importance of spatial scales and environmental characteristics as determinants of community assemblage structure, species occurrence and abundance in pond-breeding amphibians, and focuses on how habitat loss and conversion affect pond-breeding amphibian communities (e.g., Scheffers et al 2012, Raffles Bulletin of Zoology; Hocking et al 2013 Forest Ecol. and Manage). My research in Southeastern USA examines how past conversion of hardwood forests to monoculture pine plantations effects breeding populations of the spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) (Scheffers et al 2013, Herpetol. Conserv. and Biol.).

Similarly, my research in Alberta, Canada, focuses on using constructed wetlands in urban environments to prevent genetic differentiation by aiding breeding, overwintering, and successful dispersal. This research monitors wood frog (Lithobates sylvatica) subpopulations in highly urbanized landscapes and combines long-term population monitoring, genetic population analysis, and radio- and powder-tracking to document habitat usage and home range size, and experimental aquatic arrays to explore larval developmental. I have advocated for constructed wetlands to be implemented in urban design - a successful applied strategy for increasing biodiversity in urbanized landscapes (Scheffers and Paszkowski 2012, Urban Ecosyst.; Scheffers and Paszkowski 2013, Land. Urban Plann.). I am also interested in the genetic structure of urban frog populations in my study area.