Principal investigators: Maria Paniw, Ph.D. and Arpat Ozgul, Ph.D., Assistant professor
“Interspecific Interactions and Coexistence” is a collaborative research project led by Maria Paniw from Estación Biológica de Doñana, Spain and Arpat Ozgul from University of Zurich, CH. The project aims to investigate how climate change is impacting the ecological community of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa, specifically focusing on the indirect effects of climatic extremes on the community dynamics and coexistence of species.
Drylands, like the Kalahari Desert, are among the most affected ecosystems by increases in temperature extremes, and these changes are expected to have cascading effects on the ecosystem and its inhabitants. While direct effects of climatic extremes on populations are important, it is also critical to consider how climatic extremes affect the abundances of other species in an ecological community, and how this in turn impacts a focal species. This project seeks to supplement the long-term data collected on focal species in the Kalahari Desert with novel monitoring schemes on species interactions and coexistence.
To achieve this, the research team will be assessing spatiotemporal changes in the abundances of soil fauna, which are the main food items of meerkats and other small carnivores, under climate change. This will involve using focal soil fauna sampling methods to monitor changes in abundance and diversity of the soil fauna over time. The team will also set up extensive camera-trap surveys to understand interactions in above-ground ecological communities, allowing them to identify the species present, their abundances and movements, and how they interact with each other. In addition to these ecological measures, the team will also be monitoring changes in plant phenology, as this can impact both the soil fauna and the species that rely on them. By combining all of this data, the team hopes to gain a comprehensive understanding of community-wide interactions and how climate change is affecting these interactions in the Kalahari Desert.
This research will contribute to our understanding of the indirect effects of climate change on ecological communities, which are often overlooked in studies focused only on direct effects. Ultimately, the project will contribute to our broader understanding of how climate change is affecting the biodiversity and functioning of arid ecosystems.