What lies beneath? How patterns in ecology and evolution inform us about underlying processes

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In my thesis I have set out to understand processes in ecology and evolution by looking at patterns caused by these processes and using computer models to match these patterns.
Firstly I have focused on how ecological communities are assembled, and used patterns in the trait- and species abundance distribution to infer underlying processes. I found that community assembly in savanna tree and cichlid fish communities is mostly determined by stochastic dispersal events. Furthermore I find that the specific dispersal syndrome is of great importance for community assembly in tropical tree communities.
In order to be able to use phylogenies to infer past diversification rates, I have first checked the impact of the used tree-branching model during reconstruction of phylogenies, and have tested the performance of several summary statistics in Approximate Bayesian Computation (ABC). The tree-branching model turns out to not bias subsequent findings, whilst established summary statistics currently available for ABC perform poorly, and we therefore introduced a novel summary statistic: the nLTT. Using the nLTT we then set out to infer the effect of past water level changes in Lake Tanganyika, Zambia, on the diversification of cichlid fish. Using an established phylogeny, we are however unable to detect any effect of these water level changes.
In conclusion I find that using patterns to improve our understanding of underlying processes becomes more and more feasible with the current growth and increasing accessibility of computational power, and suspect that we are only on the brink of a new age of theoretical research in ecology and evolution.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Groningen
  • Etienne, Rampal, Supervisor
Award date27-Mar-2015
Place of Publication[S.l.]
Print ISBNs978-90-367-7663-9
Electronic ISBNs978-90-367-7662-2
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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