Global Change Ecology
Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development
• Climate change vulnerability of threatened plant species
• Species distribution models
• Global change, conservation, biogeography, and macroecology
Optimizing georeferencing for understanding vulnerability to climate change. Smith is an Assistant Scientists in Global Change Ecology who uses collections data and species distribution models to predict how climate change and human activities might affect threatened species. Herbarium and museum specimens are frequently used to predict species' responses to anticipated climate change using ecological niche models (also known as species distribution models). Many specimens were collected before widespread adoption of GPS or even appreciation for recording detailed locality descriptions. As a result, they cannot be matched with confidence to values of environmental conditions. Although it would be possible to georeference these specimens, this is a laborious process, so these "imprecise" specimens are typically discarded before analysis. In this project, the REU student will design and test an "optimum" strategy for retroactively georeferencing specimens for use in niche models. The student will assess how addition of records alters predictions of species' responses to present and future climate. The work can be done entirely online, though some work in the Garden herbarium may be possible if conditions allow. The successful candidate will be enthusiastic about plant conservation, detailed-oriented, and have experience in programming (an introductory course in the R language is available for all REUs at the start of the term). The REU student would also be supported by a team of peer-mentors (undergraduates, post-bachs, grad students, and postdocs) in the Smith lab (please see mentoring statement at www.earthSkySea.org/mentoring).