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Research areas

Our partners carry out many exciting and cutting-edge research projects in different fields related to biodiversity, addressing both basic and applied research questions. Below is a selection of some of the main topics that are covered by our partners.

Molecular phylogenetics: Building the tree (or network) of life
How are organisms related to one another? And how far back in time must we look to find these “splits” between groups? One way to explore this is by looking at DNA and use the information coded in it to build phylogenetic trees. Phylogenetic trees are schematic representations of how groups evolve over time: but they aren't always as straightforward as one might hope.

We develop tools and methods for combining DNA sequences from all living organisms into large synthetic phylogenetic trees, calibrated in absolute time using fossils. The goal of this is to fully integrate the data generated locally (in our labs) with all suitable data available in public DNA databases (in labs all over the world). Yet, sometimes these trees aren’t entirely “tree-like.” When the history of taxa involves hybridisation events (where species come together, or hybridise, instead of splitting apart), we attempt to visualize this by developing methods to estimate species networks from the gene trees.

Conservation genetics

Conservation is fundamentally based on knowing what is in a certain place, and then working to protect it. But what is the best way to know what is there? We can use our binoculars to spot birds and look at flowers to identify plants: but what about rare species that might hide from biologists? Or how about microorganisms? For this we again look to DNA.

Using a technique called “next generation sequencing,” or NGS for short, it is possible to go out into the field and simply collect some soil, scat or a trap full of insects and look at all of the DNA in the sample. Through this, we can go beyond simple species counts in biodiversity, especially for threatened and rare species where genetic diversity may be a key component for designing optimal conservation strategies.

Studies on this “environmental DNA” extend biodiversity knowledge beyond what can be observed by the naked eye, by linking DNA sequences to traditional taxonomic knowledge that is well-documented in the collections of our partners.

Biodiversity analyses

Understanding biodiversity involves working on both living (or “extant”) as well as extinct species. When a specimen is collected its collection locality is noted, or “georeferenced.” This information can then be used for many purposes.

The GGBC’s partners are in the process of developing tools to extract a signal from the massive amount of georeferenced data available. This work attempts to take into account, and whenever possible also correct, various sources of bias and errors in the data. These include uneven taxonomic sampling, geographic and temporal sampling biases, as well as errors in species identification and collection locality records.

Once cleaned, georeferenced data can be used in many fields, for example in evolutionary biogeography or to identify areas for conservation.

Filling knowledge gaps

Our partners are working to make species data more accessible by digitising collections and making them publicly available. This will include all species, and several specimens per species of all of the collections maintained by our partners. This will then be integrated with observation data (species sightings) from students, staff, and citizens that are submitted to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and other Swedish and international data repositories.
 

Ecology and evolution

Have you ever noticed that a tropical rainforest has many more species of plants and animals than in a Swedish lake landscape? This trend is well known, but the reasons for its existence are not fully understood.

We carry out theoretical and empirical studies aimed at understanding the biotic and abiotic triggers of species diversification (specifically species birth, or speciation, and species death, or extinction) and migration, at various temporal, spatial and taxonomic scales. These analyses shed further light on the underlying causes for the world’s uneven distribution of diversity, and can reveal previously unknown links between climate change and biodiversity responses.

The historical and evolutionary insights gained can then be applied to models that predict biodiversity losses, so that conservation efforts can be directed at species and regions anticipated to feel the strongest effects of global changes.

Evolutionary ecology

Using the framework of phylogenetic trees, discussed above, we can link evolutionary and ecological processes to groups of organisms through time. These studies focus on speciation, competition, predation, mutualism, and other biotic interactions of relevance and use combined data to understand basic ecosystem services and functions.

Functional diversity, or the range of interactions amongst organisms and their environments, constitutes a poorly explored, but increasingly important component of biodiversity.

Software development and bioinformatics

As we move into the era of next generation sequencing, and full-genome analyses, major computational hurdles are constantly arising. Genomic research involves filtering and cleaning “raw data,” genome annotation and assembly, and genome-based analyses of gene expression, phylogenetic relationships, and species trees, among others. These projects are computationally intensive and require the ongoing development of novel tools to deal with new questions.

The centre uses a large number of publicly available software packages for various purposes, but sometimes tools are missing from our toolbox. When there are no readily available solutions for a computational problem, we instead create our own tools and programs to address our problems. These are then made available to the broader scientific community.
 

Page Manager: Erika Hoff|Last update: 4/12/2017
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