Developing an integrated framework to investigate biodiversity responses to global change

NERC research fellowship project



This project aims to establish and implement an integrated framework to understand and predict the responses of biodiversity to global environmental change. We combine genomic tools with ecological research, geographical data and modelling approaches to determine how climate change will interact with habitat loss and environmental heterogeneity to affect the future distribution, genetic composition and long-term persistence of species as a function of their adaptive potential. European forest bats are used as a model for mammals and birds that are at risk of extinction from range and habitat loss as a result of global changes.




Project components


We assess population exposure to future climate change using predictive distribution modelling, incorporating the effect of climate change, land cover changes, dispersal and interspecific competition. We are developing individual-based demographic models of species dispersal under future climate change as a function of landscape heterogeneity.


We are generating genomic datasets (using ddRAD-sequencing and RNA-sequencing) to study population sensitivity to climate change. We aim to identify genomic regions under selection involved in local adaptations to warmer temperatures, lower rainfall and higher climatic variability.

Adaptive Potential

We mathematically model the probability of the spread of adaptive alleles in populations taking into account migration between populations.

Range Shift Potential

This project uses the landscape genetics/genomics approach to determine the range shift potential of populations that are predicted to be found in climatically unsuitable areas by the end of this century. We study the effects of environmental heterogeneity on the spatial distribution of both neutral and adaptive, ecologically-significant, genetic variation. And use this approach in a predictive manner to model the future spread of adaptive variation.

Population Persistence

Different project components will be combined to model the probability of population persistence under future climate change and identify at risk populations and geographical areas.

Applied Conservation

Scientific findings will be translated into management recommendations for conserving forest bats under future climate change. This project will also contribute to promoting the inclusion of genetic and genomic data in conservation management and research.


Landscape Genetics: the effect of environmental heterogeneity on movement ecology and range shifts

Combining spatial ecology and population genetics

How does environmental heterogeneity affect the movement of organisms across the landscape and the spatial distribution of genetic variation?

Geographic and environmental features of the landscape, such as barriers and habitat discontinuity, can structure genetic variation at the individual and population levels via their effect on dispersal and gene flow. Landscape genetics offers an interdisciplinary approach for relating spatial genetic patterns to the effects of environmental heterogeneity on the movement of organisms.

Project 1: Landscape Genetics across spatial scales

Our work has shown the scale-dependent effect of the landscape on gene flow and population structure in bats. We found that across the range of the grey long-eared bat, Plecotus austriacus, connectivity is limited by broad-scale patterns of habitat suitability, while at finer spatial scales, land cover variables played a more important role. Connectivity in the fragmented UK population, at the northern edge of the grey long-eared bat range, was limited by distance to its main foraging habitat, unimproved grasslands (meadows).


Razgour et al. 14_Diversity&Distributions_Landscape Genetics



Project 2: Ecological connectivity in sky island bats of the Ethiopian Highlands

Funder: British Ecological Society

Tropical highland ecosystems are highly sensitive to global change, especially in under-studied areas like Ethiopia that are threatened by extensive anthropogenic habitat loss and degradation. With our Ethiopian, Spanish and Portuguese collaborators we are studying how these sky islands and the intervening landscape matrix shape the genetic diversity and distribution of their unique fauna, focusing on the little known diversity of the Ethiopian Highlands’ Plecotus bat community.




Project 3: Predictive Landscape Genetics

Future climate change is predicted to result in major shifts in the distribution of species, and therefore identifying factors that facilitate movement and genetic connectivity among populations is a major challenge for conservation. We use landscape genetics as a predictive tool to assess how species will shift their ranges to track changes in climatic suitability and inform conservation measures that will facilitate movement.





Razgour et al. Climatic adaptations bats

Adaptations to environmental change

Using genomic data and ecological analysis to identify signatures of climate-driven local adaptations in species of conservation concern.

Understanding the genetic basis of environmental adaptations is essential for predicting biodiversity responses to global environmental changes. We combine population genomics and ecological approaches to identify signatures of climate-driven local adaptations in wild populations of non-model species.

In a project funded by the University of Stirling Impact Fellowship we studied whether bats show genetic adaptations to climatic conditions associated with climate change.

We used a reduced genome representation approach (ddRAD-sequencing) to sequence parts of the genomes of individuals from ten populations of the grey long-eared bat, Plecotus austriacus, from across climatic gradients in the Iberian Peninsula and England, representing the northern and southern range limits.

We identified genomic regions associated with adaptations to both warmer and drier climatic conditions.

We used genomic and ecological data to model the spread of adaptive genetic variation under future climate change.

Razgour et al. Climatic adaptations bats

Razgour et al. Climatic adaptations bats

Myotis escalerai in flight, photo: Antton Alberdi

Phylogeography and evolutionary history

Combining genetic and environmental data with spatial modelling and inference of evolutionary history to show how past climatic changes shaped patterns of genetic variation.

Insights from the past into biodiversity responses to future climate change

Understanding how past climatic fluctuations during the Pleistocene affected the distribution of species and patterns of genetic variation across their ranges can help predict biodiversity responses to future changes. Our research combines genetic and environmental data with spatial modelling and inference of evolutionary history to show how past climatic changes shaped the current distribution of genetic variation in species with different distributions and ecological requirements.


Project 1: Shaping of genetic variation in edge of range populations under past and future climate change

We combined genetic analysis with ecological niche modelling across temporal scales and Approximate Bayesian Computation model-based inference of evolutionary history to research the effects of past and future climate change on edge of range populations of the grey long-eared bat, Plecotus austriacus.

Razgour et al. 2013_Phylogegoraphy_Plecotus_austriacus

Razgour et al. 2013_Phylogegoraphy_Plecotus_austriacus



Project 2: Contrasting population-level responses to Pleistocene climatic changes in widely distributed species

We sequenced the full mitochondrial genome of a widely distributed Palearctic bat restricted to mountain ranges, the alpine long-eared bat, Plecotus macrobullaris. We integrated ecological niche modelling, approximate Bayesian computation (ABC), measures of genetic diversity and Bayesian phylogenetic methods to study the effect of differences in the extent of glaciation events on the demographic history of separate lineages.


Alberdi et al. 2015_Phylogeography_Plecotus macrobullaris



Project 3: Unravelling the evolutionary history and future prospects of endemic species

We used an integrated approach, combining markers with different evolutionary rates and combining phylogenetic analysis with approximate Bayesian computation and species distribution modelling across temporal scales. We related phylogeographic processes to patterns of genetic variation in Myotis escalerai, a recently confirmed bat species endemic to the Iberian Peninsula.


Razgour et al. 2015_Phylogeography Myotis escalerai