As a biologist, Richard is interested in the role of spatial processes in the generation and maintenance of biodiversity. Is there solid theory to describe how lineages of organisms evolve in space and time? Does existing theory predict the same spatial pattern of species richness and endemism we see around us? If we seek to manage biodiversity, we need to measure it - but how to do this is a long-standing problem in ecology. Does it matter that the units of biodiversity - species - are all the current product of both unique and shared evolutionary pressures and processes? Do we even need to overcome the "Wallacean shortfall": the difficult-to-know geography of which species is found where? Or can we simply abstract away all the differences in biology and ecology amongst species into different kinds and different amounts of ecosystem services?
What do we mean by "different ways of measuring diversity"? As an example, by interfacing the distribution and phylogeny of mammals, we can determine two different Gondwanan legacies in Africa and South America: there are different kinds of mammal diversity on sister continents. Below, vertical extrusion is proportional to the number of mammal species today, and heat colour is proportional to their phylogenetic relatedness. African mammals took a long time to reach their current high richness, and are evolutionarily diverse. The mammals of South America, conversely, are characterised by explosive radiations leading to large families of close relatives (data from Davies et al. 2008).
The richness and average relatedness of mammal species in Africa and South America
As a conservationist Richard is interested in numerical and analytical strategies for the conservation of biodiversity. He uses techniques from evolutionary biology and ecology coupled with high-performance computing to dissect, analyze and advise the conservation process. Numerical analyses like this - usually called Strategic Conservation Planning - can help make maximally efficient on-the-ground conservation decisions (see his review of the 2010 book by Moilanen et al.). Numerical analyses can also help us understand what the conservation business today has become, what it does well (and not-so-well), and how it might have to change in an uncertain, pressured future.
When we make choices about where and how to do conservation we make it more likely that some species and populations survive than others. Hopefully all these likelihoods are kept high, but we still induce differential risk. As a result we have a duty to make sure that the portfolio of biodiversity we favour has desirable properties. This could be as simple as having as many species in it as possible, or as complex as maximising functional or genetic diversity: again, it all comes down to how you measure diversity and how much difference it makes to resource allocation by conservation practitioners. To me, this means that conservation plans that aren't assessed against solutions to at least some form of spatial combinatoric problem with a defined optimality criterion simply aren't credible science, however politic they may be.
Relative performance of different types of priority network
- Rodrigues, A.S.L., Grenyer, R., Baillie, J.E.M., Bininda-Emonds, O.R.P., Gittlemann, J.L., Hoffmann, M., Safi, K., Schipper, J., Stuart, N. and Brooks, T.M. (in press) Complete, accurate, mammalian phylogenies aid conservation planning, but not much. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series B.
- Purvis, A., Fritz, S.A., Rodriguez, J., Harvey, P.H., and Grenyer, R. (in press) The shape of mammalian phylogeny: patterns, processes and scales. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
- Davies, T.J., Buckley, L., Grenyer, R., and Gittleman, J.L.G. (in press) One size fits none: the influence of past and present climate on the distribution of modern mammal diversity. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
- Powney, G.D., Grenyer, R., Orme, C.D.L., Owens, I.P.F. and Meiri, S. (2010) Hot, dry and different: Australian lizard richness is unlike that of mammals, amphibians and birds. Global Ecology & Biogeography, 19(3): 386-396.
- Nicholson, E., Mace, G.M., Armsworth, P.R., Atkinson, G., Buckle, S., Clements, T., Ewers, R.M., Fa, J.A., Gardner, T.A., Gibbons, J., Grenyer, R., Metcalfe, R., Mourato, S., Muuls, M., Osborn, D., Peck, L. Reuman, D.C., Watson, C. and Milner-Gulland, E.J. (2009) Priority research areas for ecosystem services in a changing world. Ecological Applications, 46(6): 1139-1144.
- Jones, K.E.J., Bielby, J., Cardillo, M., Fritz, S.A., O'Dell, J., Orme, C.D.L., Safi, K., Sechrest, W., Boakes, E.H., Carbone, C., Connolly, C., Cutts, M.J., Foster, J.K., Grenyer, R., Habib, M., Plaster, C.A., Price, S.A., Rigby, E.A., Rist, J., Teacher, A., Bininda-Emonds, O.R.P., Gittleman, J.L., Mace, G.M., and Purvis, A. (2009) PanTHERIA: a species-level database of life history, ecology and geography of extant and recently extinct mammals. Ecology, 90: 2648.
- Meiri, S., Dayan, T., Simberloff, D. and Grenyer, R. (2009) Life on the edge: carnivore body size variation is all over the place. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B, 276(1661): 1469-1476.
- Davies, T.J., Fritz, S.A., Grenyer, R., Orme, C.D.L., Bielby, J., Bininda-Emonds, O.R.P, Cardillo, M., Jones, K.E.J., Gittleman, J.L., Mace, G.M. and Purvis, A. (2008) Phylogenetic trees and the future of mammalian biodiversity. Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences, USA, 105(1): 11556-11563.
- Grenyer, R., Orme, C.D.L., Jackson, S.F., Thomas, G.H., Davies, R.G., Davies, T.J., Jones, K.E., Olson, V.A., Rasmussen, P.C., Ding, T-Z., Bennett, P.M., Blackburn, T.M., Gaston, K.J., Gittleman, J.L. and Owens, I.P.F. (2007) Reply: 'Effective Conservation Strategies'. Nature, 450: E20, online BCA.
- Bininda-Emonds, O.R.P., Cardillo, M., Jones, K.E., MacPhee, R.D.E., Beck, R.M.D., Grenyer, R., Price, S.A., Vos, R.A., Gittleman, J.L. and Purvis, A. (2007) The delayed rise of present-day mammals. Nature, 446: 507-512.
- Forest, F., Grenyer, R., Rouget, M., Davies, T.J., Cowling, R.M., Faith. D.P., Balmford, A., Manning, J.C., Proches, S., van der Bank, M., Reeves, G., Hedderson, T.A.J. and Savolainen, V. (2007) Preserving the evolutionary potential of floras in biodiversity hotspots. Nature, 445: 757-760.
- Grenyer, R., Orme, C.D.L., Jackson, S.F., Thomas, G.H., Davies, R.G., Davies, T.J., Jones, K.E., Olson, V.A., Ridgely, R.S., Rasmussen, P.C., Ding, T-Z., Bennett, P.M., Blackburn, T.M., Gaston, K.J., Gittleman, J.L. and Owens, I.P.F. (2006) The global distribution and conservation of rare and threatened vertebrates. Nature, 444: 93-96.
- Davies, T.J., Grenyer, R. and Gittleman, J.L. (2005) Phylogeny can make the mid-domain effect an inappropriate null model. Biology Letters, 1(2): 143-146.
- Dennis, R.L.H., Hodgson, J.G., Grenyer, R., Shreeve, T.G. and Roy, D.B. (2004) Hostplants and butterfly biology: do plant CSR strategies drive butterfly status? Ecological Entomology, 29(1): 12-26.
- Bininda-Emonds, O.R.P., Jones, K.E., Price, S.A., Grenyer, R., Cardillo, M., Habib, M., Purvis, A. and Gittleman, J.L. (2003) Supertrees are a necessary not-so-evil: a comment on Gatesy et al. Systematic Biology, 52(5): 724-729.
- Grenyer, R. and Purvis, A. (2003) A composite species-level phylogeny of the 'Insectivora' (Mammalia, Lipotyphla Haeckel 1866). Journal of Zoology, 260: 245-257.
- Barton, R.A., Aggleton, J.P. and Grenyer, R. (2003) Evolutionary coherence of the mammalian amygdala. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B, 270(1514): 539-543.
- Bininda-Emonds, O.R.P., Cardillo, M., Jones, K.E., MacPhee, R.D.E., Beck, R.M.D., Grenyer, R., Price, S.A., Gittleman, J.L. and Purvis, A. (2006) The tree of life. In, MacDonald, D.W. (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, New Edition. pp. xxxii.
- Purvis, A., Cardillo, M., Sechrest, W., Grenyer, R. and Collen, B. (2005) Chapter 13 in, Correlates of extinction risk: phylogeny, biology, threat and scale. In, Purvis, A., Gittleman, J.L. and T. Brooks (eds.) Phylogeny and Conservation. Conservation Biology Series, 10. Cambridge University Press.
- Bininda-Emonds, O.R.P., Jones, K.E., Price, S.A., Cardillo, M, Grenyer, R. and Purvis, A. (2004) Garbage in, garbage out: data issues in supertree construction. In, Bininda-Emonds, O.R.P. (ed.) Phylogenetic Supertrees: Combining information to reveal the Tree of Life. Computational Biology Series, 4. Kluwer Academic.
- Grenyer, R. (2009) A book for our time. Book review of, Moilanen, A., Wilson, K.A. and H. Possingham (2009) 'Spatial Conservation Prioritization'. Frontiers of Biogeography, 1(2): 50.