Professor Cottenie's research focuses on metacommunity dynamics , with a special emphasis on aquatic ecosystems . A metacommunity consists of multiple communities in a landscape linked by dispersal of individuals. The metacommunity approach adds a layer of complexity above community dynamics and ...
Professor Cottenie's research focuses on metacommunity dynamics , with a special emphasis on aquatic ecosystems . A metacommunity consists of multiple communities in a landscape linked by dispersal of individuals. The metacommunity approach adds a layer of complexity above community dynamics and biodiversity: depending on the degree of dispersal and environmental heterogeneity between different sites, dynamics can be determined by local environmental conditions or by processes in neighboring sites that are propagated via dispersal of individuals. Professor Cottenie's employs a quantitative approach to integrate observational, experimental and synthetic data sets, gathered by his self and others, to study this interaction of dispersal and environmental processes. His research will form a continuation of his present and past work. Professor Cottenie focuses on three major lines of research philosophy: the integration of ecology and statistics, the combination of theory, observational and experimental data, and the synthesis of patterns . He will apply these principles to metacommunity dynamics, starting with freshwater communities as model systems for testing theory with observations and experiments. However, since metacommunity dynamics are a new and extremely relevant framework to study natural systems, collaborative projects in other systems (terrestrial, marine) will be valuable in our understanding of natural and manipulated systems. Several broad research questions he wants to explore are:
Three-dimensional metacommunity dynamics: Professor Cottenie mainly studied metacommunity dynamics at single snapshots in time, but adding a temporal dimension to this will be a challenging exercise, both data-analytically and conceptually. This can be done both at two levels, both with observational data and with modeling a specific lake system. The observational data involves time series in interconnected sites. The modeling study should incorporate both the spatially explicit setting, dispersal between the different ponds, local interactions such as competition, predation, input from resting egg bank, etc. The model will receive input from field observations, and will result in determining the relative effect of local versus regional dynamics. These can than be compared to the results from purely observational data, and in a third step will allow to manipulate the model parameters to determine for instance the amounts of dispersal necessary to switch from species sorting to mass effects in this system.
In the same study system, it would be interesting to compare macroinvertebrate metacommunity dynamics to other components of the ecosystem, phytoplankton, rotifers, fish, zooplankton, bacteria, macrophytes, etc. These groups with different body sizes, dispersal abilities, environment requirements, would form ideal contrasts to the published zooplankon metacommunity results. This is possible method to determine the influence of these factors on metacommunity dynamics.
Professor Cottenie would also continue with the research that started at NCEAS. Although gathering new data is important to improve the knowledge of particular systems and to test theories and hypotheses, using "old" data to answer new question or to synthesize the current information available in a particular field is indispensable in any science, but especially in ecology. Gathering data is a time-consuming and expensive process, and (re-)using as much as possible only adds to the value of data. Thus he intends to continue to synthesis research results using meta-analysis techniques and collaborative projects.
However, next to these fundamental ecological questions, he would also like to start applying metacommunity theory to more applied issues. Since metacommunity theory studies the interaction between local environmental and spatial dispersal processes, it will become the new paradigm in conservation biology. Metacommunity theory will be especially useful in the conservation problems regarding reserve design and invasive species/genetically modified organisms. The techniques he developed will be both valuable to design new reserves as to evaluate the ecological effectiveness of certain designs. Also the effectiveness in stopping the spread of invasive species depends on both the knowledge of interactions with the biotic and abiotic environment, as knowledge on dispersal characteristics of the species.