The research of the computational ecology lab focuses on relating individuals, populations and species to the prevalent environmental conditions that define the conditions, or the ecological niche(s), under which they occur. Interesting conceptual and methodological questions arise from the highly dynamic nature of both the individuals’ changing ecological demands and the fluctuations that natural environments typically display. Our goal is to understand when and where to find animals by understanding the rules that they use to mitigate the environmental conditions and thereby understand how a changing world will affect the distribution patterns of biological diversity at various scales. We want to scale from individuals to collectives, to populations, to species and ultimately species communities. Methodologically, we are actively seeking novel ways to accommodate the dynamic nature of both individuals’ changing ecological needs as well as the changes in the environments in which these animals operate. Only by understanding the causes and consequences that underlie these sources of fluctuations it is that we can generalise across taxonomic, spatial and temporal scales. The outlet of our research is important for conservation purposes, as knowing what resources individuals, populations and species require at which times and places to sustain. On the other end, once we understand how biological life interacts with the environment, studying them can also tell us much about changes in the environment which might otherwise be very hard to measure conventionally.
This video exemplifies some of the work the computational ecology lab is regularly doing to relate movement to the environmental conditions. The line is a track of a migrating gull that was fitted with a GPS-Satellite tag. Remote sensing information was used to reconstruct the landuse coverage that the gull crossed on its way South, as well as a digital elevation model showing the elevation. Finally, a global wind model was used to reconstruct the wind conditions along flight. Can you see how ground speed and wind direction and wind speed are related?