Image of the forest in Brazilian Atlantic forest

Dimensions US-BIOTA-São Paulo: A Multidisciplinary Framework for Biodiversity Prediction in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest Hotspot

Fabián Michelangeli and Wayt Thomas

The goals of this research is to explain and predict the distribution of animal and plant species in the endangered yet megadiverse Brazilian Atlantic forest. The investigators are correlating biogeographic and environmental patterns across major clades in order to understand patterns in this biodiversity hotspot. The project entails study of both climate and landscape, and their changes over the last 120,000 years. This information will enable understanding of how species have responded to repeated environmental shifts of the past. Data from Earth-orbiting satellites will be combined with meteorological data and paleoenvironmental information from the fossil pollen record and ancient precipitation data derived from the geochemistry of deposits found in caves. These data, combined with information on modern species ranges, genetic diversity, physiological tolerances, host-pathogen dynamics, and regional shifts in the composition of the biota will demonstrate how the biodiversity of the Atlantic forest evolved over time.

This study is enabling the reconstruction of historical factors influencing current biodiversity and, given a range of climate change scenarios, permitting the prediction of the future composition of biodiversity in the Atlantic forest or elsewhere. Forest areas of geological stability, physical connectivity, and higher genetic diversity are being identified so that forests or species under extinction threat can be conserved. In response to current concern about the value of ecosystem services and climate change, this study provides a model of how to predict biodiversity change. A traveling exhibit will reach out to commuters in São Paulo and New York. Collaborations among research groups in Brazil and the US is central to the project’s student training plan. The project also strengthens a minority-serving campus, ensuring that North American students underrepresented in science are exposed to trans-disciplinary, international work.

More information: Atlantic Forest Dimensions of Biodiversity