Origins, assembly and conservation of plant diversity in the European Alps – Origin-Alps
A major aim of biology and ecology is to understand the historical and contemporary processes that underpin patterns of biodiversity and shape the particularly species-rich assemblages of certain regions. This requires unraveling a number of key processes: (i) the macroevolutionary dynamics of species diversification, (ii) the mechanisms of species differentiation and speciation, and (iii) the historical and environmental drivers of community assembly (e.g. functional or phylogenetic diversity) and ecosystem functioning. While deciphering the importance of those key processes is pivotal for biodiversity management and conservation planning, empirical analyses are still hampered by a lack of high quality data on species traits and distributions, community data (e.g. vegetation survey) and phylogenetic information. There is also no existing analytical framework capable of analyzing and deciphering those processes and their importance in biodiversity protection.
Isolated mountain ranges provide a unique opportunity to study the processes generating biodiversity, and practical aspects of its conservation under a common ecological and historical setting. Here, we focus on the European Alps, one of the coldest biomes on the planet. This region is a well known hotspot of biodiversity in Europe, with fairly high plant endemism (about 13%). The growing evidence that alpine biodiversity is highly threatened by global changes urges us to advance our understanding of how alpine biodiversity has emerged and diversified, how this biodiversity is structured along the steep environmental gradients of alpine landscapes, and ultimately assess whether the existing network of protected areas cover the different components (e.g. rarity, endemism, functional and phylogenetic diversity, phylogenetic endemism) of the flora of European Alps.
The overarching aim of this project is thus to reconstruct the evolutionary and ecological assembly of the Flora of the European Alps and to use this knowledge for assessing current protection schemes. Over the last decade, the two project partners (WSL and LECA) have undertaken an important effort of sampling and sequencing of all 4,500 plant taxa occurring in the Alps, which represents an unprecedented source of raw genomic data to the current project. This will be complemented by compiling and harmonizing eco-informatic data on the whole Alpine Flora (species traits, geographic distribution and vegetation plot surveys) [Task1]. The project addresses four questions. How and when have certain plant groups experienced increased species diversification into harsh alpine environments, while biogeographic theories predict higher diversification in warmer environments [Task2]? What is the phylogenetic structure of plant meta-communities and can we infer speciation scenarios from that structure [Task3]? How are plant communities assembled along environmental gradients, and what drives the spatial co-variation between different biodiversity facets [Task4]? How well does the current reserve network cover different biodiversity facets in the Alpine Region [Task5]?
The project will generate an unprecedented genomic and ecological database for the whole Flora of the European Alps, and will provide a gold-standard reference data for plant phylogenomics and eco-informatics at the scale of an entire biogeographic region. This opens novel horizons for biodiversity research, community ecology and conservation planning.
Monsieur Sébastien LAVERGNE (Laboratoire d'Ecologie Alpine)
The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.
WSL Swiss Federal Research Institute
LECA Laboratoire d'Ecologie Alpine
Help of the ANR 323,645 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2016 - 36 Months