Biodiversity Discussion Group 


The Biodiversity Discussion Group meets weekly to discuss recent research papers and topics in biodiversity from both ecological and evolutionary perspectives. 

Any interested undergraduates, graduates, postdocs, and faculty are welcome to join the discussion. This is a friendly place - the question you have is probably a fundamental question many are wondering about. So speak up. 

Time: Mondays noon to 1 pm (bring a lunch)

Location: Rm 225 Biodiversity Research Centre (2nd floor; Sinclair Room). 

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Fall 2019 schedule

Please e-mail Benjamin Freeman if you have questions.

Spring 2020 Schedule



Readings, tasks etc.


Jan 13

Set schedule for spring

1. Show up & say hi

2. Eat lunch (bring your own) & snacks (I provide)

3. Share what topics/papers you want to discuss in BDG this fall. 

4. Discuss & come to consensus about highest priority topics/papers.

5. Set schedule for BDGspring l 2019.

Ben Freeman

Jan 20

Why we study what we do 

Read this paper.

Think about why you study what you do. Do you agree with the authors’ suggestion that we specifically target understudied species? Should we all start projects that address such taxonomic gaps & what would happen if we did? The article is mostly about taxonomic biases, but think too about the topics you study (not just the organisms/system). What made you pick these? 


Jan 27

Disintegrating “community ecology”: should we focus on  regional scales?

Read this paper.

The proposal is that a focus on “communities”, defined as local sets of species, prevents progress in understanding/explaining the distribution and abundance of species. 

What do you think? Is your research more local or regional? Do you agree that understanding distributions and abundances, which is often a textbook definition of ecology, requires taking an explicitly regional approach?


Feb 3

Stochastic communities

Read this paper.

How do you account for stochastic processes in your research? Do you?

In a world based on probabilities, is there still a place for simplified deterministic theories? In what contexts?

This paper is also relevant to the discussion from Jan 27 - what underlying goals is the field of community ecology currently addressing - and the potential benefit of embracing uncertainty


Feb 10

Parasites & host population dynamics / coexistence

Read this paper.

The authors applied their model to a scenario of plants undergoing succession -- does this application make sense? Under what other potential scenarios could we apply this model?

The authors considered scenarios where a hosts are interacting with both an enemy and a mutualist - which is in itself a novel contribution. Could this model be reasonably scaled up to larger communities? How might that affect the outcomes of coexistence/exclusion?


Feb 17


Family day

Feb 24

Urbanization & invasion

Read this paper.

and ponder:

How can urbanization alter competitive interactions between species?

Can we predict a species ability to become invasive in an urban context?

Could urbanization be used to tease apart coexistence mechanisms?

What are the special challenges than urban invasions pose?


March 2

Performance vs. range position in trees (are some of our core assumptions kind of really wrong?)

Read this paper.

- How can we reconcile this mismatch between species distributions and their performance optima with the fact that much of our theory assumes communities are at equilibria?

- When we try to infer how species assemble(d), how might this affect our assumptions or conclusions?

- What does this mean for trying to relate biodiversity to ecosystem function, if many species are in places where their performance is suboptimal?

- What is one way this occurence-performance mismatch could affect your work, and how could you account for it? Or does it not matter in the grand scheme of things?


March 9

 The right biodiversity index is…

Read this paper.

How should we measure local biodiversity?

Are any diversity indexes a useful tool for monitoring biodiversity?

What are the implications of our choices when measuring biodiversity for community ecology theory and biodiversity-ecosystem functioning?


March 16

Whole Earth vs. Half Earth


Read this paper.

  • How do we conserve biodiversity? Is measuring the amount of protected area and natural habitat enough?
  • Are global analyses with diverse caveats and potential errors valuable?
  • Does biodiversity conservation occur at the expense of humans and undervalue human landscapes?


March 23

Bayesian vs. frequentist approaches



March 30

Generalizability in science



April 6

failure in science (the truth [lots of it] and how to think 15about/deal with it)



April 13

our responsibility as scientists (advocacy etc)