Determinants of island ecological complexity in the context of global change

Biodiversity is declining globally at an unprecedented rate. Representing ~30% of the biodiversity hotspots, islands are particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic activities, indeed 80% of reported extinctions are island species. Yet, unique island biodiversity which includes not only the species but also the myriad of interactions among them is still greatly unknown. It is thus urgent to describe it and forecast the consequences of its annihilation so we can mitigate the effect of further losses. Detecting ecological interactions and understanding their complexity is, however, one of the big challenges in the natural sciences. The advent of new theories and analytical tools, such as critical transition theory and complex network analysis, provides hope to reach that goal. As relatively simple systems with well-defined borders, islands have a great potential to advance our comprehension of nature complexity.

IslandLife will provide the most comprehensive and quantitatively sophisticated study of multilayer networks to date in any terrestrial ecosystem. We will focus on five archipelagos encompassing four oceans and a wide latitudinal gradient, comparing for the first time the food web structure of 'pristine' (little-disturbed) islands (of a few km2) with areas of similar size in nearby disturbed (human-inhabited) islands.

The objective is to unveil the unique biodiversity of these ecosystems, understand their complexity, and evaluate their fragility to global change drivers, such as biological invasions. We will combine direct observations during intense fieldwork, automatedvideo monitoring and deep-learning, cutting-edge molecular techniques, and newly developed coextinction models to predict persistence and resilience of island biota to disturbances. The project will represent a major breakthrough towards understanding the effects of global change on these valuable ecosystems, of great relevance to both theoretical ecologists and applied conservationists.


The key concept under examination in this project is the notion that minimally disturbed, mostly uninhabited (referred to as pristine) islands serve as havens for biodiversity. These islands not only safeguard species but also preserve intricate ecological interactions that have been eroded or are under threat on disturbed, nearby inhabited islands. The project aims to gain a comprehensive insight into how these vulnerable ecosystems respond to global change, with a specific focus on the influence of biological invasions.

IslandLife has four specific objetives. The first pair (O1-O2) addresses community structure and its drivers, while the second pair (O3-O4) concerns conservation and ecosystem restoration. This includes the impact of invasive species on potential ecosystem collapse and our capacity to validate predictive models for network reassembly.

The Project objectives

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