Detailed action plan for the triennium 2016-2019

The first two phases of the iCCB Programme (2007 – 2015) successfully developed a scientific community working on trait-based approaches within the context of integrated Climate Change Biology (iCCB). New methodologies and research frameworks were developed and an important research agenda pushed to the forefront of conversation palaeontology. The final phase of the iCCB Programme under IUBS will bring to fruition some of the most impactful products, both in the short and long term, from this community, including a high impact perspectives paper on “Managing for a Changing Planet” and a book on methodologies associated with the ecometric approach. We plan to work toward securing institutional support for the iCCB mission in continuing to advance the research in trait-based approaches to conservation, as well as work towards planning a larger global change initiative under IUBS.

Scientific goals of the iCCB for next three years

Our goal is to target the larger iCCB workshops for the training workshop and for future long-term transition of the program. In 2016 we will organise a training workshop for ecometric methods that is targeted for students and early career scientists. In 2017 and 2018 the larger workshops will concentrate on the future of a global change initiative sponsored by IUBS and on how to tranform the iCCB to a new program.

Each year we will also sponsor one or two smaller iCCB working group meetings that will facilitate core iCCB research to bring the ongoing research to conclusion. We will also look for other financial support to have up to three small workshops per year (two sponsored by iCCB, one with external funding). The small working groups in the iCCB past have been remarkably effective and so we plan to continue that model.

The ongoing research can be roughly categorized under four different themes


The underlying environmental mechanisms contributing to ecometric patterns is the focus of this theme. Specifically, we model terrestrial vertebrate communities, through their feeding ecology, body size, and locomotory traits, in the context of their geographic movement, community assembly, and evolution under changing climates. Understanding which underlying environmental mechanisms contribute to the distribution of traits will allow us to better apply and interpret ecometric patterns in the fossil record, and will allow us to better project patterns under future climate scenarios. In addition, modelling ecometric traits is important to understand how to extrapolate empirical data collected at local and regional scales to patterns that emerge at continental and global scales. The Ecometrics Modelling Group has completed a publication introducing the new bottom-up modelling framework (Polly et al. 2015 in press). The next step is to move the modelling framework to a context of environmental change through time, which is not a trivial task. The Ecometrics Modelling Group plans to meet at least three times during the next triennium to move forward this scientific goal. In addition to one independent meeting, we will overlap our cursory meetings with a society conference (likely Society of Vertebrate Paleontology) that we regularly attend to minimize costs associated with the extra Ecometrics Modelling Group meetings.

Ecometric patterns 

We will focus on establishing the theoretical basis for ecometric relationships and their significance in understanding trait distributions by combining mechanistic studies of trait function, such as biomechanical models of tooth wear and limb strength and physiological models of metabolic tolerances in modern vertebrates, with correlative studies based on multivariate regression of functional trait and  environmental variables, akin to species distribution modeling. This approach allows us to estimate both function and efficacy traits and their resultant potential for inferring btoh biotic responses to future climate change and paleoenvironments from fossil trait records.

Past (and present) Biodiversity

Modeling future biodiversity losses and biosphere-climate feedbacks is inherently difficult because of the complex, nonlinear interactions with competing effects that result from different responses to environmental changes. The fossil record is arguably the best archive on the generation and long-term maintenance of biodiversity under changing environmental conditions. We will use  datasets of terrestrial fossil data, encompassing mammal data of the last 65 million years (Ma), that are combined with functional trait data and estimates of spatially resolved terrestrial climate. The goal is to investigate whether mammalian biodiversity is correlated to climate, productivity or habitat heterogeneity through time, and examine how mammalian functional traits are related to diversity through time.

Paleo-occupancy modelling group

Species distribution models have been used frequently to model changes in species’ geographic distribution through time, resulting in a surface of the probability of occurrence given a model of species’ climate tolerances. This approach is useful for paleobiologists to estimate probability of occurrence of a species at a fossil locality, which will contribute to a better understanding of the community composition and probable ecometric distribution of traits. However, species distribution models are sensitive to inherent biases in occurrence data. We will develop a framework to incorporate occupancy models into the estimation of the probable ecometric distribution at a fossil locality by simultaneously estimating the probability of detection and the probability of occurrence of a species, given covariates related to detection (e.g., preservation, depositional environment, and species traits).

Strategy for iCCB conclusion and Phase III plan of action

We are planning to bring together the modern biologists (e.g. BCGC), paleo-minded scientists (iCCB and related organisations), and policymakers or their representatives (BiGCB – Hadley and Barnosky) in the visioning of a post-iCCB funded programme from IUBS. We are planning to have one visioning meetings and one practical planning meetings for the future of a global change initiative sponsored by IUBS with the context of the Future Earth initiative in mind. It will take time, effort, and networking to become affiliated with Future Earth, so we plan for this process to take several years, if the visioning and planning meetings of post IUBS funded iCCB programme move toward that direction. We would like to host these meetings in, for example, Norway to facilitate input from executive IUBS officials (Nils Chr. Stenseth) and in collaboration with the IUBS funded BCGC Programme.


Detailed action plan for the triennium 2012-2015

Building on the successful interactions of the first phase of the iCCB Programme, in the next triennium we will focus on disseminating trait-based approaches to integrated climate change biology, including educational outreach via the internet, targeted symposia at several large conferences, dissemination of trait-based data to facilitate new integrative research, and original research by iCCB working groups.
The overarching scientific goal of Phase II of the iCCB will be to develop synthetic modelling of changing climates and changing community assemblages using trait-based approaches and phylogenetics.  The modelling is key to comparing patterns at different temporal and spatial scales because it is only by extrapolation from one scale to another that empirical data specific to different scales can be compared.  Example questions that require such comparisons are:  Are current rates of geographic range extension faster or slower than ones associated with non-anthropogenic climate changes in deep time?  Given rates of evolutionary change that occurred as adaptation to changing climates in the past, to what extent can species adapt to the forecasted climate change of the next century?  Are the patterns of community reorganization we see in the present greater than those that occurred during major extinction events in the past?  We made significant steps toward this goal in Phase I of iCCB by identifying the trait-based approach to scaling and by initiating analysis of data and development of modelling.  In the final year of the project collaborations that synthesize the modelling of animal traits and vegetation, vegetation and climate, and the phylogenetic evolution of traits have begun bearing fruit.  We will continue this scientific momentum by continuing to foster a working network of core researchers to address targeted problems, and to disseminate the approach to researchers outside this core and around the world.

Educational outreach

Outreach materials aimed at researchers around the world who are interested in climate change biology to teach the principles of integrating data from paleontological, ecological, and climate change biology, as well as to teach analytical techniques.  This educational mission will be accomplished in several ways, including web-based modules and recorded lectures, an instructional workshop(s), and data (see point 2 below). In the first and second years of the triennium we will produce a short series of recorded lectures on the theory and practice of trait-based climate change research along with document-based papers and how-to guides.  We will promote this material in publications, listserves, twitter and newsfeeds, and in conference presentations.  We intend these educational outreach materials to be useful to researchers around the world who might not normally have the opportunity to attend major international conferences or workshops.

We will also offer at least one workshop on trait-based climate change research at a location outside Europe and the US/Canda. Our plan is to offer this workshop in the second year, with the third year being a fall-back if there are logistical problems. Our current plan is to conduct this workshop in Mexico at the Centro de Investigatión en Biodiversidad y Conservación (CIBYC) of the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos (UAEM) in Cuernavaca. One of us (Polly) has taught successful workshops at CIBYC in the past that were well attended by research students from a broad geographic area.  The conservation focus of CIBYC is compatible with the aims of iCCB and the potential for expanding the iCCB research network with CIBYC is high. We will seek external funding for this workshop to cover expenses of the instructors and to subsidize the cost for those who attend.

Trait-based data

Additionally, we will establish a database on traits that will be publicly available for these research questions, and link it with existing databases.  These data will be available to researchers around the world to facilitate new trait-based research on climate change biology.  We plan to make available the data sets that have been generated by iCCB research in its first triennium along with software code to analyse them.  The data we have compiled so far include global climate data for the present and past resampled with a 50 km grid that represents the spatial sampling we expect in the fossil record.  Similarly, we have sampled several paleoclimate data sets using the same 50 km grid system.  We have also sampled all of the IUCN species range data using the same 50 km grid, which allows easy linking between species, climate, and geography at a scale appropriate for integration of modern ecological and paleontological data.  Finally, we have a growing set of trait data for animals that are linked into the same taxonomy as the geographic range data. The global scope of these data and the linkages between the geographic and taxonomic tables allows them to be combined into new analyses that will suit the needs of researchers outside the core iCCB team.  We will be able to provide these data using IT infrastructure at Indiana University, including the IU ScholarWorks digital repository ( that will ensure that the data are preserved and organized into the indefinite future and the IU Research Data Complex (, which provides database and web hosting facilities to serve the data sets. We will seek external funding from NESCent to help develop this database and integrate it with other data resources.

Targeted symposia

Each year we will organize an iCCB symposium as part of a larger international conference or congress in order to involve researchers from new regions of the world and in new disciplines.  Our symposium at the IUBS General Assembly this year is an example where we will aim to mix presentations by core iCCB researchers with presentations by people working in related research.  We will target conferences in ecology, paleontology, climate modelling, earth systems, and conservation biology.  For 2013, we will apply for a symposium at the joint meeting of the Society for the Study of Evolution and Society of Systematic Biologists.  This high-profile venue will cross-fertilize the paleontological and ecological aspects of iCCB with international researchers working in other areas of evolution and adaptation.  We are also investigating the possibility of symposia the American Geophysical Union (attended by climate modellers, paleoclimate specialists, and earth systems researchers), the Ecological Society of Germany, Austria and Switzlerland (GfÖ, attended by an international group of researchers in ecology and conservation), and the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (attended by a wide range of researchers, including ones interested in many aspects of climate change biology). At each symposium, we will cover the expenses of speakers who would not normally attend that particular meeting because of their disciplinary interests or geographic home. These costs will be covered out of our IUBS budget and supplemented by external funds.

Working groups

Each year we will also sponsor a smaller iCCB working group that will facilitate core iCCB research. The working groups in the first triennium of iCCB have been remarkably effective and so we plan to continue that model.  We will seek external funding to help cover the costs of these working groups, including seeking funding from NESCent for catalysis groups.