Global Analyses of Plant and Animal Demography

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences


These are exciting times for population biologists. There exists a large and rapidly growing database of complete descriptions of the life cycles of thousands of species of plants and animals from all over the world. These life cycles include measurements of rates of survival, growth and reproduction. Associated with these life cycles is information on the location, evolutionary history, pest status, conservation status, life form and habitat of each species. This database allows researchers from the fields of demography, population ecology, evolutionary biology and conservation biology to understand the full diversity of plant and animal life histories all over the world. However, the scientific power of such databases can only be realised by bringing together an international team of scientists to decide (1) how to manage the databases and make sure they are available, and understandable, to all interested parties; (2) how to study the database to reveal global patterns and drivers of life cycles and demographies; (3) how to make sure that the databases contuinue to grow; and (4) how to integrate these databases with other global sources of information on phylogeny, climate, biodiversity and human impacts.

Hence we propose the creation of an international consortium to address these questions. We will meet for a 5-day workshop to decide how to ensure the databases grow and are disseminated to scientists and the public. We will also work to set a research agenda on how best to exploit the databases. We will then employ a database officer to create and manage the databases across several computer servers, starting at the University of Exeter. We will focus not just on scientific discovery but also on the production of educational materials and on the visual impact of life cycles and population dynamics.

The outcome of this consortium will be a vibrant new set of international collaborations, and a robust set of web-based, open access databases, to help guide the future understanding of biodiversity and how it persists and adapts to changing climates and environments.

Planned Impact

Impact: Our scientific impact has three major components.

(i) Internationalisation. We intend to work with Project Partners based in 8 nations. This will involve a 5-day workshop in Cornwall for each consortium member. The visit will involve contribution to the project workshop, focusing on database management, integration of datasets, new discoveries and research progress.

(ii) Human Capital. Training of the Computing Officer will form part of the core Effective Researcher Development Programme offered by the University of Exeter. Training of student interns will help to create the next generation of well-trained population ecologists and demographers.

(iii) Public Engagement and Communication. We will achieve dissemination of our research, and associated concepts, using the internet, and publicity. The databases and their educational/visual front-ends will be developed during the course of the collaboration. We will use the University of Exeter's excellent Publicity Office to disseminate research outcomes to a global audience, via magazines, newspapers, radio and television. This comes at no extra cost to NERC.


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Salguero-Gómez R (2016) Fast-slow continuum and reproductive strategies structure plant life-history variation worldwide. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

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Salguero-Gómez R (2016) COMADRE: a global data base of animal demography. in The Journal of animal ecology

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McDonald JL (2017) Divergent demographic strategies of plants in variable environments. in Nature ecology & evolution

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Hodgson D (2015) What do you mean, 'resilient'? in Trends in ecology & evolution

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Davison R (2019) Stochastic effects contribute to population fitness differences in Ecological Modelling

Description International collaborative meeting forged new projects to understand global diversity in the life histroies of plants and animals. Key developments for the COMPADRE and COMADRE databases of plant and animal life histories. Exploration of new projects to link demography to environmental drivers; study demographic strategies among plants; study invasiveness of plants, globally.
Exploitation Route Better understanding of how plant life histories respond to environmental variation should guide the risk assessment of invasive species.
Sectors Environment