Rapid ongoing environmental changes, such as habitat loss and fragmentation and climate change, expose species to, in some cases unprecedented, ecological and evolutionary pressures. These pressures represent at the same time threats, challenges and opportunities. They threat species’ persistence and biodiversity, they challenge conservation scientists to develop mitigation strategies that take into account multiple species, threats and priorities, but they also present a fascinating opportunity to study rapid ecological and evolutionary changes as they happen.

In order to move towards being able to forecast and effectively manage species’ responses to anthropogenic environmental changes we first need to understand the ecological, genetic and evolutionary processes and mechanisms that underpin these responses. These comprise species’ physiology, population dynamics, dispersal, inter-specific interactions and evolution, and interact with each other in more or less complex ways [1].

Process-based, mechanistic models can be a useful tool to gain better understanding as they can represent multiple processes and, more importantly, their interactions and emerging complex dynamics in space and time. Thus, process-based model can aid advancement of theory of eco-evolutionary dynamics during environmental changes.


Advancements towards process-based models that fully integrate different processes and the latest genetic, ecological and evolutionary understanding are happening rapidly. These models offer a great opportunity to improve forecasts of biological responses to environmental changes but also to test and design effective management interventions in dynamic environments.

During my PhD I have created an individual-based modelling platform, RangeShifter, which integrates complex population dynamics and dispersal behaviours, includes plastic and evolutionary processes and allows simulating scenarios of environmental changes on spatially-explicit landscapes [2]. I then started using RangeShifter with the goal of gaining better understanding and generate new theory on how different processes interact in determining species’ responses to environmental changes in space.

Some examples regard species’ range expansion and range shifting across a shifting environmental gradient. We have shown how rates of range expansion across fragmented landscapes depend on interactions between dispersal and landscape structure and how, depending on the dispersal behaviour and on the risk of mortality in the matrix, increasing the number of suitable habitat patches does not necessarily maximise the spread rate [3].

In a first set of exploratory experiment we have further shown how the interaction between local adaptation and interspecific-interactions can have complex effects on the patterns and processes of species’ range shifting, including extinction debts, priority effects and spatial segregation of the two species’ as a consequence of range shifts [4].

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For more examples on how RangeShifter has been used so far, for both ecological and evolutionary theory and for strategic modelling of alternative management interventions, see the RangeShifter page.

[1] Urban et al. 2016, Science
[2] Bocedi et al. 2014, Methods Ecol. Evol.
[3] Bocedi et al. 2014, Ecography 
[4] Bocedi et al. 2013, Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci.