Ally Phillimore - Research

I am an evolutionary ecologist interested in inferring process from pattern, usually from the viewpoint of large spatial or temporal scales. My areas of interest include macroevolution, island biogeography and phenology, with the latter being my main focus.

The timing of key life-history events can have a major affect on fitness, as it determines the abiotic environment and biotic interactions an individual is exposed to. In temperate regions we commonly observe that phenology (the timing of events) of many species is earlier in warmer springs. Phenology also varies geographically, for instance the common frog regularly spawn a month or more later in the north of Britain than they do in the south.

Given climate change projections for the next 50-100 years we expect phenology to advance, but we have little idea of what the consequences of this will be for most species. One way we can try to infer how species might respond is by exploring how species respond to temperture over space. For example, species made up of populations that are locally adapted to spring temperatures are likely to face pressure to adapt if long-term average temperatures change. Conversely, we might predict that rising temperatures will less adversely affect species made up of populations that differ in phenology only due to temperature-mediated plasticity. 

Figure 1. A map of transect sites

We developed an approach that that uses the slope of phenology on temperature over space versus time to estimate the contributions that plasticity and local adaptation make to intraspecific phenotypic variation.

Taking this work further to explore phenology-mediated species interactions in space, Christine Tansey has developed a new citizen ecology scheme - Track A Tree. This project collects data on the phenological interactions among trees and their understorey ground flora over space versus time. 

In another project we have set up a 40 site transect in Scotland (map to left) to monitor the phenology of trees, invertebrates and birds. Jack Shutt's PhD uses this system to address questions relating to the cues that birds use to time nesting and the degree to which phenologcial mismatch varies among habitats.