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Program in Interdisciplinary Biological & Biomedical Sciences | Portal (LTREB)


     Biogeography is the science that attempts to document and understand spatial patterns of biodiversity. It is the study of distributions of organisms, both past and present, and of related patterns of variation over the earth in the numbers and kinds of living things. In essence we are asking: How are organisms distributed over the surface of the earth and over the history of the earth?

     Biogeography differs from most of the biological disciplines and from many other sciences in several important respects. It is a comparative, observational science rather than an experimental one because it usually deals with scales of space and time at which experimental manipulation is impossible or unethical. Most of the inferences about biogeographic processes must come from the study of patterns: from comparisons of the geographic ranges, genetics and other characteristics of different kinds of organisms or the same kinds of organisms living in different regions, and from observations of differences in the diversity of species and the composition of communities over the earth's surface.

     Biogeographers work at the interfaces of several traditional disciplines: ecology, systematics, evolutionary biology, geography, paleontology and the "earth sciences" of geology, climatology, limnology and oceanography. Much of their best data comes from putting together data or theories from two or more of these disciplines.

     Research on geographic patterns of species diversity is focused on seeking a general, synthetic explaination for some of the most pervasive patterns of life on the planet: the latitudinal, elevational, and other gradients of species richness. Some of the work involves quantifying more precisely the nature of these gradients and of the underlying variation in biotic and abiotic environmental factors.

     Different methodologies emphasize different models for understanding distributions: some approaches are primarily descriptive, designed to document the ranges of particular living or extinct organisms, whereas others are mainly conceptual, devoted to building and testing theoretical models to account for distribution patterns.

     Some research involves exploring the relationships between species richness, abundances of the component species, as well as the sizes and configurations of their geographic ranges.Other research involves developing models incorporating both abiotic limiting factors and biotic interactions.

     Several current and past graduate students have done all or part of their doctoral thesis research in biogeography.

     Although most research usually contains a component of field work, much of it typically involves some combination of assembling and analyzing large data sets and mathematical or computer simulation modeling

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