In our Special Topics analysis on Climate Change, Dr.
Miguel Araújo has 10 papers in our Research Front
Change and Species Distributions. One of these papers
is also among the 20 most-cited over the past two years.
Essential Science IndicatorsSM from
Reuters, Dr. Araújo's record includes 72 papers,
the majority of which are classified under Environment
& Ecology, cited a total of 2,395 times between January
1, 1999 and June 30, 2009.
Dr. Araújo is the Leader of the Biodiversity and Global Change
(BIOCHANGE) Lab, which shares its headquarters between the Department of
Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias
Naturales in Madrid (which itself is part of Spain's CSIC), and the
University of Évora in Portugal, as part of the Rui Nabeiro
Biodiversity Chair. He is also the Deputy Editor of Ecography and
the Associate Editor of the Journal of Biogeography, Conservation
Letters, and Geography Compass.
In this interview,
ScienceWatch.com talks with Dr. Araújo about his
highly cited research as it relates to climate
What first interested you in climate change
I was working on the development of reserve-selection methods for
biodiversity. The idea was to develop approaches that would lead to reserve
systems that are more robust to local extinctions of species. I then
realized that despite evidence for climate change already having an effect
on the distributions and phenology of species, nobody was trying to
integrate climate change into conservation planning methodologies.
This is why I became involved in climate change research: to improve
understanding of climate change effects on species and develop new
approaches to minimize such effects.
On what particular aspect of climate change
research do you concentrate?
Maps of modelled
richness of birds in
Europe in the present
(above) and in 2080
colleagues Carsten Rahbek
and Alejandro Rozenfeld
My research is driven by three unifying questions: 1) how did past climate
changes affect biodiversity? 2) how might current and future environmental
changes affect biodiversity? 3) how can biodiversity be conserved given
current and future challenges?
To address these questions I use large climate and species distributions
databases, descriptions of behavioral and physiological traits of species,
phylogenies, and the fossil record. Most of my research involves
statistical analyses of ecological data, including data mining and
bioclimate modeling, but it is in the development of new approaches for
modeling species distributions under climate change scenarios that I have
focused most of my research in the last 10 years.
Would you talk a bit about your September 2005
Global Change Biology paper, "Validation of species-climate
impact models under climate change" (AraújoMB, et al., 11: 1504-13), and why it is so well
There are now hundreds of studies that use models to project species
distributional changes under climate change scenarios, but our paper was
the first that provided an independent test of such projections. This is a
difficult test to perform because models are typically used to make
projections for times that have yet not passed, so it impossible to
independently test them.
A possibility is to "hind-cast," that is, to project distributions of
species into the past and evaluate the models with the fossil record. The
problem is that the quality of the fossil record is uneven, so it becomes
difficult to know if differences between model projections and
reconstructed species distributions are a signal of model failure or data
Our paper—and the companion paper, "Reducing uncertainty in
projections of extinction risk from climate change" (Araújo MB,
et al., Global Ecology and Biogeography 14: 529-38,
November 2005)—overcomes these difficulties by using high-quality
20th century data for bird distributions in two different time
periods in the United Kingdom.
Unfortunately, there are not many data sets of comparable quality, so
independent testing of species-climate-change models is likely to remain
Your November 2005 Science paper,
"Ecosystem service supply and vulnerability to global change in
Europe" (Schroter D, et al., 310: 1333-7, 25 November
2005), is also highly cited. Would you tell our readers about this
This paper provides the first attempt to quantify how services provided by
European ecosystems could change under a range of environmental change
scenarios. It is an important paper because there is now a wide recognition
that if efforts to conserve biodiversity are to succeed we need to
complement the traditional focus on extinctions with that of the services
provided by ecosystems to society.
The main reason why a focus on extinctions is insufficient is because
concern for the loss of biodiversity is not shared by everyone. So when
decisions involve complex tradeoffs, like cutting down a forest for fuel,
or protecting it because of its biodiversity, one is forced to weigh
intangible values (biodiversity) with tangible ones (the livelihoods of
local communities). To address the problem of weighting units of value that
are not fully comparable, one can quantify the full costs and benefits of
cutting the down the forest versus managing it sustainably. This can be
done by quantification of the services provided by the forest, such as
water provision, CO2 sequestration, protection against natural hazards,
More recently, you published a paper in Global
Ecology and Biogeography, "The importance of biotic interactions
for modelling species distributions under climate change"
(Araújo MB, Luoto M, 16: 743-53, November 2007). Did your
methods change from the 2005 Global Change Biology paper to
"...there is now a wide recognition
that if efforts to conserve biodiversity are
to succeed we need to complement the
traditional focus on extinctions with that of
the services provided by ecosystems to
Our field is moving fast, and one of the trends is towards making models
more realistic. This includes consideration of interactions among species
and simulations of how species might disperse under environmental change.
The paper you mention is one attempt to add realism to the models, but we
are still very far from having a general understanding on how biotic
interactions affect the ability of species to adapt to environmental
Have the models you developed been applied in a
practical setting, i.e., used to select a reserve site, etc.?
There is a lag between scientific innovation and its utilization in
real-world practical implementation. This lag is partly due to the
existence of the gap between scientists and the broader community of users
of scientific results, but it is also a consequence of the need for
scientific results to reach a certain level of maturity before they can be
widely used. The field of bioclimatic modeling has witnessed an almost
vertiginous development in the past 10 years with new methods and
approaches for combining them being proposed ad evaluated regularly.
We are now reaching a stage where progress is likely to slow down and this
is the moment when models might become more widely used for guiding
conservation action. For example, last year the Spanish and the Portuguese
governments contacted me to provide an assessment of the potential impacts
of 21st century climate changes on Iberian biodiversity. The
idea is to use the ensembles of forecasts developed in my lab to support
conservation planning by the State agencies of the two countries.
Do you think climate change is getting the
attention it deserves in the scientific community and from
governments, and even ordinary citizens?
There is a broad interest in climate change, but focus on biodiversity is
lagging behind. In particular, our understanding of the effects of climate
change on biodiversity is limited and progress can only be achieved by
greater integration among disciplines and by promoting a much more
ambitious research program. It is staggering that we spend so much money
trying to discover life outside our planet and are spending such modest
sums to understand the future of life on Earth and how best to conserve
Dr. Miguel B. Araújo
University of Évora