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Climate Change - Published: November 2009
Interview Date: January 2010
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Antoine Guisan Antoine Guisan
From the Special Topic of Climate Change

In our Special Topic on Climate Change research over the past decade, the work of Dr. Antoine Guisan ranks at #9 by total citations and #12 by cites per paper, based on 26 papers cited a total of 2,040 times. According to Essential Science IndicatorsSM from Thomson Reuters, Dr. Guisan's record includes 55 papers, the majority of which are classified under Environment & Ecology, cited a total of 3,074 times between January 1, 1999 and August 31, 2009.

Dr. Guisan is an Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolution and the Institute of Geology & Paleontology at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. He is involved in a variety of projects and partnerships throughout Europe, including MACIS, EcoChange, the Marie Curie HOTSPOTS project, and the NCCR "Plant Survival" project.

Below, talks with Dr. Guisan about his highly cited work as it relates to climate change.


  Based on your most-cited papers, you appear to concentrate on ecological modeling. Would you say this is a fair assessment? What first interested you in this type of work?

Yes, over the last decade, my work has largely concentrated on understanding drivers of species ranges, quantifying species-environment relationships in ecological models, and using these models ultimately for predicting species distributions. My approach is thus deeply rooted in a biogeographical perspective, especially centered on the concept of Hutchinson’s environmental niche, but additionally considering dispersal limitations, and, more recently, population dynamics. As such, the field could also be termed predictive biogeography.

Besides a strong personal interest in all geographical aspects of ecology, I was first brought to this field when I became involved in a project aimed at assessing the possible impacts of climate change on biodiversity. I was fascinated by the approaches that emerged in some seminal papers by Australian researchers, among whom Mike P. Austin certainly still ranks among the most prominent.

  Back in 2003, your 2000 Ecological Modelling paper, "Predictive habitat distribution models in ecology" (Guisan A, Zimmermann NE, 135[2-3]: 147-86, 5 December 2000), was named a New Hot Paper in the field of Environment & Ecology. Today it has close to 1,000 cites in our database. Why do you think it is so well cited?

Diablerets Massif. Distribution of Saxifraga oppositifolia current climate (green) versus HadCM3 A1F1 2080 scenario (red). Picture and graph: courtesy of Dr. Christophe Randin.

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Obviously, it was good timing! Such a paper was probably needed at the time, so it rapidly became a standard in the field. Species distribution models were still in an early phase at this time. By reviewing the main steps and theoretical background needed for building these models, adding much of our own experience, my co-author Niklaus Zimmermann and I proposed the first comprehensive review (with 35 pages, it is a very long paper compared to current standards) on predictive habitat distribution modeling. It is probably still highly cited because many facts and thoughts it contains are still valid today, 10 years later.

  Another of your highly cited papers is your 2005 Ecology Letters paper, "Predicting species distribution: offering more than simple habitat models." Would you tell our readers about this paper?

The field grew very fast in the five years following Guisan & Zimmermann (2000). This 2005 paper written with Wilfried Thuiller was really a follow-up and complementary paper, updating our state-of-the-art in modeling but also addressing new issues, such as global change projections and the need to add more dynamic dimensions, including dispersal, biotic interactions, and population dynamics.

  Earlier this year, you published a paper in Global Change Biology, "Climate change and plant distribution: local models predict high-elevation persistence." Would you talk a little bit about this paper—your methods and findings?

This paper originated from our interest in confronting future predictions for mountain plants as obtained from large-scale European models based on coarse-resolution atlas data and from models developed at more a local scale with finer-resolution species data. We were specifically interested to see if local models would predict persistence of some high-elevation alpine species that were otherwise predicted to become extinct (i.e. lose their entire suitable climatic habitats in Europe) by large-scale models.

We fit models at the two extents and resolutions, and in two areas at the local scale, and compared the predictions for a set of common species modeled at the two scales. Results showed that local models can predict persistence of species, but that such persistence depends largely on the altitudinal amplitude of the local area considered, with greater persistence found where the elevation gradient is wider and reaching higher elevations. My group and many colleagues in Europe (both within and outside EcoChange) are now expanding the analyses over a much larger number of mountain areas.

  How big of a role does climate change play in the work that you do—is it becoming more of a force to be reckoned with?

Climate change is clearly challenging the future of biodiversity and ecosystems, especially in mountain areas, which are expected to be particularly sensitive in this regard. Hence, climate change is hard to ignore in any study of species distribution. Furthermore, climate maps and associated climate change scenarios have become increasingly available in recent years, making these studies easier to conduct. As a result, an increasing number of researchers, from various disciplines, are interested in these questions and spatial predictions. Yet, deriving climate change projections is only one application of species distribution models addressed by my group. The main questions remain to understand what drives species distribution and what controls the assembly of communities and ecosystems.

Dr. Antoine Guisan
Department of Ecology & Evolution
Institute of Geology & Paleontology
University of Lausanne
Lausanne, Switzerland

Antoine Guisan's current most-cited paper in Essential Science Indicators, with 947 cites:

Guisan A, Zimmermann NE, "Predictive habitat distribution models in ecology," Ecol. Model. 135(2-3): 147-186, 5 December 2000. Source: Essential Science Indicators from Clarivate Analytics.

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