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From Pole to Pole: Team Member Hannah Wauchope's Background in Conservation

New to our team this year is Hannah Wauchope, a post-doc conservationist who joins us in Cornwall to study the effects of warming on species in the past with the aim of improving understanding of range shifts and species’ movements in the future. This week at FABio’s Lab Lunch Hannah spoke to us about the work she’s done so far and how it led her here.

Hannah completed her undergrad with Honours at the University of Queensland, where her passion for polar conservation led her to work with Prof Richard Fuller exploring climate-driven changes in habitats of Arctic breeding shorebirds and the consequences of the associated species range-shifts. Many migratory birds breed in the high arctic, an area with a rate of warming at least three times higher than the global average. With climate change driving species out of their ancestral ranges and into new areas, the general expected trend is that species ranges will shift towards the poles to escape the more extreme heat. For species already at the northernmost reaches of our planet however, there is nowhere left for them to go. Hannah’s research predicts a loss in suitable breeding habitat for most Arctic breeding shorebirds under several climate models.

The team also investigated changes in suitability of breeding habitat within the flyways that these species use to migrate to and from their northern breeding grounds. They found that the greatest habitat loss was predicted in those flyways with breeding regions in mainland Russia and Alaska. Conversely, flyways either side of the Atlantic are predicted to gain proportionally more suitable habitat than they currently hold for many species. It is possible then that the migratory shorebirds studied could show population declines or potentially switch migratory routes, and that establishing protected areas is vital for both of these outcomes.

All of the predictions made by Hannah and her team were more severe under climate models in which there is no mitigation of our current global warming output. Her work here therefore demonstrates the absolute importance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions as an approach for protecting these birds and their habitats. Read the full article here.

Hannah has also spent time with the Australian Antarctic Division and The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research investigating the effectiveness of protected areas for preserving biodiversity in Antarctica. Species in the far south that need protecting include not only the charismatic vertebrates that fill our television screens, but also plant and invertebrate species residing in the ice-free areas of the continent where their long-term isolation has led to some unique genetic lineages found nowhere else on the planet. Plants in these habitats are also particularly vulnerable, as regeneration after any damage or trampling is especially slow in these very-cold growing conditions, even for the hardiest of plants.

Part of Hannah’s work was to create the infographic pictured below, summarising their research. Some notable findings include the discovery that 56% of all Antarctic species are afforded no protection, and that what protection there is is spatially uneven, with a quarter of all Antarctic biogeographic regions containing no Antarctic Specially Protected Areas (ASPAs). Read the full article here.

Hannah then went on to complete a PhD at the University of Cambridge, continuing to scrutinise the effectiveness of protected areas but this time in waterbirds. Hannah and her colleagues were interested in whether or not protected areas have a positive impact on waterbird populations not only by actively increasing the population but potentially where management has lessened the intensity of a decline or stabilised a previously declining population. This work is nearly finished, with final results still being analysed. The team are hoping to submit the paper early next year but before then you can read more about the team’s pre-analysis plan here.

Currently Hannah’s research focus is on how species have shifted in range in response to past climate change, to help predict future range shifts. This will involve matching climatically derived Species Distribution Models (SDMs) with actual occurrences. She plans to investigate this by modelling range shifts of species and by discovering how species have moved in response to climate change since the last glacial maximum. Hannah is also interested in how shifts occur if and when barriers are encountered (e.g. mountain ranges or limited connectivity between suitable habitats).

Stay tuned for updates to Hannah’s research or read more about her previous work by visiting her website: https://hannahwauchope.com/

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