Dr. Christy McCain
Curator of Vertebrates
One of the most fundamental questions in ecology is "What are the patterns of biodiversity on earth and what mechanisms produce them?" Paradoxically, while mechanisms underlying patterns have been the emphasis of research efforts for decades, no accepted, general explanation for the distribution of biodiversity has surfaced, not even for the most studied gradients of latitude and elevation. The need to document and understand the mechanisms producing biodiversity patterns is particularly urgent with the current unprecedented rates of global habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change.
My research aims to improve our understanding of the patterns and underlying mechanisms of diversity, abundance, and distributions of organisms in a search for general theories of biodiversity. Several branches of research offer promising results: (1) Rigorous field assessment of patterns and possible causal mechanisms (e.g. climatic or evolutionary factors), (2) Quantitative methods involving null models, spatial statistics, simulations, GIS, and predictive modeling techniques, (3) Synthetic analyses of large data sets gathered over decades of field research in regional and global comparative analyses, (4) Comparative approaches among different taxonomic groups to reveal common and contrasting patterns to identify underlying causation.