Exploring the biotic and abiotic drivers of ecological stability 

To achieve global sustainability, we need a deep and mechanistic understanding of how ecosystems persist in the face of environmental change. My main research interest is in understanding the effects of global change (e.g., species extinctions, habitat degradation, climate change) on ecological stability (e.g., Ross, Arnoldi et al. 2021, Nat. Comm.) and its biological drivers such as asynchrony, and particularly response diversity

Response diversity measures the variation among species responses (e.g., population growth rates)—in direction and magnitude—to the environment. Communities with higher response diversity should, due to compensatory dynamics among species, maintain stable ecosystem functioning (Ross & Sasaki 2023, Ecol. Res.). By developing methods to empirically quantify response diversity (Ross et al. 2023, Methods Ecol. Evol.) and applying these methods to a range of study systems, I am exploring the mechanisms driving ecological stability, and how general these might be. 

We recently founded the Response Diversity Network: an international consortium of scientists interested in response diversity. The network aims to coordinate research on response diversity and provide a forum for discussion and collaborative exchange. To be added to the mailing list, please get in touch.

Recently funded by:
BES Large Grant #LRB22/1007 Applying a new framework for understanding the drivers of ecological resilience in floating aquatic plants.
JSPS Kakenhi grant-in-aid for Research Start-up #22K21332 Response diversity: elucidating the long sought-after mechanisms underpinning ecosystem stability.

Understanding disturbance and recovery with ecoacoustics

Passive acoustic monitoring has become a useful method for monitoring species and soundscapes using audio recordings, providing valuable data for conservation management. However, acoustic monitoring is no longer only an applied tool; the huge volumes of high-resolution biodiversity data afforded by ecoacoustics approaches also allows us to address fundamental questions in ecology (Ross et al. 2023, Funct. Ecol.). Another aspect of my work focuses on understanding disturbance, recovery, and stability in real-world ecosystems using passive acoustic monitoring.

Most of my ecoacoustics work is in collaboration with colleagues at OIST, through the OKEON 美ら森プロジェクト Ryukyu soundscapes project, which uses a landscape-scale sensor network to monitor biodiversity across the island of Okinawa, Japan. We demonstrated the utility of multi-site sensor arrays for understanding species and soundscape dynamics (Ross, Friedman et al. 2018, Ecol. Res.) and the challenges of using acoustic indices as proxies for biodiversity (Ross et al. 2021, Ecol. Indicat.). More recently, my focus is the impact of infrequent large typhoons on species and soundscapes across Okinawa’s terrestrial habitats (Ross et al. 2024, Glob. Chang. Biol.).

Recently funded by:
OIST COI-NEXT Early Career Grant Evaluating terrestrial ecosystem health via real-time monitoring of remediation efforts in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear exclusion zone.
Canon Foundation in Europe 2021 Research Fellowship Identifying winners and losers in the Anthropocene using an acoustic monitoring network.

Global change impacts on freshwater community dynamics

Ecological communities in freshwater environments (e.g., streams, lakes, ponds) are often simultaneously exposed to multiple environmental stressors. Quantifying the stability of freshwater communities exposed to multiple stressors is therefore not trivial. To address this challenge, I use outdoor freshwater mesocosmsrepresenting a middle ground between fully controlled lab studies and natural field observations—to measure community dynamics and stability under various global change drivers.

We used small stream mesocosms to reveal that predatory fish provided stability against aquatic heatwaves, likely through their top-down control of community dynamics (Ross et al. 2022, Glob. Chang. Biol.).

We are now exploring response diversity and stability in floating aquatic plants exposed to nutrient stress, asking whether and how response diversity stabilises floating plant communities in 100L pond mesocosms. 

Recently funded by:
OIST SHINKA grant Monitoring and predicting ecosystem resilience of human-impacted lakes in Japan.
BES Large Grant #LRB22/1007 Applying a new framework for understanding the drivers of ecological resilience in floating aquatic plants.