Anna Phillips









Anna Phillips

PhD Student

7-3.10: Biodiversity and Area Dynamics of Vertebrates 

Fields of interest

I am interested in investigating the effects of biotic and abiotic interactions of species on their distribution in trait space, in particular the evolutionary and ecological processes that shape species niches. My current research focuses on the evolution of traits quantifying ecological niches such a diet and habitat.

In my Masters degree, I examined why some species were more robust than others in the face of change. I investigated the phylogenetic origin and immunogenetic variability of the endangered Forty-spotted Pardalote (Pardalotus quadragintus) of Australia through phylogenetic analyses of mitochondrial and nuclear gene regions, as well as 454-amplicon sequencing of a functional gene region. This research provided a better understanding of the population and species dynamics of P. quadragintus, a factor that is important for long-term conservation, as well as demonstrating how such results can be applied to the concept of the conservation of a species.

My PhD research is a part of the junior research group “Macroevolution of climatic niches in birds” (DFG Emmy Noether project FR 3246/2-1). In this project I investigate the evolution of ecomorphological traits in eight avian clades and link them to their ecology. Often morphological traits of a species represent a long-term response to ecological pressures acting on them in their habitat. As ecosystems evolve, species’ traits will adapt to fill the newly available ecological niches. Examining the morphology of a species can therefore clarify aspects of their ecology and provide a more accurate representation of environmental conditions than may be achieved with more direct measurements of the ecological niche. I combine macroecological and macroevolutionary perspectives to provide an improved understanding of the processes that shape the evolution of ecological niches in response to changing environmental conditions, and therefore ultimately determine whether there is a correlation between the evolution of climatic niches and trait evolution. The results of this project can be applied to future research in predicting species’ ecological responses to environmental change, such as range movement or restrictions in distribution. Furthermore, this research can provide crucial information on the rate of trait evolution in current niches, and further our understanding of the processes that influence this evolution. Additionally, the results may be applied to the conservation of endangered species by illustrating the importance of focusing on a central niche in which the species is likely to persist, instead of implementing plans for a highly variable part of the niche with high rates of interspecific competition. 

This project is conducted as a co-operation between the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Institute, Frankfurt (BiK-F) and the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn (ZFMK), with the bulk of data collected from specimens at ZFMK.