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Dr. Bianca Saladin



PhD student guest


Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL
Zürcherstrasse 111
8903 Birmensdorf


Birmensdorf Bi HL E 28



I am interested in studying biodiversity at different temporal and spatial scales and seek to understand the ecological and evolutionary processes that lead to the biodiversity patterns and species distributions we observe nowadays. I use phylogenetic comparative methods and relate them to macroecological questions to better understand, which past processes have structured the currently observed community assemblages, and how they respond to a changing environment.


currentPhD position: under supervision of Dr. Niklaus E. Zimmermann
2013MSc in Biology, Systematics and Evolution, University of Zurich and WSL
2012BSc in Biology, University of Zurich


PhD Thesis: ECCO.DIV. 

Effects of Climate and its Change on Phylogenetic, Functional and Species Diversity in Swiss Grasslands Communities
There is clear evidence that the earth's climate and global change is accelerating and these environmental changes will have drastic effects on the distribution and diversity of extant species. There is a need to understand the general principles and the underlying ecological- and evolutionary processes that shape these patterns in order to make predictions on future macroecological patterns. On the one hand, detailed knowledge on how phylogenetic and functional variability are structured along environmental, elevation- or spatial gradients is still lacking. On the other hand, far too little is known about how these two components (phylogenetic- and functional diversity) are related to species-level diversity. Knowledge about the relationship of those three levels of diversity will improve conservation planning. phylo_60.jpg
With this project we aim at analyzing (1) how species-specific, functional and phylogenetic patterns in plants are structured along environmental (climate, elevation) and spatial gradients, (2) how plant community structuring changes along elevation gradients and how the spatial scale of analysis affects the found patterns, (3) how (species, phylogenetic and functional) diversity patterns are likely to respond to climate change, and (4) what consequences can be drawn for nature conservation actions based on the results found in this project. We will analyze these questions by means of grassland vegetation data in Switzerland. Answering these questions will allow us to (i) single out important drivers of the evolution of floristic diversity, (ii) analyze the structuring of this diversity into communities in the European Alps, (iii) evaluate, how climate change may affect these different diversity patterns in the future, and (iv) to explore pathways how this information can be used to extend conservation planning of grasslands in Switzerland. eumap_small60.jpg
Keywords:species, functional- and phylogenetic diversity, turnover (beta-diversity), climate change, range shifts, species conservation, grassland communities
Master's Thesis: 


Diversify or specialize: Disturbances influence trait evolution in Pinus


Pines evolved during the lower Cretaceous and successfully adapted to a wide range of different habitats on the Northern Hemisphere (from extremely dry to wet sites, from freezing to hot locations, etc). Fire played  an important role in the evolution and ecology of pines since the Cretaceous, especially in the subgenus pinus. These adaptations to the wide range of  environments and to fire-prone habitats are reflected in the numerous and diverse traits in pines (bark thickness, serotiny of cones, dispersal mode, leaf morphology, and so on).

In my master's thesis, I focused generally on character evolution in the genus Pinus and more specifically on how fire-adaptation by traits affected evolutionary diversification rates. I built a phylogeny of 113 pine species and found fascinating insights into niche specialization and how these affect diversification. I conclude that diversification rates in pines are influenced by the degree of disturbance intensity, confirming the intermediate disturbance hypothesis.