Research 2018-04-12T16:10:00+00:00


The Kitzes Lab investigates species diversity and distributions in human-altered landscapes. Where are species found in these complex landscapes, and why? What is the role of the basic ecology of these communities and of disturbances, such as land use and climate change, in determining these spatial patterns? Our ultimate goal is to use the answers to these questions to provide a clear scientific foundation for conservation, particularly intelligent land use planning and management in light of the pressures of global change.

Our specific research methods draw heavily from spatial macroecology, with a particular focus on species scaling and turnover across communities. Much of our work involves at least one of several core metrics of spatial macroecology: species abundance distributions, species-area relationships, quadrat count distributions, or various measures of beta diversity. We study these metrics from a theoretical perspective, using a variety of mathematical and computational modeling approaches, and in the field, using large-scale acoustic surveys of bird and bat populations.

Theoretical research on spatial scaling and turnover

Our current theoretical and model-driven research focuses on the relationship between measures of spatial scaling and spatial turnover. If we know, for example, how species richness increases as the size of a plot increases, how can we use this information to predict how two different communities, separated by some distance, might be similar or different? Our major line of work involves using point pattern analysis, coupled with traditional methods from spatial macroecology, to relate these measures of spatial scaling to spatial turnover.

Much previous theoretical work in the lab has focused more specifically on metrics of spatial scaling, such as the species-area relationship. Among other applications, such metrics can be used to “upscale” plot-scale data to estimate species richness at large scales and to predict species extinctions following habitat loss and climate change.

Field surveys of bird and bat distributions

Our field research involves surveying biodiversity at landscape scales using autonomous acoustic recorders, which are able to efficiently and rapidly gather diversity and activity data at large spatial and temporal scales. We are currently establishing two pilot field studies in western Pennsylvania that use these recorders to study the spatial ecology of bird and bat populations. Our long-term goal is to establish a large scale 100 km transect, with detectors spaced every 100 m, to study the controls of species distributions in mixed landscapes. We are also investigating techniques for localizing bird and bat calls that can be used to identify the source of sounds on a several hectare plot to within a few meters. A major portion of this research involves developing algorithms, software, and data management pipelines to rapidly process large volumes of acoustic data and classify recorded calls to the species level.

We have previously used similar acoustic recording devices to study bat populations in urban and agricultural landscapes in northern California.

Other interests

In addition to our main interests described above, our lab is active in open science and reproducible research communities. We have developed two open source software packages, and Dr. Kitzes recently co-edited a book titled The Practice of Reproducible Research. Dr. Kitzes has also conducted extensive research on global models of sustainable resource consumption (“footprint” modeling).