Intertidal food web of Sanak Island in the Aleutian archipelago, with lower trophic levels toward the bottom. (Image:

A uniquely diverse group of experts met in early April at SFI to study an emerging tool for ecological network research: ecophylogeny.

Ecophylogeny combines ecology with evolutionary history, or phylogeny, to nd relationships between ecological organization and relatedness among its species.

“We want to bring evolution into ecology and vice versa,” says working group co-organizer and SFI Research Professor Jennifer Dunne. “Integrating them in the context of networks of species interactions can provide a powerful new framework to understand impacts of invasions, losing species, and habitat loss, which can better inform conservation.”

Seven of official participants, including SFI evolutionary theorist Jon Wilkins, and four additional SFI postdocs started by holding informal tutorials related to compelling research questions. Members then identified projects to start working on, including drawing from extensive empirical studies on food webs in mangrove islets, Antarctica, and an Aleutian archipelago. Long-term goals are to study how ecological patterns relate to evolutionary history and develop theory to predict how diversity and phylogeny scale from tidepools to oceans.

Jennifer, who co-directs the Paci c Eco-informatics and Computational Ecology Lab in Berkeley, organized the working group with SFI External Professor Jessica Green.“The eld of community phylogenetics has exploded over the past decade,” says Jessica. “Most scientists have focused their attention on the drivers of community assembly within a single trophic level. Expanding the phylogenetic framework to the study of entire food webs will revolutionize biodiversity science.”

This fall, a critical mass of working group participants will be based at SFI and will work on research papers and proposals for future funding.