Imperial College London

Mini profile: Samraat Pawar

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Samraat Pawar

Dr Pawar discusses his research and his involvement in the GCEE initiative

What’s your specialist research interest and what first attracted you to it?

I am interested in whether and how metabolic (physiological) and biomechanical constraints on individual organisms scale up to the dynamics of whole communities and ecosystems. I became drawn to this approach while seeking general principles to describe interactions in complex species networks (such as food webs) within communities. No doubt biological systems are complex, but it is hard to ignore the fact that virtually all organisms are “built” from the same basic metabolic machinery. Without developing and generalizing theories for constraints on individuals, the task of predicting dynamics of complex interaction networks in real ecosystems is rendered much harder.

What does your research involve?

My group studies dynamics of biological systems across levels of organization, from individuals to communities. We use a combination of mathematical and computational modelling and analyses of massive empirical datasets to find unifying patterns and general, empirically grounded theoretical models.

What are you working on at the moment?

  • Metabolic constraints on species invasions induced by climate change and human translocations
  • Metabolic and biomechanical constraints on consumer-resource dynamics
  • Individual-level impacts of climatic (mainly temperature) change on dynamics and stability of whole community foodwebs
  • Recovery, dynamics, and stabilization of complex interaction networks in ecological communities

What attracted you to the Grand Challenges in Ecosystem and the Environment Initiative?

The issues identified by the initiative are truly pressing, challenging, and exciting. In particular, understanding how species persist in complex ecosystems in the face of environmental change is essential for predicting the future stability of ecosystem functions and services in our rapidly changing world. Also, rarely does an academic initiative manage to bring together such a large, multi-disciplinary group of high-quality researchers — I definitely wanted to be a part of it!  The Grand Challenges initiative apart, I have always admired the exciting and collaborative research environment that is Silwood Park. I cannot think a better place to strive for a synthesis of theory and data to address global challenges in ecosystems and the environment.

What Grand Challenge will you be tackling under the initiative?

I will be investigating the effects of environmental (including climate) change and fluctuations on species invasions into local communities as well as stability of complex ecological networks such as food webs. I am particularly interested in advancing our understanding of (and predicting) long-term, not just transient effects of species invasions into local communities and ecosystems.

How do you think that the Grand Challenges in Ecosystem and the Environment Initiative can make a difference to the environmental challenges that we are facing?

Of course. It will not be easy, and it will take more than just collaborative and novel research, but most of the pieces are in place. So, full steam ahead!

What are the key areas where you feel that the Grand Challenges in Ecosystem and the Environment Initiative can have an impact?

The vision was to have a unified group of researchers that worked on different aspects of the global environmental crisis, and I think we have taken the first step in the right direction. With members from such a broad cross-section of disciplines, there are several areas in which the initiative can make a difference — for example, in management, dissemination and synthesis of big ecological datasets, in understanding the effect of climate change on ecosystem stability and food supply and in furthering our understanding the effects of climate change on human and animal disease dynamics, and in environmental policy research and implementation.

How is the Grand Challenges in Ecosystem and the Environment Initiative different to other environmental initiatives globally?

I do not know of any other initiative that has brought together such a diverse and high-quality set of research labs to tackle ecosystem and environmental issues.

Reporter

Victoria Ireton

Victoria Ireton
Human Resources Division