Emma Steigerwald, PhD student

Emma Steigerwald Emma Steigerwald, PhD student
University Freiburg, Biology I
Hauptstrasse 1
D-79104 Freiburg
Phone: ++49 / 761 / 203 - 2531
E-Mail: emma.c.steigerwald@gmail.com

Biodiversity hotspots are areas of the planet’s surface where astoundingly dense concentrations of unique and diverse species are under high environmental strain . Of the 35 biodiversity hotspots , tropical forests predominate, making up 15 members of the list. The Tropical Andes is the single most species-rich area in the world, and is recognized as continuing to cradle high rates of ongoing diversification . Although the Tropical Andes make up only 1% of Earth’s terrestrial surface, its endemic plants and vertebrates compose 6.7% and 5.7% of total world plants and vertebrates, respectivelyi. At least partly responsible for this hotspot’s exceptional biodiversity is the way it fosters intense, altitudinal habitat and species range stratification. Unfortunately, the Tropical Andes’ “hotspot” status also implies that its immense biological wealth is highly threatened. Habitat loss is the most powerful and pervasive threat to the Tropical Andes: only 25% of natural habitat remains. However, climate change aggravates this already severe ecological distress by altering the stratification of habitats, and potentially disrupting corridors between themii.

I will examine the population persistence of Pyrrhura orcesi, an endangered Ecuadorian parakeet of restricted range within the Andes. Fragmentation, landscape features, and climate change have contributed to interrupting genetic flow across this species’ range. For P. orcesi to persist, it must retain connectivity between its subpopulations in separate habitat patches. I will design a corridor based on resistance analysis of the fragmented matrix between the two largest subpopulations of canopy-dwelling P. orcesi, and combine this corridor design with one for another endemic understory bird of conservation interest (Scytalopus robbinsi, Ecuadorian Tapaculo) as well as considerations of climate change and water protection. Corridor implementation will require me to navigate within a unique context of stakeholders: local farmers, local and international NGOs, and government agencies. Since P. orcesi’s population dynamics are nuanced by its being a facultative cooperative breeder, I will inquire into the particular impacts of fragmentation on this complex breeding behavior; assessing impacts of fragmentation on breeding groups’ reproductive success, wellbeing, size and turn-over.

Research interests:

  1. The effects of fragmentation on the cooperative breeding system of P. orcesi. The effects of fragment size and distance to neighboring breeding groups on breeding group health, size, turnover, and reproductive success.

  2. Optimal corridor design for the Buenaventura-Guayacan habitat matrix, taking into account P. orcesi but also another endangered endemic species (Scytalopus robbinsi), water security, climate change, and buffering against edge effects. Using genetic differentiation metrics and observed movement data to perform a resistance analysis for the study species across the habitat matrix. The combination of this resistance analysis with a similar analysis for S. robbinsi, along with landscape data, water protection interests, and climate change predictions to create an optimal corridor design.

  3. Methods to maximize functional sociobosque implementation; navigating the stakeholder context of local inhabitants, plantation owners, local and international NGOs, and government agencies. Ensuring the active participation of stakeholders in sociobosque establishment to ensure confidence and investment in the scheme. Pilot programs in agroforestry and subsidized nestbox protection to enhance sociobosque habitat quality for parakeets. Environmental outreach and education in the surrounding community, the results of which will be assessed by extensive surveying of shifting attitudes.


Myers N, Mittermeier RA, Mittermeier CG, Gustavo AB da Fonseca, and Kent J. 2000. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403:853-858.

Conservation International. 2014. Hotspots. Available from http://www.conservation.org/. Accessed 15 June 2014.

Brooks TM, Mittermeier RA, Mittermeier CG, Gustavo AB Da Fonseca, Rylands AB, Konstant WR, Flick P, Pilgrim J, Oldfield S, Magin G, and Hilton-Taylor C.. 2002. Habitat loss and extinction in the hotspots of biodiversity. Conserv Biol 16:909–923.



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