Field Work on a Shoestring: Using Consumer Technology as an Early Career Researcher

Post provided by CARLOS A. DE LA ROSA

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Champagne Tastes on a Beer Budget

Freshly outfitted with a VACAMS camera and GPS unit, #1691 heads off into the forest with her calf. ©Carlos A. de la Rosa

Freshly outfitted with a VACAMS camera and GPS unit, #1691 heads off into the forest with her calf. ©Carlos A. de la Rosa

There’s a frustrating yin and yang to biological research: motivated by curiosity and imagination, we often find ourselves instead defined by limitations. Some of these are fundamental human conditions. The spectrum of light detectable by human eyes, for example, means we can never see a flower the way a bee sees it. Others limitations, like funding and time, are realities of modern-day social and economic systems.

Early career researchers (ECRs) starting new projects and delving into new research systems must be especially creative to overcome the odds. Large grants can be transformative, giving a research group the equipment and resources to complete a study, but they’re tough to get. Inexperienced ECRs are at a disadvantage when competing against battle-hardened investigators with years of grant writing experience. Small grants of up to about $5000 USD, on the other hand, are comparatively easy to find. So, how can ECRs make the most of small, intermittent sources of funding?

I found myself faced with this question in the second year of my PhD field work. Continue reading

Trabajo de Campo a lo Barato: Uso de Tecnología de Productos de Consumo Para un Investigador al Inicio de su Carrera de Investigación

Contribución de CARLOS A. DE LA ROSA

This blog post is available in English

Gusto por champaña con presupuesto de cerveza

Recientemente equipada con una unidad de cámara y GPS VACAMS, la vaca No. 1691 se dirige al bosque con su becerro. ©Carlos A. de la Rosa

Recientemente equipada con una unidad de cámara y GPS VACAMS, la vaca No. 1691 se dirige al bosque con su becerro. ©Carlos A. de la Rosa

Hay un frustrante toma-y-dame en el campo de la investigación biológica: motivados por la curiosidad y la imaginación, a menudo nos encontramos definidos por limitaciones. Algunas de estas, como nuestros sentidos, son condiciones humanas fundamentales. El espectro de luz detectable por los ojos humanos, por ejemplo, significa que nunca podremos ver a una flor de la misma forma en que la ve una abeja. Otras limitaciones, como financiamiento y tiempo, representan las realidades de los sistemas sociales y económicos de hoy día.

Los investigadores al comienzo de sus carreras (Early Career Researchers, o ECRs en sus siglas en inglés) que se embarcan en nuevos proyectos y se involucran con sistemas nuevos de investigación deben ser especialmente creativos para poder superar las probabilidades. Una generosa beca puede ser transformativa, pero un ECR con poca experiencia está en desventaja cuando compite con investigadores ya endurecidos por la batalla, quienes tienen años de experiencia escribiendo propuestas de financiamiento. Por otra parte, las pequeñas becas en el rango de $2.000 a $5.000 son comparativamente fáciles de encontrar. ¿Cómo puede un ECR aprovechar al máximo estas pequeñas e intermitentes fuentes de financiamiento?

En el segundo año del trabajo de campo de mi doctorado me enfrenté con este enigma. Continue reading

Using Dual RNA-seq to Investigate Host-Pathogen Systems When Genomic Resources are Limited

Post provided by KAYLEIGH O’KEEFFE

Tall fescue infected with fungal pathogen, Rhizoctonia solani. ©Brooklynn Newberry

Tall fescue infected with fungal pathogen, Rhizoctonia solani. ©Brooklynn Newberry

Pathogens and the infectious diseases that they cause can have devastating impacts on host individuals and populations. To better understand how pathogens are able to cause disease, we can investigate the genetic mechanisms underlying the infection process. Hosts may respond to infection by upregulating defence pathways. Pathogens, in turn, evade these host immune responses as they infect and cause disease. As this process unfolds and each organism responds to the other, gene expression changes in both the host and the pathogen. These gene expression changes can be captured by dual RNA‐seq, which simultaneously captures the gene expression profiles of a host and of a pathogen during infection. Continue reading

‘Eavesdropping’ Technology used to Protect one of New Zealand’s Rarest Birds

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘A novel method for using ecoacoustics to monitor post‐translocation behaviour in an endangered passerine‘ taken from the Zoological Society of London.

Juvenile hihi. ©ZSL

Juvenile hihi. ©ZSL

Scientists from international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London), Imperial College London and conservationists from the Rotokare Scenic Reserve Trust used acoustic monitoring devices to listen in on the ‘conversations’ of New Zealand’s endemic hihi bird, allowing them to assess the success of the reintroduction without impacting the group.

For the first time ZSL scientists were able to use the calls of a species as a proxy for their movement. A happy hihi call sounds like two marbles clanging together in what is known as the ‘stitch’ call. Scientists saw the calls change from an initial random distribution to a more settled home range – marking the hihi reintroduction and the new method a success. Continue reading

BES Journal Blogs Round Up: January 2019

It’s already been a busy 2019 for the six BES journal blogs. We’ve covered topics from leaving the nest to sustainable food production, stress in academia to climate change. On Relational Thinking we learned that cats can’t trespass. And Animal Ecology in Focus taught us that some crabs steal food from plants.

Today we’re having a look back at some of last month’s highlights from across the blogs:

Relational Thinking – PEOPLE AND NATURE

Cats Can’t Trespass
This post was created by the author of one of our published papers. It’s a really creative and funny illustrated summary of their paper.

BES 2018: Field Notes from Birmingham
This post was written by our Associate Editor Andrea Belgrano and is his conference report on BES2018. It is an evocative and sensitive reflection on the meeting, where he compares the spiritual energy of the community to that of the Zen Buddhist Daruma Doll. Continue reading

Advances in Modelling Demographic Processes: A New Cross-Journal Special Feature

Analysis of datasets collected on marked individuals has spurred the development of statistical methodology to account for imperfect detection. This has relevance beyond the dynamics of marked populations. A couple of great examples of this are determining site occupancy or disease infection state.

EURING Meetings

The regular series of EURING-sponsored meetings (which began in 1986) have been key to this development. They’ve brought together biological practitioners, applied modellers and theoretical statisticians to encourage an exchange of ideas, data and methods.

This new cross-journal Special Feature between Methods in Ecology and Evolution and Ecology and Evolution, edited by Rob Robinson and Beth Gardner, brings together a collection of papers from the most recent EURING meeting. That meeting was held in Barcelona, Spain, 2017, and was hosted by the Museu de Ciènces Naturals de Barcelona. Although birds have provided a convenient focus, the methods are applicable to a wide range of taxa, from plants to large mammals. Continue reading

Managing Stress in Academia: Tools and Suggestions

Post provided by Holly Langridge

Stress in academia is increasingly recognised, but knowing about an issue and solving it are very different things. ©Christopher Sweeney

Stress in academia is increasingly recognised, but knowing about an issue and solving it are very different things. ©Christopher Sweeney

Sometimes stress can be anticipated, avoided or mitigated. Other times, it sneaks up on you and sucker punches you in the face. A quick google search turns up loads of articles and op-eds on the topic – this, this and this are just three of the first examples I found. Stats abound on the negative effect it can have on students, staff and productivity. Mental health problems and stress in academia are increasingly recognised, but knowing about an issue and solving it are very different things.

My lab at the University of Manchester is fairly big and busy. Headed by the current BES president, and with over 30 people, and many millions of pounds in funding, it can be a stressful place. I am by no means an expert in stress, but I can tell you about my personal experiences and some of the ways that the University of Manchester helps staff and students deal with stress here. Continue reading

Map of Chemicals in Jellyfish Could be the Future to Protecting UK Waters and Marine Life

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Spatial models of carbon, nitrogen and sulphur stable isotope distributions (isoscapes) across a shelf sea: An INLA approach‘ taken from the University of Southampton.

Jellyfish opportunistically caught in UK waters are used to map chemical variations across marine space. ©University of Southampton

Jellyfish opportunistically caught in UK waters are used to map chemical variations across marine space. ©University of Southampton

Scientists at the University of Southampton have developed maps of chemicals found in jellyfish which could offer a new tool for conservation in British waters and fisheries. The maps will also be able to detect fraudulently labelled food in retail outlets by helping to trace the origins of seafood.

The Southampton based research team including Dr Clive Trueman, Dr Katie St. John Glew and Dr Laura Graham, built maps of the chemical variations in jellyfish caught in an area of approximately 1 million km2 of the UK shelf seas. These chemical signals vary according to where the fish has been feeding due to differences in the marine environment’s chemistry, biology and physical processes. Continue reading

Limitations and Benefits of the Unmatched Count Technique: Considering How We Use New Methods in Conservation

Post provided by Amy Hinsley and Ana Nuno

Esta publicação no blogue também está disponível em português

A New Conservation Toolbox

It is widely accepted that many conservation challenges are directly related to human behaviour. Whether it is the over-collection of a rare orchid by harvesters in Southeast Asia, or the decisions by collectors in Europe to buy and smuggle these orchids home, understanding the extent and nature of these behaviours is essential to addressing the threats they might cause. This has led conservation researchers and practitioners to start looking outside of their discipline, to find methods and approaches from across the social sciences to improve our understanding of these complex issues.

A research assistant carrying out a UCT survey about the use of Traditional Medicine products containing bear bile in China. © Chen Haochun.

A research assistant carrying out a UCT survey about the use of Traditional Medicine products containing bear bile in China. © Chen Haochun.

While this interdisciplinarity is a positive move for conservation, it is important that we treat these ‘new’ methods carefully and understand their limitations. If we don’t, there is a risk that our new toolbox full of exciting methods that sound great on a funding application, may in fact not be making what we do any better, or in extreme cases they may even be making it worse.

With this in mind, a group of conservation social scientists, led by researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Exeter, decided to look in depth into one of these ‘new’ methods, to provide recommendations on when and how it should be used, and when it shouldn’t. Our Open Access article – ‘Asking sensitive questions using the unmatched count technique: Applications and guidelines for conservation‘ – looks at the Unmatched Count Technique (UCT – also called the list experiment), which is increasingly being used in conservation to ask questions about ‘sensitive’ topics. Continue reading

Limitações e benefícios da técnica de contagem de itens: considerações sobre o uso de novos métodos em Conservação

publicação no blogue FORNECIDO POR AMY HINSLEY E ANA NUNO

This blog post is also available in English

Novas ferramentas de conservação

Muitos desafios em conservação estão diretamente relacionados com o comportamento humano. Quer seja a recolha excessiva de uma orquídea rara no Sudeste Asiático, ou a compra e contrabando dessas orquídeas por colecionadores na Europa, entender a magnitude e a natureza desses comportamentos é essencial para lidar com as ameaças que eles podem causar. Isso levou os investigadores e profissionais da área de conservação a começarem a olhar para fora da sua própria disciplina, de modo a encontrar métodos e abordagens das ciências sociais para melhorar a nossa compreensão sobre estas questões complexas.

Assistente de investigação a realizar um estudo recorrendo a TCI sobre o uso de produtos de medicina tradicional com bílis de urso na China. © Chen Haochun.

Assistente de investigação a realizar um estudo recorrendo a TCI sobre o uso de produtos de medicina tradicional com bílis de urso na China. © Chen Haochun.

Embora esta interdisciplinaridade seja um passo positivo para a conservação, é importante tratar esses “novos” métodos com cuidado e entender as suas limitações. Se não o fizermos, existe o risco da nossa nova caixa de ferramentas, repleta de métodos interessantes que soam bem em candidaturas a financiamento, na verdade não melhorar aquilo que nós geralmente já fazemos ou, em casos extremos, até piorá-lo.

Tendo isto em conta, um grupo de cientistas sociais em conservação, liderado por investigadores das Universidades de Oxford e Exeter, decidiu examinar em profundidade um desses “novos” métodos, fornecer recomendações sobre quando e como ele deveria ser usado, e quando não deveria. O artigo, disponível gratuitamente na revista científica Methods in Ecology and Evolution nesta semana, examina a Técnica de Contagem de Itens (TCI), que tem sido cada vez mais usada em conservação para fazer perguntas sobre tópicos “sensíveis”. Continue reading