Post provided by Daniel Caetano

Today we bring the first part of an interview with Dennis Murray and Brett Sandercock about their brand new book in population ecology methods: “Population Ecology in Practice.” The editors were kind enough to share some interesting backstage information with us.

Snowshoe hare in winter

Population Ecology in Practice introduces a synthesis of analytical and modelling approaches currently used in demographic, genetic, and spatial analyses. Chapters provide examples based on real datasets together with a companion website with study cases and exercises implemented in the R statistical programming language.

Stay tuned for the second part of this interview, where we talk about some of the challenges of editing a large book and the editors share essential advice for anyone looking into leading such a project!

What is the audience intended for this book? Is it aimed at students, specialists, or both?

Dennis: We developed our book mainly for graduate students in population ecology or related fields who are in the process of designing their first research project or are currently analyzing datasets in support of their thesis or dissertation. We expected that graduate students would most benefit from the information contained in the book and also the online exercises that are available at a companion website. However, it can also be challenging for established researchers to stay on top of emerging analytical tools and approaches in population ecology. I think that there will be multiple audiences, including animal ecologists and wildlife professionals who would like a refresher on new methods. However, we designed the book to be a stand-alone treatise on modern population ecology, and it provides comprehensive coverage of a variety of ecological concepts in addition to methods for statistical analysis and study design, so individuals who are not actively involved in the computational end of population ecology should derive some useful insight from the book.

Brett: I expect the audience for our book will primarily include scientists working in different areas of applied ecology, such as conservation biology and wildlife management. We encouraged the contributors to include examples from a variety of different taxa in their chapters but many ended up being drawn from terrestrial vertebrates from the Northern Hemisphere. I quite like using sample code and datasets for both teaching and learning unfamiliar quantitative techniques. The online exercises for each chapter are a free download from the Wiley website and will be helpful for any reader who is making a first start in learning new statistical methods.

We are curious about how you chose the cover image for the book?

Dennis: The cover image is of a snowshoe hare in winter, an iconic species of boreal ecosystems that is well known for its dramatic population cycles. Snowshoe hares have been an important species for fundamental research in population ecology for more than 50 years. In fact, one of the founders of modern population ecology, Charles Elton, began his career working on population cycles of small mammals, including snowshoe hares. Brett and I first met in 1988 at the Kluane Lake field station in the Yukon when we were MSc students at the University of Alberta and working on the ecology of northern vertebrates. We both conducted our graduate research in association with the Kluane Lake project, a major field experiment to assess the role of population cycles of snowshoe hares on the boreal ecosystem. The choice of a snowshoe hare is especially fitting since Chapter 1 was contributed by Prof. Charles J. Krebs, the visionary leader of the Kluane Lake project.

Brett: We were invited to submit photographs during the production process, and the publisher prepared a dozen examples of possible covers with different images and layout for the text. Our choice of the image of the snowshoe hare honours the former mentors who supported Dennis and I as early career scientists, and also the legacy of the many research scientists who have made important contributions to the field of population ecology.

What is your preferred figure of the book, and why?

Dennis: The book contains a number of key figures and it is hard to pick a specific one as a favourite. In my opinion, one of the strengths of the book is that most of the chapters include one or more decision trees to outline the priority for selecting an appropriate approach given the range of options, variety of data types, and challenges of analytical constraints typically encountered. In reality, the choice of a specific analytical method or philosophical approach often can be challenging in ecology, so decision trees are a useful tool when trying to conceptualize how different approaches may vary or be complementary. All chapters include a range of focal areas across broader themes, so we instructed authors to include decision trees where appropriate.

Brett: I personally like the figures that provide graphical representations of different types of model structures. Figures that provide a visual summary of a model are a nice complement to the text. Examples include the life-cycle diagrams in Stéphane Legendre’s chapter on matrix models, and illustrations in Michael Schaub’s chapter that show the different building blocks in an integrated population model.

Dennis Murray

Science moves quickly, and new methods are published every day. Do you have concerns about how long the topics covered in the book will be up to date?

Dennis: Yes, I do have concerns about the shelf life of a textbook in quantitative methods. Things are moving at such a fast pace in population ecology that I suspect that in five years many of the statistical methods and relevant computer code will already be out of date. However, our book chapters also provide a variety of fundamental principles across several important areas in population ecology that should extend the lifespan of the book well beyond the specific methods and analytical packages that are covered.

Brett: I am a mid-career scientist and have reconciled myself to the fact that I will never be able to keep up new advances in all areas of quantitative ecology. That said, all of the chapters in our book cover basic theory and models for key topics in population ecology. Any future developments will build on the core methods and code presented by our chapter authors. If a graduate student was preparing for comprehensive exams or a wildlife professional was interested in exploring a new research direction, our textbook will provide the essential background. Who knows what the eventual shelf life will be? I still regularly consult classic textbooks on my bookshelf who are old friends by now: Design and Analysis of Ecological Experiments (1993, S.M. Scheiner and J. Gurevitch), Ecological Methodology (1998, C.J. Krebs), and Plant and Animal Populations: Methods in Demography (1998, T. A. Ebert).

Do you see yourself as the editor of another book in the future?

Brett Sandercock

Dennis: In the short term I plan on focusing on an authored book as well as co-editing a couple of special sections in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, but who knows what the future holds in terms of additional edited books.

Brett: I have been working on another book-length project that will be completed this year. I collaborated with Nathan R. Senner and Yolanda E. Moreby to develop a project on Flexibility in the Migration Strategies of Animals. The 30 manuscripts in our Research Topic have been published by Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, and will be bound together as an e-Book. Electronic publication with open access has some advantages compared to traditional format books and it has been interesting to compare the differences in work flow between the two projects.

We would like to thank Dennis and Brett for agreeing to participate on this interview.

Are you interested in editing a book like Dennis and Brett? We’ll be talking to them about the editing and publishing process soon – don’t miss it!

Don’t forget to check the website for the Population Ecology in Practice book here.