A photo of Natalie with a collection of preserved snakes.

After six years as an Associate Editor for MEE, we are very pleased to welcome Natalie Cooper to the Senior Editor team! Natalie is a Senior Researcher at the Natural History Museum, London, where her research sits at the interface between macroecology and macroevolution, aiming to understand broad-scale patterns of biodiversity.

Here we visit Natalie behind the scenes at the Natural History Museum to get to know her better.

What’s your favourite species and why?

I love them all! My favourite part of my job at the Natural History Museum is that I’m always learning about new species and discovering fun facts. One of my favourite groups are tenrecs which are small mammals that live in Madagascar and despite being closely related they are really different; there are species that resemble shrews, hedgehogs, and moles. One species (Tenrec ecaudatus) holds the record for the most nipples (up to 36!) of any mammal species.

What can you tell us about the first paper you published?

Cephalopods preserved in jars at the Natural History Museum.

My first paper was based on my MSc thesis project, though I wrote it up during my PhD. It was about correlates of extinction risk in frogs and I learned so much about frogs. Did you know there were frogs that incubated their offspring in their stomachs (sadly they went extinct in the mid 1980s)? It was a lot of fun and got me started using R and a lot of the methods I still use now. However, the publication process was another story which leads to your next question…

Share a story about a paper you had rejected.

We initially sent my first paper to a conservation journal but when the reviews came back, they were a bit of a shock. Comments included accusations of “scandalous” and “embarrassing” levels of “academic laziness”, that the work was attempting to “pull the wool over the reader’s eyes” and “beyond forgivable bending of the truth”. After several pages of ranting it ended with the crowning glory of all the comments I’ve ever received in a review: “Please consider this a polite spanking.” I can laugh about it now, but at the time I was devastated. But on the plus side, I’ve never received a worse review…

What’s your favourite paper you’ve handled for MEE?

As an AE it’s always great to help shepherd a paper through the review process and then finally to see it come out and start being used in the community, so I don’t think I have a favourite. There are a couple of excellent ones in progress right now for our natural history collections special feature, so watch this space!

If you could wake up tomorrow with a new skill, what would it be?

Either the ability to read faster (there are too many books and papers I want to read!) or to speak any language.

What do you like doing when you’re not being an ecologist?

I read a lot of fiction, and I love stand-up comedy, theatre, hiking and birding. I also watch a lot of Netflix! I volunteer with Girlguiding so I spend a couple of hours a week doing fun things like playing hockey with rolled up newspapers, making giant octopuses out of plastic bottles, or setting fire to stuff. We often use old copies of the Niche in craft projects so many ecologists appear in zines and collages!

If you could recommend one place for people to travel to on holiday, where would it be and why?

I recently came back from a couple of weeks in Northumberland (in northeast England) and it was amazing for wildlife, scenery, hiking, and castles. I did the whole trip on public transport so it was good for my carbon footprint too. 

What’s the best place you’ve been through your work (e.g. through field work or a conference)?

Despite doing most of my research on a computer, I’ve been lucky enough to work in South Africa, Kenya and Madagascar. The diversity of habitats and species in all these places is really special. 

Who inspired you most as a student?

As a student I was really lucky to work at Silwood Park surrounded by many brilliant PhD students, postdocs and staff who inspired me every day, and still do. They are the reason that I’m so involved with the BES despite not being an ecologist! More amusing is that the person who scared us the most as students was Prof Rob Freckleton (former EiC at MEE). I’ve no idea why; none of us had ever met him! 

Natalie scored highly in the BES’ Ecology Across Borders poll on ‘What does ecology mean to you?’

Natalie is handling our new cross-journal special feature ‘Leveraging Natural History Collections to Understand the Impacts of Global Change‘, so we have a number of natural history collection-related articles to look forward to in the coming months!

All photos were taken at the Natural History Museum, London. Credit: India Stephenson.