A Move Towards Trait-Data Democracy: Creating the Ecological Trait-Data Standard Vocabulary

Post provided by FLORIAN D. SCHNEIDER

The past ten years brought a major game changer to ecological community and ecosystems research: functional trait data. This has shifted the focus from assessing and analysing ecosystems by not just the quantities of species but also those species’ qualities. Functional trait data can give us major insights into how communities are composed and how species assemblages evolve under certain environmental pressures. They also link community composition to ecosystem functioning and provide a framework for the assessment of communities across trophic levels and functional groups. Continue reading

aKIDemic Life: Empowering You to Navigate Life and Work

Post provided by Kirsty Nash

Most researchers I know are passionately invested in their research. Work consumes a significant amount of their focus, energy and time. But, researchers are so much more than that! Most of us have a life outside work that involves family, friends, even the odd hobby (if this isn’t the case and your life is purely about work, then read this).

Balancing or, more precisely, juggling the different parts of life can be taxing. Often academics and researchers face the competing demands of caring responsibilities, and the need to attend conferences, go on field trips or relocate for the next fixed-term contract. There are lots of resources out there to help researchers balance their home and work life, but, let’s be honest, who has the time to search for those resources?

This is where aKIDemic Life comes in. aKIDemic Life is a website built by academics for academics to empower parents and carers to navigate life and work. We curate free advice, tools and training, using the experience of researchers who have been through it. We want you to know that you’re not alone and to be able to quickly find the help you need, whatever your story. Continue reading

Reconnecting the Web of Life: Rewiring and Network Robustness


Esta publicação no blogue também está disponível em português

Species Loss and Cascading Effects

Scale-throated Hermit (Phaethornis eurynome). ©Pedro Lorenzo.

Scale-throated Hermit (Phaethornis eurynome). ©Pedro Lorenzo.

Minimising the effects the ongoing Anthropocene mass extinction has become one of the main challenges of our era. The data suggest that the current rate of species loss is 100–1,000 greater than the background rates seen in the geological record. “But does it really matter if species are lost?” This question has permeated social and political debates. It’s usually used to demean conservation efforts. But it has also intrigued conservation scientists.

We know that species don’t occur alone in their environment. They’re entangled by their interactions, forming complex networks. In these networks the loss of one species may result in the loss of other species that depend on it. This process is known as co-extinction. Estimates of the magnitude of past and future extinction rates have often failed to account for the interdependence among species and the consequences of primary species loss on other species though. Continue reading

Religando a rede da vida: Reconexões de interações e a robustez de redes ecológicas


This post is also available in English

Perda de espécies e efeitos em cascata

Scale-throated Hermit (Phaethornis eurynome). ©Pedro Lorenzo.

Rabo-branco-de-garganta-rajada (Phaethornis eurynome). ©Pedro Lorenzo.

Minimizar os efeitos do atual processo de extinção em massa do Antropoceno se tornou um dos principais desafios da nossa era. Os dados sugerem que a taxa atual de perda de espécies é 100-1.000 vezes maior do que as taxas de fundo observadas no registro geológico. “Mas realmente importa se uma espécie é perdida?” Essa questão que permeia os debates sociais e políticos, geralmente para desqualificar os esforços de conservação, também tem intrigado os cientistas da conservação.

Sabemos que as espécies não ocorrem sozinhas em seu ambiente. Elas estão  interligadas por suas interações ecológicas, formando redes complexas. Nessas redes, a perda de uma espécie pode resultar em um efeito dominó, culminando na perda secundária de outras espécies. Esse processo é conhecido como co-extinção. As estimativas da magnitude das taxas de extinção passadas e futuras muitas vezes falharam em explicar a interdependência entre as espécies e as conseqüências da perda primaria de espécies. Continue reading

Researchers Use Drones to Weigh Whales

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Estimating body mass of free‐living whales using aerial photogrammetry and 3D volumetrics‘ taken from the British Ecological Society.

A southern right whale female rolling on her side and exposing her lateral side to the surface while gently touching her calf. ©Fredrik Christiansen

Researchers have devised a way to accurately estimate the weight of free-living whales using only aerial images taken by drones. By measuring the body length, width and height of free-living southern right whales photographed by drones, researchers were able to develop a model that accurately calculated the body volume and mass of the whales.

Because of their large size and aquatic life, previously the only way to obtain data on the body mass of whales was to weigh dead or stranded individuals.

The innovative method can be used to learn more about the physiology and ecology of whales. “Knowing the body mass of free-living whales opens up new avenues of research. We will now be able to look at the growth of known aged individuals to calculate their body mass increase over time and the energy requirements for growth. We will also be able to look at the daily energy requirements of whales and calculate how much prey they need to consume.” said Assistant Professor Fredrik Christiansen from Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies in Denmark and lead author of the study. Continue reading

Meaningful Monitoring or Monitoring for the Sake of Monitoring? epower Helps You Tell the Difference


As environmental managers, we’re frequently asked to make judgements about the relative health of the environment. This is often difficult because, by its nature, the environment is highly variable in space and time. Ideally, such judgements should be informed by robust scientific investigation, or more precisely, the reliable interpretation of the resulting data.

Type I and Type II Errors

Even with robust investigations and good data, our interpretations can sometimes be wrong. In general, this happens when:

  • the investigation concludes that an impact has occurred, when in fact it hasn’t (Type I error)
  • fails to detect an impact, when an impact has actually occurred (Type II error).

Understanding the circumstances that lead to these errors is unfortunately complicated, and difficult unless you have a strong statistical background. Continue reading

Issue 10.10: Conservation, Molecular Techniques, Stats and More

The October issue of Methods is now online!

We’re a little lat on this post, but there’s another great issue of Methods in Ecology and Evolution online now.

This month, we cover movement ecology, plant cover class data, acoustic indices, local adaptations an much more.

There’s more information below on the Featured Articles selected by the Senior Editor and all of our freely available papers (Practical Tools and Applications articles are always free to access for everyone upon publication, whether you have a subscription or not). Continue reading

Ten Tips for Dealing with Work and Parental Leave

Post provided by Emily Nicholson

A version of this article was originally published on Women in Science AUSTRALIA (read the original article here) or on Emily’s blog.

As a Science Mum, I am often asked how I managed work and maternity leave, particularly by parents about to embark on a similar journey. So I thought that it might make a good topic for a blog post and start of a discussion. Here, I want to tackle things you can do as individuals for managing work and maternity/paternity leave – both for the person going on leave (e.g. mum or dad), and their colleagues – assuming that the person going on leave wants to maintain their academic career post-leave, including PhD students. There are other pieces for another day on what institutions should do to support those going on parental leave, and tips for coming back from leave (see also my previous post on accounting for career breaks in a CV or track record). I refer to maternity leave but this can equally be parental/carers/paternity leave – or any leave when you are taking a big chunk of time largely away from work to pursue other things in life. First, though, I’ll preface my tips with a little about my background.

I am writing predominantly from my own experience. Briefly, I have three children (born 2009, 2011 and 2013). I took about 8-9 months maternity leave with each, and returned to work part-time (3-4 days a week). All three were born while I was a postdoc on fellowships, the first two in the UK and the third in Australia, with good paid maternity leave provisions, and which allowed me to return to work part-time and extend my contract pro rata. For the first baby, our family was on the other side of the world, so we had little week-by-week support, and my husband was in a very demanding full-time job; while I was on maternity leave with my second we moved back to Australia, where we both work part-time and have a lot of family help and support, which makes a huge difference. I am a conservation scientist, and my work is desk based, including modelling and analysis, plus the usual academic roles of paper and grant writing, reviewing, editing and supervising students, but no teaching at the time. So the type of work I do wasn’t much affected by working part-time or being on leave. Continue reading

Responding to New Weeds Needs Speed: Spatial Modelling with riskmapr Can Help

Post provided by JENS FROESE

Disclaimer: this post is NOT about the drug or the TV series, but about invasive alien plants. Yes, even biologists often refer to them as ‘weeds’.

Responding to New Weed Incursions

Responding to new weed incursions early and rapidly is very important. ©Panda8pie2

Responding to new weed incursions early and rapidly is very important. ©Panda8pie2

Weeds are a major threat to biodiversity and agricultural industries globally. New alien plant species are constantly introduced across borders, regions or landscapes. We know that some (such as those listed in the IUCN Global Invasive Species Database) are likely become problematic invasive weeds from experiences elsewhere.

When a weed is first introduced, population growth and spread is typically slow. This ‘invasion lag’ may be due to straightforward mathematics (population dynamics) as well as geography, environmental change or genetics. In any case, the lag period often presents the only window of opportunity where weed eradication or effective containment can be achieved. So, responding to new weed incursions early and rapidly is very important. Anyone who has ever battled with a bad weed infestation in their backyard knows it’s best to get in early and decisively! But decisions about where to target surveillance and control activities are often made under considerable time, knowledge and capacity constraints. Continue reading

Using Artificial Intelligence to Track Birds’ Dark-of-Night Migrations

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘MistNet: Measuring historical bird migration in the US using archived weather radar data and convolutional neural networks‘ taken from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Wood thrush. ©CheepShot

On many evenings during spring and fall migration, tens of millions of birds take flight at sunset and pass over our heads, unseen in the night sky. Though these flights have been recorded for decades by the National Weather Services’ network of constantly-scanning weather radars, until recently these data have been mostly out of reach for bird researchers.

“That’s because the sheer magnitude of information and lack of tools to analyse it made only limited studies possible,” says artificial intelligence (AI) researcher Dan Sheldon at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Continue reading