Gender bias?

PatBy Pat Backwell
Associate Editor, Methods in Ecology and Evolution

There is a lot of discussion about gender differences in the publication of scientific papers. A clear pattern is that men produce more papers than women. A less clear pattern is in citation rates: some studies show that females are cited less, some find no effect. Where biases are shown, many arguments are used to explain them. Two common arguments are (i) child rearing limits females from spending as much time publishing, applying for funding or advancing their careers; and (ii) self-promotion and overt competitiveness are more typically exhibited by males and are traits rewarded in the review process for publication, funding and promotion.

A paper of particular interest to me was published in 2006 (Symonds et al.). It looked at gender differences in publication outputs of Australian and British Evolutionary Biologists and Ecologists (I am an Australian behavioural ecologist). They showed that men published almost 40% more papers than women, and men were significantly more likely to win research funding; but there was no difference in the median number of citations per paper for males and females. While citation rates are not necessarily a good metric for research quality, they do crudely suggest that females produce work of equal quality to men.

This paper got me thinking about where males and females chose to publish their work. If Continue reading

Top methods in ecology and evolution

MEE ad - VI Evolution 2014What links tea bags, glove puppets, vandalism, and cheddar? Or catching birds, bug soup, criminal profiling, snow leopards and jaguars? Methods in Ecology and Evolution, obviously! We have now been publishing new methods for over 4 years, and the sheer variety of papers we have received is quite amazing: field, lab, statistics, simulations and computing. All areas of methodology have been covered, as have all areas of ecology and evolution: evolutionary biology, population genetics, conservation, stable isotopes, plant ecology, simulation modelling…the variety is almost overwhelming! In this Virtual Issue we have collated some of the most popular papers that we have published over the past four years, to showcase their high quality and diversity.

Our applications papers are always free, and all papers are free after 2 years; in addition all papers are completely free for BES members. So if you don’t have access already, why not join the BES, and along with all of the membership benefits you will get free access to MEE as a bonus?

Our editors and I will be attending some of the major ecology and evolution conferences this summer – so look out for us and do say hi!

Executive Editor

New Editor on the block…

Jana Vamosi

Jana Vamosi University of Calgary

By Jana Vamosi

How’s it going, eh?

Yeah, that’s right. A Canadian has infiltrated the ranks as a new Senior Editor. I will be joining the esteemed Rob Freckleton and Bob O’Hara in directing manuscripts and developing the journal.

My first challenge will be to master some of these modern communication tools, namely this “social media” fad I keep hearing so much about. A flash in the pan I assume, soon to fall out of favour and disappear. And yet we must attempt to stay current with these fickle fashions. 🙂

OK, I’m not entirely clueless. I’ve mastered the basics. I have a twitter account at @jvamosi, where I mostly retweet on topics related to biodiversity, pollination, phylogenetic comparative methods, and food security. I have the typical Facebook and LinkedIn accounts as well. Feel free to befriend me but I have a tendency towards cheekiness and inappropriate profanity on Facebook (consider yourself forewarned).

I’m new to the whole blogging phenomenon but I’ll happily ramble on when I feel I have something important to say. Generally, I become loquacious when the topic of science communication comes up. I’m a proponent of articles reaching as wide an audience as possible. This idea extends to engaging the non-scientific community. I like to get creative from time to time and believe that approaching problems in an unorthodox way can add new insight. Thus, I’m an ideal sounding board for your zaniest ideas. The zanier, the better! I like crazy.

My formative academic years were spent at the University of British Columbia under the supervision of Sally Otto. Not knowing whether graduate school would be to my liking, I signed up to do a Masters degree but I liked it so much I quickly transferred to the PhD program. Part of what I liked so much was the bohemian style encouraged at UBC and it was there that I developed a love of dabbling in every topic that took my fancy. Somehow that congealed into a fairly coherent thesis on dioecy in flowering plants using an assortment of approaches, ranging from phylogenetic comparative approaches, population genetic modeling, and spatially explicit simulations. I continue to use a range of methods in my research on the macroevolution, macroecology, community ecology, and conservation of biodiversity.

With my varied history, I consider myself a good representative of the target audience for new methods. Frequently bridging different subfields, my current research repeatedly necessitates the adoption of new techniques. I believe my role at Methods will involve handling many of the Applications submissions, so I’ll be working with your newest tools. And while I’m familiar with a certain level of frustration whenever learning a new method, it is likely that if I’m tripping up following your instructions, a good proportion of our readership will too.

As for new directions I’m interested in championing, there are three that have caught my attention presently. The first is the field of metagenomics and its relevance to the medical community. Generally, I’m fascinated by the intersections between disciplines, such as how evolutionary and ecological principles can provide insight into the structure of gut microbial communities, the progression of cancer, and the incidence of schizophrenia and HIV.

Secondly, I’m constantly exercised by questions pertaining to biodiversity, and lately that extends to the degree to which biodiversity influences ecosystem function. I think knowing the contexts and thresholds that influence the biodiversity-function relationship will become an increasingly important question in the coming years.

Finally, I’m excited by big datasets as freely available resources to examine questions in ecology and evolution. Citizen Science initiatives that have borne fruit are especially pertinent and they jointly satisfy my desire to get more humans out appreciating other living species as well as often providing the sort of geographic breadth not possible with only a small handful of researchers.

So there you have it. My three topics of concentration for increased submissions to Methods are: 1) ecology and evolution in medicine; 2) improving our ability to measure the biodiversity-ecosystem function relationship; and 3) making large amounts of data readily available to the scientific community.

If you have any other ideas, be sure to let me know!

Senoir Editor, Methods in Ecology and Evolution


Issue 5.6

mee-5-6-coverlargeIssue 5.6 is now available online, containing articles on Spatio-temporal methods, lightscapes, stable isotopes, foodwebs, tree-based methods, modelling biomass change and occupancy models. This issue includes the applications paper Fitting occupancy models with E-SURGE: hidden Markov modelling of presence–absence data, and 2 open access articles on improving species distribution models: the value of data on abundance and mapping artificial lightscapes for ecological studies.

About the cover: Part of biodiversity assessment consists of the estimation and tracking of changes in species composition and abundance of animal communities. Such a task requires an important sampling over a broad-scale time that is difficult to reach with classical survey methods. Acoustic monitoring may offer an alternative to usual techniques by passively recording and automatically analysing the sound produced by vocal animals. In particular, several acoustic indices have been developed to assess temporal changes of animal communities. The cover image shows a singing Eurasian wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) whose song is often part of the dawn chorus of birds, a massive collective acoustic behaviour observed just before sunrise. The use of dissimilarity indices on three distinct temperate bird communities reveals that acoustics could not be considered as faithful estimators of community composition variations, but still indicate important dates in community changes. Acoustics might be considered a key aspect of animal diversity that requires further study.

To keep up to date with Methods newest content, have a look at our Accepted Articles and Early View articles, which will be included in forthcoming issues.

Remote sensing for conservation: uses, prospects and challenges

By Nathalie Pettorelli, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London

For many years, I believed I had a condition. Namely, a relatively short attention span, which prevented me from becoming fully engaged with series’ of talks at any given conference. Last month, however, I realised that there was a cure to this: being an organiser of the conference or symposium I attend. For the first time in my life, I was indeed able to sit and listen to talks from 9am to 5pm for two days in a row, without feeling the need to find excuses to disappear, or relying on coffee to keep me alert and engaged.

Like everybody else, I actually need my fix of “wow” moments, where you look at a slide or listen to a speaker and think “this is really cool”. What does it for me, it appears, is the combination of a good question, an “out-of-the-box” approach to tackle it, and an answer that has clear, applied implications. You can always rely on Conservation Biology to come up with loads of interesting questions whose answers have practical implications, and Remote Sensing as a science tends to provide fertile ground for developing unorthodox approaches – so having a symposium on Remote Sensing for Conservation was bound to get me my “wow” moments, and, indeed, I wasn’t disappointed.

N pettorelli 1

Nathalie Pettorelli, Woody Turner and Martin Wegmann

When Woody Turner, Martin Wegmann and I submitted our proposal for a symposium to the Zoological Society of London nearly two years ago, our vision was to pack our event with examples of how Remote Sensing can support the Conservation agenda. Our idea was to organise these examples around the classical Pressure/State/Response framework adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity, to highlight the versatility of Remote Sensing approaches in terms of scope and monitoring abilities.

We invited 24 speakers from a range of backgrounds (e.g. Conservation NGO staff, academics, Space Agency employees), and asked them to present some of their latest Continue reading

Some stats methods are like Rick Astley – best left in the 1980s

This week David Warton (Methods’ Associate Editor) received the 2014 Christopher Heyde Medal from the Australian Academy of Sciences for contributions in probability theory, statistical methodology and their applications. He gave a talk to the academy, which he’s summarised in this article, originally published on The Conversation.

Rick Astley

Sorry Rick – you should’ve been left behind about three decades ago (along with some algorithms). Claudio Poblete/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

By David Warton

It’s an exciting time to be doing statistics. You heard me – statistics: exciting.

It often gets a bad rap, but stats is after all at the business end of the research process. When I’ve collaborated on studies of megafauna, leopard seals, police confessions, a new casino game or climate change effects on biodiversity, the point where researchers find out their results and have those “Eureka!” moments is more often than not in front of a computer rather than out in the field.

Now is an especially good time to be a statistician because the technological revolution over the past couple of decades has blown the field wide open – but despite this, some researchers continue to use outdated and inadequate statistical methods.

The sooner we can change this, the better.

Wikimedia Commons, CC BY


When I started high school (around 25 years ago) computers looked like the one pictured right. They had 64kB memory. And this compressed digital image is more than 100kB, meaning that this poor computer doesn’t have enough memory to look at this picture of itself!

Modern computers are thousands of times faster and can have a million times as much memory. This and related technological advances has changed data analysis in two main ways: Continue reading

Issue 5.5

mee-5-5-coverlargeIssue 5.5 is now online!

This months issue includes articles on species distribution models, detection and diversity, and movement and modelling. We have 2 open access papers on calculating second derivatives of population growth rates for ecology and evolution by Esther Shyu and Hal Caswell, and understanding co-occurrence by modelling species simultaneously with a Joint Species Distribution Model (JSDM) by Laura Pollock et al. Mick McCarthy wrote an interesting blog piece about the latter paper that he co-authored with Laura: Joint Species Distribution Models. Issue 5.5 also contains the freely available application paper MLST@SNaP: user-friendly software for simplification of multilocus sequence typing and dissemination of microbial population analyses by Inês Soares and Ricardo Araujo.

About the cover: Rare and inconspicuous species are more likely to be overlooked, with important consequences in ecology and conservation. To control against non-detection, the species detectability needs to be estimated. However, traditional methods to estimate detectability are costly because they require repeat surveys. This motivated a comparison of the efficiency and reliability of traditional occupancy models and the novel time-to-detection models. The cover image shows a felwort (Swertia perennis), a very conspicuous plant species of wetlands. Impossible to miss? Except when occurring at low abundance. This finding confirms that controlling against non-detection is essential, even with conspicuous species. The accompanying article, Hide-and-seek in vegetation: time-to-detection is an efficient design for estimating detectability and occurrence, highlights that detectability estimates under a time-to-detection model, based on a single visit only, were almost identical to those under a traditional occupancy model requiring two surveys. In other words, survey costs could essentially be halved by using time-to-detection designs.

To keep up to date with Methods newest content, have a look at our Accepted Articles and Early View articles, which will be included in forthcoming issues.

Joint Species Distribution Models

Michael McCarthy's Research

Update : The paper is now available (free) from Methods in Ecology and Evolution .

Species might tend to occur together, or they might tend to occur apart. Factors driving these patterns can include environmental variables or species interactions. Species distribution models can predict the probability of occurrence of species, but they rarely account for the joint occurrence of multiple species.

I had been working on this idea of modelling co-occurrence with Kirsten Parris using her frog data, and also with Laura Pollock and Peter Vesk using Laura’s eucalypt occurrence data. We were aiming to model co-occurrence within species distribution models. Well, it has taken a few years to figure out (to be precise, it took a few years to find out that someone else had figured it out), but we now have species distribution models that account for the joint occurrence of species.

To help understand what we are…

View original post 1,770 more words

Notre Dame study reveals that particle size matters for environmental DNA monitoring

Common carp

Common carp

University of Notre Dame scientists have now published the first detailed investigation of just how small (or big) environmental DNA, or eDNA, particles really are, and their results provide important guidance for all eDNA monitoring programs.

Like investigators combing a crime scene for DNA traces from suspects or victims, ecologists now apply similar genetic tests to search the environment for important species. These traces of animal or plant DNA in water, soil and air are called environmental DNA. Aquatic eDNA monitoring is emerging as a powerful way to detect harmful species like invasive Asian carp and Burmese pythons or beneficial species like Chinook salmon and Idaho giant salamander. Because this tool is new, little is known about these tiny DNA-containing bits and how to best capture them from water.

Using common carp, one of the 30 worst invasive species worldwide, the researchers found eDNA in particles ranging from smaller than a mitochondrion to larger than a grain of table salt. Most of the eDNA was in particles between 1 and 10 micrometers, about the same diameter as a single strand of spider silk. Continue reading