10th Anniversary Volume 2: Methods for Collaboratively Identifying Research Priorities and Emerging Issues in Science and Policy

Post provided by William J Sutherland, Erica Fleishman, Michael Mascia, Jules Pretty and Murray Rudd

 

To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the launch of Methods in Ecology and Evolution, we are highlighting an article from each volume to feature in the Methods.blog. For Volume 2, we have selected ‘Methods for Collaboratively Identifying Research Priorities and Emerging Issues in Science and Policy’ by Sutherland et al. (2011).  In this post, the authors discuss the background and key concepts of the article, and changes in the relation between science and policy since the paper was published.

The Knowledge Cycle: an idealistic conceptual model of Science-Policy Interaction. Picture credit: Job Dronkers (2019): Science-Policy Interaction.

Between the late 1990s and early 2000s, recognition of the value of scientific evidence to government decision-making grew. As interest in projecting future issues to inform policy decisions increased, we recognised that ecologists did not have the methods to conduct this type of work effectively. In the United Kingdom, the Government Office for Science established the Foresight programme to support policy making; scientific advisory committees became common, and every Ministry appointed a Chief Scientist. Given this context, we explored the use of horizon scans to assess the future and better understand uncertainties.

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10th Anniversary Volume 1: The Art of Modelling Range-Shifting Species

Post provided by Jane Elith, Mike Kearney and Steven Phillips  

To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the launch of Methods in Ecology and Evolution, we are highlighting an article from each volume to feature in the Methods.blog. For Volume 1, we have selected ‘The art of modelling range-shifting species’ by Elith et al. (2010).  In this post, first author, Professor Jane Elith, discusses the background and key concepts of the article, and how things have changed since the paper was published.

Illustration of the idea that model settings affect prediction.

We started work on this manuscript around 2008, prompted by increasing use of species distribution models for climate change and invasive species problems. At that stage there was growing recognition of the problems in these applications (e.g. see a recent MEE review on transferability) but relatively few tools for dealing with them. In our view, if correlative models are to be used for such purposes, the data and models require special attention.

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Gaining Genetic and Epigenetic Data from a Single Established Next-Generation Sequencing Approach

Post provided by Marco Crotti

How organisms adapt to the environment they live in is a key question in evolutionary biology. Genetic variation, i.e. how individuals within populations differ from each other in terms of their DNA, is an essential element in the process of adaptation. It can arise through different mechanisms, including DNA mutations, genetic drift, and recombination.

Example of how genetic drift can occur over generations via random sampling (i.e. random mating) in a population. (Picture credit: Gringer).

Differences in DNA sequences between individuals can results in differences in the expression of genes. This can therefore determine the organism’s capacity to grow, develop, and react to environmental stimuli. However, a growing body of literature reveals that there are other ways organisms can change the way they interact with the world without mutations in the DNA sequence.

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The Ecology of Dance

Post provided by Chloe Robinson

Dance has been part of human culture for millennia. Some scholars refer to dance as a specific language, dependent on the space and time in which it exists and dependent on the power structures that rule in that time. April 29th marks International Dance Day; a day initiated in 1982 by the International Dance Committee of the UNESCO International Theatre Institute to commemorate the birthday of Jean-Georges Noverre, a distinguished French choreographer.

Male Maratus volans peacock spider. Picture credit: Jürgen Otto.

For humans, dance is considered a sacred ritual, sometimes a form of communication and sometimes an important social and courtship activity. A recent study has even linked the innate ability to dance with greater survival rates in prehistoric times. However, for certain species of wild animal, dance-like behaviours are crucial for communication and mating. In this blog, I am going to highlight the evolutionary foundations of dance in wild animals and explore some of the ways that dance is used in ecology.

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Earth Day 2020: Monitoring Biodiversity for Climate Action

Post provided by Chloe Robinson

The demands of a growing human population are putting increasing pressure on the Earth’s natural systems and services. Dubbed the ‘Anthropocene’, we are currently living in a period where human actions are directly altering many earth processes, including atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic and biospheric processes. Climatic change and the resulting consequences, including rising temperatures, changing precipitation (i.e. rainfall, snow etc) and increase in frequency of storm events, represent the biggest challenge to our future and the life-support ecosystems that make our world habitable.

Artist’s interpretation of global climate change. Photo credit: Pete Linforth/Pixabay.

In 1970, Earth Day was launched as a modern environmental movement and a unified response to an environment in crisis. Earth Day has provided a platform for action, resulting in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts in the US and more globally. This year, 22 April marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and the number one environmental crisis theme which needs immediate attention is ‘Climate Action’. Many of our ecosystems on earth are degrading at an alarming pace and we are currently experiencing a species loss at a rate of tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past. 

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Anacapa Toolkit: Automating the Cataloguing of Biodiversity

Post provided by Emily Curd

Imagine that you want to catalogue all of the biodiversity (all of the living organisms) from a particular location; how many trained experts would that require? How many person hours would it take to collect and identify all of the rare, well-disguised, and microscopic organisms? How many of these organisms would have to be removed from the environment and taken back to a lab for taxonomic analysis.

With eDNA, you can survey the presence of this gorgeous opalescent nudibranch without capturing or even touching it.
©Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County — Amanda Bemis & Brittany Cumming

Although there is no substitute for human expertise, we have begun using the traces of DNA that organisms leave behind (e.g. excretions, skin and hair cells) in the environment to catalogue biodiversity. These traces of DNA, referred to as environmental DNA, can persist in the environment for minutes or can persist for centuries depending on where they end up. This field of environmental DNA (eDNA) is rapidly becoming an effective tool to complement surveys of biodiversity, both past and present.

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H.A.P.P.Y: How Are People Preventing Yearning in Academia?

Post provided by Chloe Robinson

Academia and university culture in general are high-paced, demanding environments to work and study in. In the UK alone, a Unihealth study identified that 80% of students studying in higher education experienced stress and anxiety. Similarly, staff and faculty are currently under tremendous pressure and the effects are apparent. A study for the Higher Education Policy Institute revealed that university counselling referrals have risen by three-quarters between 2009 and 2015. So it’s hardly surprising that universities are being coined primary ‘anxiety machines’.

Credit: Ramdlon (pixabay.com).

A multitude of factors can cause the kinds of stress being experienced by so many in universities. Unmanageable workloads, lack of permanent contracts, research exploitation, discrimination, sexism, lack of sufficient support and supervision, pressure to be successful and high competition are just some of the reasons. University bosses state they are aware of the issues and are actively working to improve well-being in institutions, but a lot still remains to be done to tackle the issues.

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International Women’s Day 2020: Retaining Girls and Women in STEM

Post provided by Chloe Robinson

Girls and women make up half of the world’s population and therefore contribute to half of the talent and potential on our planet. Despite representing 3.9 billion people, women are yet to receive the equal rights and opportunities which are currently provided to men. As of 2014, 143 out of 195 countries guarantee equality of women and men in their constitutions, but in practice this is rarely achieved for women.  

Gender equality symbol.

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. This year, the theme is #EachforEqual, highlighting that an equal world is an enabled world. One of the key missions for this theme is forging inclusive workplaces so women can thrive’. This is particularly important for retaining women in STEM fields. Ultimately this mission needs to start in schools, because girls as young as 10 are reported to feel ‘out of place‘ in STEM subjects.

This blog post features some of the initiatives aiming to retain girls in STEM fields and shines a light on how far we have to go before girls and women are treated and represented equally in STEM.

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The Evolution of Love

Post provided by Chloe Robinson

The sending of letters under the pen name ‘St. Valentine’ began back in the middle ages as a way of communicating affection during the practice of courting. Fast forward to 2020 and Valentine’s Day is a day for celebrating romance, but now it typically features the exchange of gifts and cards between lovers.

Credit: Pixabay

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Methods behind the Madness: Ecology at the Poles

Post provided by Chloe Robinson, Crystal Sobel and Valerie Levesque-Beaudin

Aurora Borealis in the polar north. Photo: Noel Bauza, Pixabay

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the coldest months of the year are upon us. A combination of post-holiday ‘blues’ and the cold, dark mornings make the daily trudge to work all that less inspiring. Recent snow storms in locations such as Newfoundland (Canada), have made it nearly impossible for many people to leave their homes, let alone commute to work. Now cast your mind to a little over 2,000 km north of Newfoundland and imagine the challenges faced with carrying out a job during the coldest, darkest months of the year.

As with every other biome on the planet, polar biomes contain a variety of different species, from bugs to baleen whales. To better understand the different species at our poles, scientists need to collect ecological data, but this is far from a walk in the park.

Iceberg in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica. Photo: Liam Quinn, flikr.

With the year 2020 marking 200 years since the discovery of Antarctica and the Centenary of ‘vital’ Scott Polar Research Institute (Cambridge, UK), we wanted to highlight some of the polar research published in the journal, featuring challenges faced and current research being undertaken at the poles.

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