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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.