Using Molecular Power to Reconstruct Hyperdiverse Food Webs

Post provided by JORDAN CASEY

Coral Reefs: The Ocean’s Most Extravagant Buffet

Coral reefs are home to an incredibly diverse array of species ©Jordan Casey

Coral reefs are home to an incredibly diverse array of species ©Jordan Casey

There are an estimated 830,000 species on coral reefs worldwide. At some stage in their lives, nearly all of these species are consumed as prey items. In this super diverse buffet of fishes, corals, crabs, worms, and other critters, the number of possible interactions between predators and prey is nearly inexhaustible.

The extreme diversity of coral reefs has fascinated naturalists for centuries. Pinpointing predator-prey dynamics is essential to fully understand coral reef ecosystem dynamics, and visual analysis of gut contents has been a staple technique of coral reef ecologists. While the joy of spending copious hours looking through a microscope at half-digested marine mush is undeniable, this type of visual inspection has limitations. Even so, visual gut content analysis (along with stable isotope analysis and behavioural observations) has showcased a highly complex dietary network.

To digest this extreme complexity and surmount the hurdle of dietary unknowns, researchers frequently lump fishes into broad trophic categories, such as ‘mobile herbivores’. Broad generalisations are pragmatic and may be help us detect broad ecological trends, but they oversimplify species’ actual dietary preferences. As coral reefs are changing due to anthropogenic disturbances, it’s critical to thoroughly examine how well trophic groupings capture dietary linkages among reef organisms. Continue reading

Assessing Sea Turtle Populations: Can We Get a Hand From Drones and Deep Learning?

Post provided by PATRICK GRAY

An olive ridley sea turtle in Ostional, Costa Rica. ©Vanessa Bézy.

Understanding animal movement and population size is a challenge for researchers studying any megafauna species. Sea turtles though, add a whole additional level of complexity. These wide-ranging, swift, charismatic animals spend much of their time underwater and in remote places. When trying to track down and count turtles, this obstacle to understanding population size becomes a full-on barricade.

Censusing these animals doesn’t just satisfy our scientific curiosity. It’s critical for understanding the consequences of unsound fishing practices, the benefits of conservation policy, and overall trends in population health for sea turtles, of which, six out of seven species range from vulnerable to critically endangered. Continue reading

Where do Animals Spend Their Time and Energy? Theory, Simulations and GPS Trackers Can Help Us Find Out

Post provided by MATT MALISHEV (@DARWINANDDAVIS)

 An adult sleepy lizard with a GPS tracker and body temperature logger strapped to her tail. ©Mike Bull.


An adult sleepy lizard with a GPS tracker and body temperature logger strapped to her tail. ©Mike Bull.

Changes in temperature and available food determine where and when animals move, reproduce, and survive. Our understanding of how environmental change impacts biodiversity and species survival is well-established at the landscape, country and global scales. But, we know less about what could happen at finer space and time scales, such as within habitats, where behavioural responses by animals are crucial for daily survival.

Simulating Movement and Daily Survival with Individual-Based Movement Models

Key questions at these scales are how the states of individuals (things like body temperature and nutritional condition) influence movement decisions in response to habitat change, and how these decisions relate to patchiness in microclimates and food. So we need tools to make reliable forecasts of how fine-scale habitat use will change under future environments. Individual-based movement simulation models are powerful tools for these kinds of studies. They let you construct habitats that vary in temperature and food conditions in both space and time and ask ‘what if’ questions. By populating these models with activity, behaviour, and movement data of animals, we can simulate different habitat conditions and predict how animals will respond to future change. Continue reading

Scant Amounts of DNA Reveal Conservation Clues

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Empowering conservation practice with efficient and economical genotyping from poor quality samples‘ taken from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment.

Wild tiger in India. ©Prasenjeet Yadav

The challenges of collecting DNA samples directly from endangered species makes understanding and protecting them harder. A new approach promises cheap, rapid analysis of genetic clues in degraded and left-behind material, such as hair and commercial food products.

The key to solving a mystery is finding the right clues. Wildlife detectives aiming to protect endangered species have long been hobbled by the near impossibility of collecting DNA samples from rare and elusive animals. Continue reading

Volunteer Ornithological Survey Shows Effects of Temperatures on Eurasian Jay Population

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Incorporating fine‐scale environmental heterogeneity into broad‐extent models‘ taken from the University of Southampton.

A study led by researchers at the University of Southampton has used data collected by volunteer bird watchers to study how the importance of wildlife habitat management depends on changing temperatures for British birds.

The team studied data from the British Trust for Ornithology’s Bird Atlas 2007 – 11 on the abundance of the Eurasian jay over the whole of Great Britain. The University of Southampton researchers focused on jays for this trial as they are a species of bird known to frequent a mixture of different natural environments. Continue reading

Studying Wild Bats with Small On-Board Sound and Movement Recorders

Post provided by LAURA STIDSHOLT

Releasing a female Greater mouse-eared bat with the tag in collaboration with Holger Goerlitz, Stefan Greif and Yossi Yovel. ©Stefan Greif

The way that bats acrobatically navigate and forage in complete darkness has grasped the interest of scientists since the 18th century. These seemingly exotic animals make up one in four mammalian species and play important roles in many ecosystems across the globe from rainforests to deserts. Yet, their elusive ways continue to fascinate and frighten people even today. Over the last 200 years, dedicated scientists have worked to uncover how bats hunt and navigate using only their voice and ears while flying at high speed in complete darkness. Still, the inaccessible lifestyle of these small, nocturnal fliers continues to challenge what we know about their activities in the wild.

Understanding the impact bats have on their ecosystems – for example how many insects a bat catches per night – has still not been directly measured. Most of our knowledge on the natural behaviour and foraging ecology is based on elaborate, but ground-based experiments carried out in the wild. These experiments generally track their behaviour using radio-telemetry, record snapshots of their emitted echolocation calls with microphones, or involve extensive observations. Continue reading

What Biases Could Your Sampling Methods Add to Your Data?

Post provided by ROGER HO LEE

這篇博客文章也有中文版

Have you ever gone fishing? If so, you may have had the experience of not catching any fish, while the person next to you got plenty. If you walked along the pier or bank, you may have seen that other fishermen and -women caught fish of various shapes and sizes. You’d soon realise that each person was using a different set of equipment and baits, and of course, that the anglers differed in their skills and experience. Beneath the water were many fish, but whether you could catch them, or which species could even be caught, all depended on your fishing method, as well as where and how the fish you were targeting lived.

Designing Sampling Protocols

Head view of different ant species found in Hong Kong and further in SE Asia.

Head view of different ant species found in Hong Kong and further in South East Asia.

This is a lot like the situation that ecologists often face when designing sampling protocols for field surveys. While a comprehensive survey will yield the most complete information, few of us have the resources to capture every member of the community we’re studying. So, we take representative samples instead. But the method(s) used for sampling will only allow us to collect a subset of the species which are present. This selection of the species is not random per se – it’s dependent on species’ life history. Continue reading

採樣方法會帶來怎樣的數據偏差?

作者:李灝

This blog post is also available in English

你有釣魚的經驗嗎?若有的話,以下的經歷對你應該不會陌生。自己釣了大半天,魚杆動也沒動過,但身旁的釣手卻滿載而歸。感到灰心時,你沿著碼頭或岸邊巡視,你看到其他人的魚獲大大小小的也有﹑形態不同的的也有。心裡被疑惑與不甘的思緒纏繞著的一刻,你突然意識到每個人都在使用不同的釣具和魚餌(當然每位垂釣者的技能和經驗也不同)。在水中有各種各樣的魚,但你能否釣到牠們,或者釣到那一些品種,都取決於你釣魚的方法,以及你目標魚種的活動範圍和生活方式。

採樣方案的設計

Head view of different ant species found in Hong Kong and further in SE Asia.

香港和東南亞地區的螞蟻品種。

上述的經歷與生態學家在設計野外調查時所遇到的情況非常相似。雖然全面的調查能取得最完整的資料,但我們很少會有充足的資源去完整地採集整個物種群落。取而代之的是我們只能採集一部份的物種來作寫照。值得我們留意的是每種採樣方法只允許我們收集到群落中的某些物種;這些物種不是隨機地被選中,而是取決於物種的生活史。 Continue reading

How Can Understanding Animal Behaviour Help Support Wildlife Conservation?

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘A novel biomechanical approach for animal behaviour recognition using accelerometers‘ taken from the EPFL.

©Arpat Ozgul, University of Zurich

Researchers from EPFL and the University of Zurich have developed a model that uses data from sensors worn by meerkats to gain a more detailed picture of how animals behave in the wild.

Advancement in sensor technologies has meant that field biologists are now collecting a growing mass of ever more precise data on animal behaviour. Yet there is currently no standardised method for determining exactly how to interpret these signals. Take meerkats, for instance. A signal that the animal is active could mean that it is moving; alternatively, it could indicate that it is digging in search of its favourite prey, scorpions. Likewise, an immobile meerkat could be resting – or keeping watch.

In an effort to answer these questions, researchers from EPFL’s School of Engineering Laboratory of Movement Analysis and Measurement (LMAM) teamed up with colleagues from the University of Zurich’s Population Ecology Research Group to develop a behavior recognition model. The research was conducted in affiliation with the Kalahari Research Centre. Continue reading

Using Experimental Methodology to Determine Grassland Response to Climate Change

Post provided by Heather Hager

©Hajnal Kovacs

In the second chapter of Grasslands and Climate ChangeMethodology I: Detecting and predicting grassland changeJonathan Newman and I take an in-depth look at the experimental methodology that has been used to determine how grassland ecosystems will respond to climate change. When we set out, we were interested in knowing, for example, the magnitudes and types of treatments applied, plot sizes, replication, study durations, and types of response variables that were measured and by how many studies. For simplicity(!), we focused on three treatment types: changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, changes in temperature (mean, minimum, maximum), and changes in precipitation (increases, decreases, timing).

Using the methods of a formal systematic review, we identified 841 relevant studies, for which we extracted information on study location and experimental methodology. There were some surprises, both good and bad. For instance, mean and median plot sizes were actually larger than we had expected. On the other hand, numbers of true experimental replicates were low. Although many of the study methods were well reported, some areas lacked critical detail such as descriptions of (at least) the dominant plant species in the study area.

Continue reading