Hyperoverlap: Detecting Overlap in n-Dimensional Space

Post provided by Matilda Brown, Barbara Holland, and Greg Jordan

Overlap can help us to learn why Microcachrys
is now only found in the mountains of
Tasmania. ©Greg Jordan

There are many reasons that we might be interested in whether individuals, species or populations overlap in multidimensional space.  In ecology and evolution, we might be interested in climatic overlap, morphological overlap, phenological or biochemical overlap. We can use analyses of overlap to study resource partitioning, evolutionary histories and palaeoenvironmental conditions, or to inform conservation management and taxonomy. Even these represent only a subset of the possible cases in which we might want to investigate overlap between entities. Databases such as GBIF, TRY and WorldClim make vast amounts of data publicly available for these investigations. However, these studies require complex multivariate data and distilling such data into meaningful conclusions is no walk in the park.

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How Do You Measure Birdsong? Introducing Chipper

Post provided by Abigail Searfoss and Nicole Creanza

Today, science extends beyond the research bench or the fieldsite more often than ever before. Scientists are continuously interacting with educators and the general public, and people are reciprocating the interest with a drive to be involved.

A chipping sparrow. ©Kathy Malone, Nashville
chapter of the Tennessee Ornithology Society.

With this integration of science and the public, citizen-science efforts to crowdsource information have become increasingly popular (check out Zooniverse, SciStarter, NASA Citizen Science Projects, Project FeederWatch, and Foldit to get involved!). In the birding community, enthusiasts have been observing and recording birds for decades, but now there are methods for immediate data sharing among the community (eBird).

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Using Shark Scales to Unlock the Secrets of Historical Shark Communities on Coral Reefs

Post provided by Erin Dillon

Close your eyes for a second and imagine a coral reef. What do you think the shark community on that reef looked like historically?

Grey reef sharks on Palmyra Atoll’s forereef. ©Darcy Bradley.

Perhaps you imagined a remote reef with high shark abundance like Fakarava, French Polynesia or Palmyra Atoll, Northern Line Islands. Maybe you thought of a marine protected area such as Jardines de la Reina National Park in Cuba. Or perhaps you relied on your own memories from snorkeling on reefs in the past or photos of reefs taken decades ago.

The answer to this question depends on a reef’s location, given that shark abundances can vary with primary productivity and other oceanographic features. It also depends on which time period you chose as your reference point. Shark abundances can fluctuate over the course of a few hours – as well as over days to years to decades and beyond. Even if you chose the same time and place as the person before you, you might have come up with a slightly different answer. This variation in how we determine baselines – overlaid on a backdrop of natural variation in shark communities over space and time – can contribute to differing perceptions about what’s natural or what a depleted population can possibly be restored to.

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Issue 11.3: Tracking, Slicing, Classifying, Modelling and More

The March issue of Methods is now online!

The latest issue of Methods in Ecology and Evolution is now online! This month’s issue is a little shorter than our last few. But, as they say, good things come in small packages!

Executive Editor Aaron Ellison has selected six Featured Articles this month. You can find out about all of them below. We’ve also got five Applications articles in the March issue that we’re going to cover.

On top of all that, the March issue includes articles on 3D modelling, estimating plant density and more.

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2019 Robert May Early Career Researcher Prize Shortlist

Each year Methods in Ecology and Evolution awards the Robert May Prize to the best paper in the journal by an author at the start of their career. Today we present the shortlisted papers for 2019’s award, based on articles published in volume 10 of the journal.

The winner will be chosen by the journal’s Senior Editors in a few weeks. Keep an eye on the blog for the announcement.

This year’s shortlisted candidates are:

Extracting individual trees from lidar point clouds using treeseg – Andrew Burt

A quantitative framework for investigating the reliability of empirical network construction – Alyssa R. Cirtwill

A novel biomechanical approach for animal behaviour recognition using accelerometers – Pritish Chakravarty

Anacapa Toolkit: An environmental DNA toolkit for processing multilocus metabarcode datasets – Emily E. Curd

MistNet: Measuring historical bird migration in the US using archived weather radar data and convolutional neural networks – Tsung‐Yu Lin

Using quantum dots as pollen labels to track the fates of individual pollen grains – Corneile Minnaar

Untangling direct species associations from indirect mediator species effects with graphical models – Gordana C. Popovic

Matrix methods for stochastic dynamic programming in ecology and evolutionary biology – Jody R. Reimer

Current and emerging statistical techniques for aquatic telemetry data: A guide to analysing spatially discrete animal detections – Kim Whoriskey

Over the next month or so, we’ll be finding out more about these articles. You’ll be able to keep up to date with all of the Robert May Prize news here.

Teaching Computers to Think like Ecologists

Post provided by CHRIS TERRY

Artificial intelligence (or AI) is an enormously hot topic, regularly hitting the news with the latest milestone where computers matching or exceeding the capacity of humans at a particular task. For ecologists, one of the most exciting and promising uses of artificial intelligence is the automatic identification of species. If this could be reliably cracked, the streams of real-time species distribution data that could be unlocked worldwide would be phenomenal.

ladybird-stock_thumbDespite the hype and rapid improvements, we’re not quite there yet. Although AI naturalists have had some successes, they can also often make basic mistakes. But we shouldn’t be too harsh on the computers, since identifying the correct species just from a picture can be really hard. Ask an experienced naturalist and they’ll often need to know where and when the photo was taken. This information can be crucial for ruling out alternatives. There’s a reason why field guides include range maps!

Currently, most AI identification tools only use an image. So, we set out to see if a computer can be taught to think more like a human, and make use of this extra information. Continue reading

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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Issue 11.2: Stable Isotopes, in situ Monitoring, Image Analysis and more

The February issue of Methods is now online!

The latest issue of Methods in Ecology and Evolution is now online!

Executive Editor Rob Freckleton has selected six Featured Articles this month. You can find out about all of them below. We’ve also got six Applications articles and five Open Access articles in the February issue – we’ll talk about all of those here too.

On top of all that, the February issue includes articles on population genetics, ecological assemblages, and reconstruction of protein sequences.

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A Surgical Approach to Dissection of an Exotic Animal

Post provided by Aaron T Irving, Justin HJ Ng and Lin-fa Wang

An Australian black flying fox – missing an ear, but fit for release.

Bats. They’re amazing creatures. Long-lived (with relevance to their body size), echolocating (for microbats and some megabats), metabolically-resilient (apparently resilient to most virus infections) flying mammals (with heart beats up to 1200 bpm for hours during flight). There are 1,411 species of this incredible creature. But very little is known about their physiology and unique biological traits. And detailed evolutionary analysis has only just begun.

The problem is, they’re an ‘exotic’ animal (wildlife that most people do not come into contact with). Being a long-lived animal producing minimal offspring (most only have one baby per year), they’re not suited to the kind of experimental studies we do with other animals like mice. Unavoidably, some aspects of biology require the use of tissues and cells. These samples can be used for sequencing, genomics, molecular evolution studies, detailed transcriptomic analysis, functional experiments with specific cell types and much more. Some methodology is beginning to be published – such as capture techniques and wing punch/genomic isolation – but there’s been an absence of protocols for the processing of bats. This is essential for the field to maximise the potential application of each individual and for minimising non-essential specimen collection.

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Issue 11.1: Climate Change, Genomic Divergence, Bayesian Modelling and More

The January issue of Methods is now online!

It’s a new year and the new issue of Methods in Ecology and Evolution is now online!

We’re starting 2020 with a great issue – and ALL of the articles are completely free. And they’ll remain free for the whole year. No subscription required.

You can find out more about our Featured Articles (selected by the Senior Editor) below. We also discuss this month’s Open Access, Practical Tools and Applications articles. There are also articles on species distributions, biotic interactions, taxonomic units and much more.

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