Today is the first day of the Crossing the Palaeontological-Ecological Gap (CPEG) conference. The aim of the conference is to open a dialogue between palaeontologists and ecologists who work on similar questions but across vastly different timescales. This splitting of temporal scales tends to make communication, data integration and synthesis in ecology harder. A lot of this comes from the fact that palaeontologists and ecologists tend to publish in different journals and attend different meetings.
Understanding how wild populations respond and adapt to environmental change is a key question in evolutionary biology. To understand this, we need to be able to separate genetic and environmental effects on phenotypic variation. Statistical ‘animal models’, which can do just this, have revolutionised the field of quantitative genetics. A lack of full knowledge of individual pedigrees can lead to severe bias in quantitative genetic parameter estimates though – particularly when genetic values for focal traits vary non-randomly in unknown parents.
A fossilized species of the diatom Thalassiosira. B. A species of the dinoflagellate Prorocentrum. (Image provided by A. Ndhlovu).
As any reader of Methods in Ecology and Evolution will know, advances in technologies and methodologies used by ecologists and evolutionary biologists are never-ending. Coupled with the tendency for researchers to become ever more specialised, this means that keeping up to date with all the advances is challenging at best. Occasionally, new advances revolutionise the kinds of questions we ask and encourage us to develop new approaches to answer them. One of these huge advances emerged from the ‘-omics’ revolution.
The application of -omics methodologies to evolution and ecology has been particularly rapid. These technologies usually aren’t part of the basic science education in these fields – it’s more usual for computational biologists to cross over to ecology and evolution than the other way around. The review by Simon Creer and colleagues ’The ecologist’s field guide to sequence-based identification of biodiversity’ helps bridge this gap. It’s not too technical, but sufficiently detailed, and it provides a very handy overview of how genomics, transcriptomics and their meta-analyses can be applied to evolutionary ecology. The paper is filled with enormously helpful workflows, pointers, examples and, as the title suggests, is a guide for those who are not experts in sequence based technologies. Continue reading →
Conservation conflicts are actually conflicts among people with different priorities.
Conservation issues seem to be getting ever more complex and challenging. Practitioners and society at large agree on the need to gather – and somehow use – as much information as possible before making any conservation-related decisions. Talking to all kinds of people, ranging from local villagers, fishermen and hunters to international experts, community leaders and environmentalists, is now common practice in conservation research. Not everyone will agree on the eventual conservation decisions, but the idea is that decisions should only be made after (almost) everyone’s opinion has been heard.
So far so good. The calls for inclusive conservation are being acknowledged, and we should be ready to move on and make better decisions, right? Well, it’s not always that easy. Conservation conflicts are actually conflicts among people with different priorities and values. Just calling for dialogue and hoping that consensus and effective conservation action will just follow isn’t enough. Continue reading →
Ecologists are increasingly in need of quantitative skills and the British Ecological Society Quantitative Ecology Special Interest Group (QE SIG) aims to support skills development, sharing of good practice and highlighting novel methods development within quantitative ecology. We run events throughout the year, as well as contributing to the Annual Meeting and providing a mailing list to share events, jobs and quantitative news.
The run up to the Ecology Across Borders joint Annual Meeting in Ghent this month is an exciting time for the SIG as we look forward to catching up with existing members as well as hopefully meeting some new recruits! Several of our SIG committee members will be in attendance and if you’ve been lucky enough to get a place at the Hackathon on the Monday you’ll meet most of us there. The Hackathon has been jointly developed by us and two of our allied groups; the GfÖ Computational Ecology Working Group and the NecoV Ecological Informatics SIG and is being sponsored by Methods in Ecology and Evolution. We’ll be challenging participants to work together to produce R packages suggested by the ecological community. You can see the list of package suggestions here. If you weren’t able to book a place at the Hackathon, but are interested in writing your own packages, you may be interested in the new Guide to Reproducible Code from the BES. Continue reading →
Estuaries are biological hotspots and by far the most productive ecosystems on our planet. The shallow waters where streams and rivers meet the sea often harbour a rich terrestrial and aquatic flora and are home to many animals. They’re important feeding and reproduction areas for a diverse array of wildlife such as birds and fish, which can include both freshwater and marine species. A large portion of the world’s marine fisheries today depend on the ecosystem services of estuaries; it has been estimated that well over half of all marine fishes develop in the protective environment of an estuary. Historically, humans have been attracted to these large expanses of shallow water that could sustain their basic needs. Nowadays, these estuaries also have economic value as recreational and touristic destinations as for example fishing, boating and swimming spots.
However, our understanding of how estuaries function and sustain this amount of biodiversity is limited. As is the case for most ecosystems on our planet, estuaries are under increasing pressure from human activities. Estuaries are subjected to intensive land reclamation and developments like harbours and aquacultural farms. They also receive excessive amounts of of nutrients, soil and organic matter from intensive farms and urban landscapes via small streams and large rivers. These stressors are accentuated by environmental changes such as sea level rise, increasing water temperatures and extreme weather conditions causing droughts and flooding. Continue reading →
Before I started my NERC Valuing Nature Placement in April 2017, I’d never done interdisciplinary work. I had been thinking about it for a while though, when I read on Twitter that the Valuing Nature Programme were launching their placement scheme for 2017. I had already been in touch with my prospective hosts – Hilary Graham, Department of Health Science, and Piran White, Environment Department, both at the University of York – but the launch of the scheme galvanised our interest. We put together our application and were delighted to receive funding. So, what is that we set out to do?
Piran, Hilary and I had already been talking about projects focusing on knowledge transfer, particularly around collaborative work to tackle antimicrobial resistance. Valuing Nature was the perfect fit for what we wanted to do. The programme aims to further our understanding of nature in valuation analyses and decision making by building an interdisciplinary research community capable of working across the natural, biological and social sciences, as well as the arts and humanities. Interdisciplinarity is integral to the programme. Continue reading →
Heard but not seen, populations of forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) are rapidly declining due to ivory poaching. As one of the largest land mammals in the world, this species is surprisingly difficult to observe in the dense forests of Central Africa, but their low frequency rumbles can be recorded. With the autonomous recording afforded by passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) though, we have a window onto forest elephant ecology and behaviour that’s providing data critical to their conservation and survival.
The diverse ways that PAM can contribute to conservation outcomes is growing and while still underappreciated, the availability of relatively inexpensive recorders, increased power efficiency, and powerful techniques to automate the detection of signals have led to an explosion in use. In 2007 there were only about 20 published papers using PAM techniques, but since then over 400 papers have appeared in peer-reviewed journals.
Spectrogram of two forest elephant rumbles. Horizontal line shows the limit of human hearing.
Essentially, PAM is the automatic recording of sounds in a given environment, often for long periods. The trick, and often greatest challenge, is to find the signals of interest (bird calls, elephant rumbles, gunshots) within the recordings. With these signals we can quantify abundance, occupancy and spatial or temporal patterns of activity. Particularly in landscapes or ecosystems where visual observation is difficult (e.g. oceans, rainforests, nocturnal environments) PAM may be uniquely capable of delivering informative and unbiased data. Because PAM is a relatively new method but of considerable interest across the disciplines of ecology, behaviour and conservation, there is huge interest in refining the sampling and statistical methods needed to deal with the peculiarities of acoustic data. Continue reading →
An Asian, female Senior Editor under 45? Progressive! I have loved Methods in Ecology and Evolution since it appeared in 2010 and am thrilled to have been selected to join Rob, Bob and Jana to help with the journal’s continued development.
OK, so you want to know who the new Senior Editor on the MEE block is. I’m just another scientist, I guess. On the outside, we look different but on the inside, we’re all the same. (OK, perhaps we are a little different, even on the inside, but that makes life and research interesting, right?)
Here’s my academic life history: I did my Bachelors thesis on the systematics/phylogenetics of an obscure group of marine pulmonate slugs with one of the greatest Icelandic biologists I know, Jon Sigurdsson, at the National University of Singapore. I followed this up with an almost-half-year stint at the Museum of Natural Science in Berlin as a “nobody”, digitizing data. Then I won the academic lottery and headed up to Uppsala to do my masters in conservation biology on tropical pollinator diversity, (un)supervised by two amazing supervisors that never met each other, the late Navjot Sodhi (National University of Singapore) and Thomas Elmqvist, now at Stockholm University. Continue reading →
The Global Pollen Project is a new, online, freely available tool developed to help people identify and disseminate palynological resources. Palynology – the study of pollen grains and other spores – is used across many fields of study modern and fossil vegetation dynamics, forensic sciences, pollination, beekeeping, and much more. This platform helps to facilitate cross/multi-disciplinary integration and discussion, outsourcing identifications, expertise and the sharing of knowledge.
Pollen’s Role in Plant Conservation
Successful conservation of rare, threatened, and valuable plants is dependent on an understanding of the threats that they face. Also, conservationists must prioritise species and populations based on their value to humans, which may be cultural, economic, medicinal, etc. The study of fossil pollen (palaeoecology), deposited through time in sediments from lakes and bogs, can help inform the debate over which species to prioritise: which are native, and when did they arrive? How did humans impact species richness? By establishing such biodiversity baselines, policymakers can make more informed value judgements over which habitats and species to conserve, especially where conservation efforts are weighted in favour of native and/or endemic flora. Continue reading →