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.
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.
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.
Despite 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
At the time a lot of the progress in ecology and evolutionary biology was being driven by methodological developments in statistics, computing, molecular and genetic techniques. So it seemed logical to propose a journal that concentrated on methodological development. The community needed a specific place to publish methods articles and we wanted to provide one.
The Editorial is freely available to everyone – no subscription required (just like the rest of our January issue). We’ll be celebrating our 10th anniversary all year, so keep an eye out here on the blog and at conferences!
Climate change is threatening biodiversity and ecosystems around the world. We urgently need to better understand how species and ecosystems respond to these changes. There are already thousands of climate change experiments and observational studies out there that could be used to synthesise findings across systems and regions. But it turns out that making meaningful syntheses isn‘t always so straightforward!
The Need for Standardised Methods and Reporting
There are two major challenges (and some minor ones too) for synthesising data across different experiments. First, the data are not always available. This problem arises because key study information – such as metadata, covariates or methodological details – are often not adequately or consistently reported across studies.
The second problem is that scientists use different protocols. This leads to a diversity of ways of measuring and quantifying the same variables. Different protocols may measure or report the same variables in slightly different ways, so the data are not compatible. Consistency in measurements and protocols is one reason why working in large networks – such as ITEX, Herbivory, or NutNet – to name only a few, is so powerful. In these networks, experiments and observations are repeated across large regions or worldwide using strict protocols for experimental design and measurements. Continue reading →