Could we use the plants in this swamp forest to predict the diversity of other species?
Local communities and regional biotas are built of hundreds, if not thousands, of species. Most of these species are small-bodied and discreet lifeforms. So it’s no wonder that naturalists have almost always focused their attention on conspicuous species of their particular liking. Why plants then? Well, plants are practical and efficient. They “stand still and wait to be counted”, as the eminent population biologist John Harper put it. No matter the weather, from spring to autumn. There are enough plant species to show contrasts between sites, and yet they can usually be identified to species level in the field.
You Can’t Predict the Diversity of Beetles from Lichens… Can You?
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.
Imagine you’re the manager of a national park. One that’s rich in endemic biodiversity found nowhere else on the planet. It’s under the influence of multiple human pressures causing irreversible declines in the biodiversity, possibly even leading to the extinction of some of the species. You’re working with a complex system of multiple species and threats, limited knowledge of which threats are causing the biggest declines and limited resources. How do you decide what course of action to take to conserve the biodiversity of the park? This is the dilemma faced by biodiversity managers across the globe.
The annual BES Macroecology Special Interest Group conference took place on the 10th and 11th of July. This year the meeting was in St Andrews, Scotland. Over 100 delegates came together in this old University town to discuss the latest research and concepts in macroecology and macroevolution.
Remote Sensing, Funky Koalas and a Science Ceilidh
The conference opened with a plenary by Journal of Applied Ecology Senior Editor Nathalie Pettorelli from ZSL. She talked about how remote sensing can be used in ecological and conservation studies. In the other plenary talks, we heard from:
Anne Magurran from the University of St Andrews discussing turnover and biodiversity change
Brian McGill from the University of Maine talking about the data-driven approach to the “biodiversity orthodoxy” and challenging the conventional wisdom about macroecological change
We also hosted a student plenary speaker, Alex Skeels, who gave a lively talk about diversification and geographical modelling using some pretty funky disco koalas. In addition to these talks, there were 60 short 5 minutes talks and 20 posters. Continue reading →
Increased access to satellite imagery and new developments in remote sensing data analyses can support biodiversity conservation targets by stepping up monitoring processes at various spatial and temporal scales. More satellite imagery is becoming available as open data. Remote sensing based techniques to capitalise on the information contained in spatially-explicit species data, such as Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), are developing constantly. Current free and open data policy will have a dramatic impact on our ability to understand how biodiversity is being affected by anthropogenic pressures, while improving our ability to predict the consequences of changes at different scales.
The Struggle is Real: Finding Interesting and Relevant Articles
Where to start? We are awash in data, information, papers, and books. There are hundreds of ecological and environmental journals published regularly around the world; the British Ecological Society alone publishes five journals and is now accepting submissions for a sixth (more information on People and Nature here).
None of us has time even to click on the various articles flagged by alerts, feeds, or keywords, and few even browse tables of contents (which are becoming irrelevant as we move to DOIs and immediate-online publication). Increasingly, we rely on our friends, colleagues, students, and mentors to point us towards papers we might find interesting – further evidence, I suppose, of the importance of good networks for knowledge creation and scientific understanding.
Regular readers of Methods in Ecology and Evolution or this Methods blog may not realise how many methodological papers are published routinely in our BES sister journals. In this inaugural posting of Also of interest…, I highlight three papers recently published in Journal of Applied Ecology that introduce and apply new, model-based methodology to interesting ecological questions. The specific methods are like many seen in the pages of Methods in Ecology and Evolution and suggest general approaches for modelling and studying complex ecological and environmental phenomena. Continue reading →
The ANDe system can help researchers tell whether endangered species are present.
In recent years, there have been a lot of studies on the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) for species detection and monitoring. This method takes advantage of the fact that organisms shed DNA into the environment in the form of urine, feces, or cells from tissue such as skin. As this DNA stays in the environment, we can use molecular techniques to search for traces of it. By doing this, we can determine if a species lives in a particular place.
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 →
The Global Pollen Project is an online, freely available tool and data source 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 including modern and fossil vegetation dynamics, forensic sciences, pollination, and beekeeping. To help make pollen identification quicker and more transparent, we developed the Global Pollen Project (GPP) – an open, peer-reviewed database of global pollen morphology, where content and expertise is crowdsourced from across the world. Our approach to developing this tool was open: open code, open data, open access. It connects to other data services, including the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and Neotoma Palaeoecology Database, to provide occurrence data for each taxon, alongside pollen images and metadata. Continue reading →