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.

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Methods in Temporal Ecology

Post provided by Althea L. Davies & M. Jane Bunting

This post presents our reflections from two sessions at the first British Ecological Society Annual Meeting since the Palaeoecology Special Interest Group (SIG) was formed. Did the term “palaeoecology” make you want to stop reading? Then you’re not alone – our field of ecology seems to have drifted apart from neoecology over the last couple decades. We seem to have been separated by our choice of methods, rather than brought together by the fascinating, complex and essential challenges of better understanding ecosystem function that we share.

The diversity of talks at BES 2018 showed that ecologists working on time scales beyond the scope of direct study are researching the same urgent, exciting questions as other flavours of ecology. And that they are doing it by using an ever-growing range of methods and technologies. The Thematic Session ‘Advancing Our Understanding of Long-Term Ecology’ showcased advances in studies of long-term ecology. The Palaeoecology Oral Session demonstrated the diversity within this field. We don’t have room to mention all presenters, so we’d like to highlight contributions from two speakers in each session which demonstrate how strong the shared ground between palaeoecology and neoecology is. Continue reading

New Associate Editor: Res Altwegg

Today, we are pleased to be welcoming a new member of the Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editor Board. Res Altwegg joins us from the University of Cape Town, South Africa and you can find out a little more about him below.

Res Altwegg

“My interests lie at the intersection between ecology and statistics, particularly in demography, population ecology, species range dynamics and community ecology. My work addresses questions in conservation biology especially in relation to climate change. I’m particularly excited about the increasing availability of large data sets, such as those collected by citizen scientists, and the opportunities and challenges their analysis brings.”

Res is the founding director of the centre for Statistics in Ecology, Environment and Conservation at the University of Cape Town. The centre brings together ecologists and statisticians with the aim to address some of the most important questions in ecology and conservation using cutting-edge statistical methods. He has reviewed for Methods in Ecology and Evolution a number of times over the past few years and has had one article – ‘A general framework for animal density estimation from acoustic detections across a fixed microphone array‘ – published in the journal. Another of Res’ articles has recently been accepted for publication and will appear in an upcoming Special Feature.

We are thrilled to welcome Res as a new Associate Editor and we look forward to working with him on the journal.

What the Past Can Tell Us About the Future: Notes from Crossing the Palaeontological – Ecological Gap

Post provided by Karen Bacon

I had the pleasure of delivering one of the plenary talks at the first (hopefully of many) Crossing the Palaeontological – Ecological Gap meeting held in the University of Leeds on August 30th and 31st. I’m a geologist and a botanist, so this is a topic that’s close to my heart and my professional interests.

How Palaeoecology Can Help Us Today

©Gail Hampshire

©Gail Hampshire

As we move into an ecologically uncertain future with pressures of climate change, land-use change and resource limitations, the fossil record offers the only truly long-term record of how Earth’s ecosystems respond to major environmental upheaval driven by climate change events. The fossil record is, of course, not without its problems – there are gaps, not everything fossilises in the same way or numbers, and comparisons to today’s ecology are extremely difficult.  It’s these difficulties (and other challenges) that make the uniting of palaeontology and ecology essential to fully address how plants, animals and other organisms have responded to major changes in the past. Perhaps uniting them could give us an idea of what to expect in our near-term future, as carbon dioxide levels return to those not previously experienced on Earth since the Pliocene, over 2 million years ago. Continue reading

Poles Apart Yet Poles Together

Post provided by Matt Davey

Earlier this summer, I attended a rather unique conference – Polar2018 in Davos, Switzerland. This conference brought together the two major committees that help govern and coordinate Arctic, Alpine and Antarctic research around the globe – the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) – who also celebrates their 60th Anniversary this year – and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC).

With nearly 2500 delegates over one week it was impressive how talks and sessions kept to time, posters went up and came down, and coffee (good coffee, served with correctly cooked croissants!) was served. The level of organisation you’d hope to see at all conferences, big or small. The venue for Polar2018 was also home to the G7 world economic forum summits and staff seemed at ease with only having 2500 delegates to deal with…

From day one, there was persistent message throughout the conference. Not only does the rest of the human populated world affect the polar environments, but in response, any change in polar ecosystem and environment functioning (biological and non-biological) has a large knock-on effect on the rest of the world. Continue reading

Improving Biodiversity Monitoring using Satellite Remote Sensing

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.

In our latest Special Feature, ‘Improving Biodiversity Monitoring using Satellite Remote Sensing‘, Sandra Luque, Nathalie Pettorelli, Petteri Vihervaara and Martin Wegmann explain why tackling this challenge is worth doing. The articles demonstrate how combining satellite remote sensing data with ground observations and adequate modelling can help to give us a better understanding of natural systems, leading to improved management practices. They focus on three key conservation challenges:

  1. Monitoring of biodiversity
  2. Developing an improved understanding of biodiversity patterns
  3. Assessing biodiversity’s vulnerability to climate change

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TV Coverage of Cycling Races Can Help Document the Effects of Climate Change

Archive footage of the Tour of Flanders obtained by Flemish broadcaster VRT - Flanders Classics

Archive footage of the Tour of Flanders obtained by Flemish broadcaster VRT – Flanders Classics

Analysing nearly four decades of archive footage from the Tour of Flanders, researchers from Ghent University have been able to detect climate change impacts on trees. Their findings were published today in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Focusing on trees and shrubs growing around recognisable climbs and other ‘landmarks’ along the route of this major annual road cycling race in Belgium, the team looked at video footage from 1981 to 2016 obtained by Flemish broadcaster VRT. They visually estimated how many leaves and flowers were present on the day of the course (usually in early April) and linked their scores to climate data. Continue reading

Editor Recommendation: A Multi-State Species Distribution Modelling Framework for Species Using Distinct Habitats

Post provided by Jana McPherson

© Amélie Augé

© Amélie Augé

Correlative distribution models have become essential tools in conservation, macroecology and ecology more generally. They help turn limited occurrence records into predictive maps that help us get a better sense of where species might be found, which areas might be critical for their protection, how large their range currently is, and how it might change with climate change, urban encroachment or other forms of habitat conversion.

It can be frustrating, however, when species distribution models (and the predictive maps they produce) don’t adequately capture what we already know about the habitat needs of a species. A major challenge to date has been to represent the environmental needs of species that require distinct habitats during different life stages or behavioural states. Rainbow parrotfish (Scarus guacamaia), for example, spend their youth sheltered from predators in mangrove areas before moving onto coral reefs, and European nightjars (Caprimulgus europaeus) breed in heathland but require access to grazed grassland for foraging. Correlative distribution models confronted with occurrence records from both life stages or behavioural modes tend to produce poor predictive maps because they confound these distinct requirements. Continue reading

Issue 9.2

Issue 9.2 is now online!

The February issue of Methods is now online!

This double-size issue contains six Applications articles (one of which is Open Access) and two Open Access research articles. These eight papers are freely available to everyone, no subscription required.

 Temperature Manipulation: Welshofer et al. present a modified International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) chamber design for year-round outdoor use in warming taller-stature plant communities up to 1.5 m tall.This design is a valuable tool for examining the effects of in situ warming on understudied taller-stature plant communities

 ZoonThe disjointed nature of the current species distribution modelling (SDM) research environment hinders evaluation of new methods, synthesis of current knowledge and the dissemination of new methods to SDM users. The zoon R package aims to overcome these problems by providing a modular framework for constructing reproducible SDM workflows.

 BEIN R Package: The Botanical Information and Ecology Network (BIEN) database comprises an unprecedented wealth of cleaned and standardised botanical data. The bien r package allows users to access the multiple types of data in the BIEN database. This represents a significant achievement in biological data integration, cleaning and standardisation.

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What About Winter? Accounting for the Snow Season When We Simulate Climate Warming

Post provided by Rebecca Sanders-DeMott and Pamela Templer

Processes that occur in winter are a significant component of annual carbon and nutrient cycles. ©Travel Stock Photos

Processes that occur in winter are a significant component of annual carbon and nutrient cycles. ©Travel Stock Photos

The climate is changing throughout the globe with consequences for the biogeochemical processes and ecological relationships that drive ecosystems. Scientists have been conducting manipulative experiments to determine the effect of climate warming on ecosystems for several decades. These experiments allow us to observe ecosystem responses before the climate changes occur and have yielded invaluable insight that has expanded our understanding of the natural world.

There is a wide range of creative approaches to mimicking climate warming that have been used, for example open-topped chambers which passively heat small areas of soil and small stature plants (like the ITEX global network), burying heating cables in the soil to directly increase soil temperatures (e.g. Harvard Forest experiments), infrared heating lamps (like Jasper Ridge), or even large scale chambers that can encompass taller stature plants like trees and actively warm the air (like the SPRUCE experiment). The focus of much of these inquiries has been on changes that occur during the growing season, when biological activity is at its peak. Continue reading