Methods behind the Madness: Ecology at the Poles

Post provided by Chloe Robinson, Crystal Sobel and Valerie Levesque-Beaudin

Aurora Borealis in the polar north. Photo: Noel Bauza, Pixabay

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.

Iceberg in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica. Photo: Liam Quinn, flikr.

With the year 2020 marking 200 years since the discovery of Antarctica and the Centenary of ‘vital’ Scott Polar Research Institute (Cambridge, UK), we wanted to highlight some of the polar research published in the journal, featuring challenges faced and current research being undertaken at the poles.

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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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Standardising Methods in Climate Change Experiments: A Community Effort

Post provided by AUD HALBRITTER

CHINESE TRANSLATION PROVIDED BY HUI TANG

這篇博客文章也有中文版

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

Celebrating World Soil Day 2019: DNA Metabarcoding Uncovers Tropical Forest Soil Microbiomes

Post provided by KATIE M. MCGEE

Tropical forest in Costa Rica ©Katie M. McGee

How much do you think about the world beneath your feet? Soil is essential for life on earth and provides many ecosystem services, including carbon storage and providing habitats for billions of organisms. But one third of our global soils are already degraded and are at risk of further degradation from human activities, such as unsustainable farming practices, industrial activities, mining and other non-environmentally friendly practices. In 2002, the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) marked the 5th December as World Soil Day, to celebrate the importance of soil as a critical component of the natural system and as a vital contributor to human well-being.

To mark this World Soil Day, I’m going to be highlighting my recent study, which used DNA metabarcoding as a method to investigate soil microbiomes for evaluating the success of forest restoration in Costa Rica.

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Atlantis: A Model for Biophysical, Economic and Social Elements of Marine Ecosystems

Post provided by ASTA AUDZIJONYTE, Heidi Pethybridge, Javier Porobic, Rebecca Gorton, Isaac Kaplan, and Elizabeth A. Fulton

Increased Demands on a Crowded Ocean

Multiple demands on, and uses of, the ocean. ©Frank Shepherd

The ocean was once a limitless frontier, primed for exploitation of fish and other marine life. Today, a scan of the coastline (in our case off Australia and the US) shows an ocean landscape dotted with aquaculture pens, wind farms, eco-tours, and oil rigs, as well as commercial and recreational fishing boats. This presents marine and maritime managers with the huge challenge of balancing competing social, conservation, and economic objectives. Trade-offs arise even from success stories. For example, seal and sea lion populations are recovering from centuries of hunting, which is great. But now they’re preying heavily on economically valuable species like salmon and cod, creating potential tensions between fisheries and conservation communities. Ecosystem-based management is one way that we can start to address these trade-offs. Continue reading

Where do Animals Spend Their Time and Energy? Theory, Simulations and GPS Trackers Can Help Us Find Out

Post provided by MATT MALISHEV (@DARWINANDDAVIS)

 An adult sleepy lizard with a GPS tracker and body temperature logger strapped to her tail. ©Mike Bull.


An adult sleepy lizard with a GPS tracker and body temperature logger strapped to her tail. ©Mike Bull.

Changes in temperature and available food determine where and when animals move, reproduce, and survive. Our understanding of how environmental change impacts biodiversity and species survival is well-established at the landscape, country and global scales. But, we know less about what could happen at finer space and time scales, such as within habitats, where behavioural responses by animals are crucial for daily survival.

Simulating Movement and Daily Survival with Individual-Based Movement Models

Key questions at these scales are how the states of individuals (things like body temperature and nutritional condition) influence movement decisions in response to habitat change, and how these decisions relate to patchiness in microclimates and food. So we need tools to make reliable forecasts of how fine-scale habitat use will change under future environments. Individual-based movement simulation models are powerful tools for these kinds of studies. They let you construct habitats that vary in temperature and food conditions in both space and time and ask ‘what if’ questions. By populating these models with activity, behaviour, and movement data of animals, we can simulate different habitat conditions and predict how animals will respond to future change. Continue reading

Early Spring: Predicting Budburst with Genetics

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘On the importance of accounting for intraspecific genomic relatedness in multi‐species studies‘ taken from the Université de Montréal.

Bud of American beech (Fagus grandifolia). ©Tim Savas

Researchers from Canada and the USA found that tree and shrub genetics can be used to produce more accurate predictions of when leaves will burst bud in the spring. Their study was published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Although climate sceptics might find it hard to believe with this year’s endless snow and freezing temperatures, climate change is making warm, sunny early springs increasingly common. And that affects when trees start to leaf out. But how much?

Simon Joly, biology professor at Université de Montréal and Elizabeth Wolkovich, an ecology professor at University of British Columbia, showed that a plant’s genetics can be used to produce more accurate predictions of when its leaves will burst bud in spring. Continue reading

Volunteer Ornithological Survey Shows Effects of Temperatures on Eurasian Jay Population

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Incorporating fine‐scale environmental heterogeneity into broad‐extent models‘ taken from the University of Southampton.

A study led by researchers at the University of Southampton has used data collected by volunteer bird watchers to study how the importance of wildlife habitat management depends on changing temperatures for British birds.

The team studied data from the British Trust for Ornithology’s Bird Atlas 2007 – 11 on the abundance of the Eurasian jay over the whole of Great Britain. The University of Southampton researchers focused on jays for this trial as they are a species of bird known to frequent a mixture of different natural environments. Continue reading

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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