A Big Database and Big Models Pave the Way for Big Questions in Ecology

This post was provided by Sean McMahon.

Sean is an Associate Editor for Methods in Ecology and Evolution and is a staff scientist at the Smithsonian Institution based at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.  His research focuses on the ecological mechanisms that structure forest communities, with interests spanning the fields of demography, physiology, and remote sensing.

The 100th anniversary of the Ecological Society of America was celebrated in Baltimore, Maryland at their Annual Conference in August. This year a record 10,000 ecologists attended the six day event. ESA conferences now boast a staggering number of scientific presentations, ranging from numerous plenary talks, organized oral sessions and regular oral presentation sessions to lightening talks, posters, workshops and mixers. It was both exhilarating and overwhelming, but featured a truly impressive amount of science.

As the sheer magnitude of the event made attending even a fraction of the talks impossible, it feels odd to highlight any particular presentations. Two talks, however – both on the final morning of the conference – did strike me as worth mentioning; not because they featured groundbreaking science, or novel insights, but because they reflect potentially powerful new platforms from which groundbreaking science might develop. Continue reading

How Much Methodology Should go into Conference Talks?

The following post was written by Tim Poisot. To see the original version, please visit his blog.

Tim is an Associate Editor who works on Applications submissions for Methods in Ecology and Evolution. His research interests include spatial and temporal dynamics of species interactions at the community level, the relevance of variability in community structure on emerging ecosystem properties, and the evolutionary dynamics of multi-species assemblages.

I am back from the centennial meeting of the Ecological Society of America. I met a lot of great people, saw a lot of great talks, and had lovely discussions. One thing that has been in the back of my mind for a while though, is the question of how much methodology should go into an oral presentation?

How much methodology should be in your presentation? © Phil Whitehouse

How much methodology should be in your presentation? © Phil Whitehouse

Methods are important  —  over the last two years I have found that this has been the part of papers I criticize the most during peer review. Any result is only as robust as its least robust element and there are, in ecology, enough sources of variability that we do not want methods to add any more. As a consequence, appreciating a result and its robustness require that we be able to understand and evaluate the methods by which this result has been obtained.

There are a few elements to evaluating a method. Does it rely on a sound and tested theory? Is it properly applied? Is the method correctly implemented? All of these questions (and some more) should be asked —  and answered in the affirmative  —  before we decide to accept a result. If not, we are putting ourselves in the position to blindly accept what we are being told. Continue reading