HistMapR: 12 Months from Coffee Break Musings to a Debut R Package

Post provided by Alistair Auffret

I was really happy to hear that our paper, ‘HistMapR: Rapid digitization of historical land‐use maps in R’ was shortlisted for the 2017 Robert May Prize, and to be asked to write a blog to mark the occasion. The paper was already recommended in an earlier blog post by Sarah Goslee (the Associate Editor who took care of our submission), and described by me in an instructional video, so I thought that I would write the story of our first foray into making an R package, and submitting a paper to a journal that I never thought I would ever get published in.

Background: Changing Land-Use and Digitizing Maps

Land-use change in Europe is often typified by land-drainage to create arable fields.

Land-use change in Europe is often typified by land-drainage to create arable fields.

Land-use change is largely accepted to be one of the major threats to biodiversity worldwide at the moment. At the same time, a warming climate means that species’ ranges need to move poleward – something that can be hampered by changing land use. Quantifying how land use has changed in the past can help us to understand how species diversity and distributions respond to environmental change.

Unfortunately, quantifying this change by digitizing historical maps is a pretty tedious business. It involves a lot of clicking around various landscape features in a desktop GIS program. So, in many cases, historical land use is only analyzed in a relatively small number of selected landscapes for each particular study. In our group at Stockholm University, we thought that it would be useful to digitize maps over much larger areas, making it possible to assess change in all types of landscape and assess biodiversity responses to land-use change at macroecological scales. The question was, how could we do this? Continue reading

Solo: Developing a Cheap and Flexible Bioacoustic Tool for Ecology and Conservation

Post provided by Robin Whytock

A Solo recorder in the field. ©Tom Bradfer-Lawrence

A Solo recorder in the field. ©Tom Bradfer-Lawrence

Ecologists have long been fascinated by animal sounds and in recent decades there’s been growing interest in the field of ‘bioacoustics’. This has partially been driven by the availability of high-definition digital audio recorders that can withstand harsh field conditions, as well as improvements in software technology that can automate sound analysis.

Sound recordings can be used to study many aspects of animal behaviour in a non-intrusive way, from studying the social dynamics of monkeys or even clownfish to detecting echolocating bats or singing birds. Some species can only reliably be separated in the field by the sounds that they make, such as common and soprano pipistrelle bats. Bat research in general has been revolutionised by commercially available acoustic loggers, with some amazing advances using artificial intelligence to automatically detect bat calls. Continue reading

Radar Wind Profilers: A Widespread but Unused Remote Sensing Tool for Migration Ornithologists

Post provided by Nadja Weisshaupt

Snapshot of nocturnal waterfowl migration in front of the lunar disk. ©N. Weisshaupt

Snapshot of nocturnal waterfowl migration in front of the lunar disk. ©N. Weisshaupt

Each year an uncountable number of airborne organisms, mainly birds and insects, venture out on long journeys across the globe. In particular, the mass movements of birds have fascinated humankind for hundreds of years and inspired a wealth of increasingly sophisticated studies. The development and improvement of individual tracking devices in animal research and has provided amazing insights into such extensive journeys. Study of mass movements of biological organisms is still a challenge on continent-wide or cross-continental scales.

One tool that can effectively track and/or monitor large numbers of birds is radar technology. Radars offer many advantages over other methods such as visual counts or ringing. They’re less expensive, need less effort, offer better visibility and detectability, and are more applicable for large-scale monitoring. Networks of meteorological radars (as opposed to individual radars) seem particularly promising for large-scale studies. Continue reading

Meta-Analysis: How to Increase the Reach of Your Research and Make it Longer Lasting

Post provided by Katharina Gerstner

Like each coral, every single primary research study contributes to the larger picture.  © Wise Hok Wai Lum

Like each coral, every single primary research study contributes to the larger picture. © Wise Hok Wai Lum

Quantitative syntheses of primary research studies (meta-analysis) are being used more and more in ecological and evolutionary research. So knowing the basics of how meta-analysis works is important for every researcher. Meta-analytical thinking also encourages us scientists to see each single primary research study as a substantial contribution to a larger picture.

To be included in a meta-analysis, relevant primary research studies must be easy to find and basic information about the methods and results must be thoroughly, clearly and transparently reported. Moreover, papers with accessible data are the most useful for meta-analyses. Many published papers provide this information, but it’s not unusual for essential data to be omitted. Studies that are missing these details can’t be used in meta-analyses, which limits their reach. Continue reading

Methods in Ecology and Evolution 2017: The Year in Review

Happy New Year! We hope that you all had a wonderful Winter Break and that you’re ready to start 2018. We’re beginning the year with a look back at some of our highlights of 2017. Here’s how last year looked at Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

The Articles

We published some amazing articles in 2017, too many to mention them all here. However, we would like to take a moment to thank all of the Authors, Reviewers and Editors who contributed to the journal last year. Your time and effort make the journal what it is and we are incredibly grateful. THANK YOU for all of your hard work!

Technological Advances at the Interface between Ecology and Statistics

Our first Special Feature of the year came in the April issue of the journal. The idea for Technological Advances at the Interface between Ecology and Statistics  came from the 2015 Eco-Stats Symposium at the University of New South Wales and the feature was guest edited by Associate Editor David Warton. It consists of five articles based on talks from that conference and shows how interdisciplinary collaboration help to solve problems around estimating biodiversity and how it changes over space and time.

Continue reading

Googling for Ecological Answers: Using the Morphic Web Application

Post provided by Gabriella Leighton

Online Images: A Treasure Trove of Ecological Data

In the proclaimed ‘information age’, where answers are available at the click of a button or a swipe of a finger, we have become accustomed to the ability to get an almost instant grasp of any topic. Other fields are already making use of this wealth of easily accessible online data, but biologists and ecologists tend to let it slip by. However, this attitude is slowly beginning to change. Some ecological and evolutionary studies are emerging that have used the internet to gather data – through online citizen science projects (e.g. Evolution MegaLab) or databases (e.g. using Google Trends) – but few have used existing data, particularly publicly available data from image repositories.

We were curious to apply the concept of using existing images on the internet to a fascinating visual biological phenomenon: colour polymorphism (or the occurrence of multiple discrete colour phenotypes). To do this, we planned to exploit an existing penchant people have for uploading photographs of animals to the Internet.

Our search phrases included the common and scientific name of the species, as well as a location-specific term

Our search phrases included the common and scientific name of the species, as well as a location-specific term

Continue reading

2016 Robert May Prize Winner: Gabriella Leighton

The Robert May Prize is awarded annually for the best paper published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution by an Early Career Researcher. We’re delighted to announce that the 2016 winner is Gabriella Leighton, for her article ‘Just Google it: assessing the use of Google Images to describe geographical variation in visible traits of organisms.

‘Just Google it’ marks an important step in converting ecology to an armchair science. Many species (e.g. owls, hawks, bears) are difficult, time-consuming, expensive and even dangerous to observe. It would be a lot easier if we didn’t have to spend time, energy and risk lives having to observe organisms in the field! Continue reading

New Associate Editor: Will Pearse

Today, we are pleased to be welcoming a new member of the Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editor Board. Will Pearse joins us from McGill University in Canada and you can find out a little more about him below.

Will Pearse

“I am an evolutionary ecologist and use phylogeny to link the evolution of species’ traits with their ecological community assembly. I’m interested in phylogenetic methods, macro-evolution of species’ traits, community assembly and developing new statistical tools for all of the above.”

Will is a former winner of the Robert May Early Career Researcher Award. He won the prize in 2013 for his Applications article ‘phyloGenerator: an automated phylogeny generation tool for ecologists‘ (co-authored with Andy Purvis). phyloGenerator is an open-source, stand-alone Python program, that makes use of pre-existing sequence data and taxonomic information to largely automate the estimation of phylogenies. He has also recently had a paper on a R package that allows for measurement, modelling and simulation of phylogenetic structure in ecological data published in Bioinformatics. The article, ‘pez: phylogenetics for the environmental sciences‘, was co-authored with Marc CadotteJeannine Cavender-BaresAnthony IvesCaroline TuckerSteve Walker and Matthew Helmus.

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

2015 Robert May Prize Winner: Kim Calders

The Robert May Prize is awarded annually for the best paper published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution by an Early Career Researcher. We’re delighted to announce that the 2015 winner is Kim Calders, for his article ‘Nondestructive estimates of above-ground biomass using terrestrial laser scanning.

Kim led the work on this article and had an international team of co-authors. They have developed a way to harness laser technology for use in measurements of vegetation structure of forests. The study is an important development in the monitoring of carbon stocks for worldwide climate policy-making. Continue reading

Methods in Ecology and Evolution 2015: The Year in Review

Happy New Year! We hope that you all had a wonderful Winter Break and that you’re ready to start 2016. We’re beginning the year with a look back at some of our highlights of 2015. Here’s how last year looked at Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

The Articles

We published some amazing articles in 2015, too many to mention them all here. However, we would like to say a massive thank you to all of the authors, reviewers and editors who contributed to the journal last year. Without your hard work, knowledge and generosity, the journal would not be where it is today. We really appreciate all of your time and effort. THANK YOU!

mee312268_CoverOpportunities at the Interface between Ecology and Statistics

There was only one Special Feature in the journal this year, but it was a great one. Arising from the 2013 Eco-Stats Symposium at the University of New South Wales and guest edited by Associate Editor David Warton, Opportunities at the Interface between Ecology and Statistics was one of the highlights of 2015 for us. It consists of seven articles written collaboratively by statisticians and ecologists and highlights the benefits of cross-disciplinary partnerships. Continue reading