Years of research on the evolution of ancient life, including the dinosaurs, have been questioned after a fatal flaw in the way fossil data are analysed was exposed by scientists from the universities of Reading and Bristol.
Studies based on the apparently flawed method have suggested Earth’s biodiversity remained relatively stable – close to maximum carrying capacity – and hinted many signs of species becoming rapidly extinct are merely reflections on the poor quality of the fossil record at that time.
However, new research by scientists at the University of Reading suggests the history of the planet’s biodiversity may have been more dynamic than recently suggested, with bursts of new species appearing, along with crashes and more stable periods.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but crushing up bees into a ‘DNA soup’ could help conservationists understand and even reverse their decline – according to University of East Anglia scientists.
Research published today in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution shows that collecting wild bees, extracting their DNA, and directly reading the DNA of the resultant ‘soup’ could finally make large-scale bee monitoring programmes feasible.
This would allow conservationists to detect where and when bee species are being lost, and importantly, whether conservation interventions are working.
The UK’s National Pollinator Strategy outlines plans for a large-scale bee monitoring programme. Traditional monitoring involves pinning individual bees and identifying them under a microscope. But the number of bees needed to track populations reliably over the whole country makes traditional methods infeasible.
This new research shows how the process could become quicker, cheaper and more accurate. Continue reading →
Dr Louise Johnson, a population geneticist working on the evolution of genetic systems, has been an Associate Editor for Methods in Ecology and Evolution since October 2013. In that time she has handled a range of manuscripts falling within her areas of expertise (primarily molecular evolution, population genetics and genomes).
Dr Louise Johnson
Louise began her academic career with a degree in Genetics at the University of Edinburgh. She then moved south to complete her PhD on the evolution of mating systems in yeast at Imperial College London under the supervision of Professor Austin Burt. Following her successful time in London, she took up post-doctorate positions at the University of Nottingham (working on transposable elements with Professor John Brookfield) and across the Atlantic at the University of Virginia (looking at genome defences with Professor Janis Antonovics and Professor Michael Hood). Louise returned to the UK in 2006 to take up an RCUK Fellowship at the University of Reading and has been there ever since.
As part of our series of Editor Profiles, we asked Louise to tell us about some of her current research:
There are three projects which I am currently working on that I would like to outline. I’ll be discussing the cancer project – or at least the story so far – at the Methods in Ecology and Evolution 5th Anniversary Symposium later this month. Do check out the programme, and I hope to see you there! The whole point of a methods journal is to help each other do our research as well and easily as possible, so there’s a built-in community spirit about MEE, which bodes well for a fun and useful meeting. Before I start I should also say that I’m lucky to have amazing collaborators at Reading and beyond: for the projects below, credit is particularly due to my colleagues Rob Jackson and Tiffany Taylor, who had a huge input, and to Mike Brockhurst at York. Continue reading →