At Last, a Paleobiologist is a Senior Editor for Methods in Ecology and Evolution!

Post provided by Lee Hsiang Liow

An Asian, female Senior Editor under 45? Progressive! I have loved Methods in Ecology and Evolution since it appeared in 2010 and am thrilled to have been selected to join Rob, Bob and Jana to help with the journal’s continued development.

OK, so you want to know who the new Senior Editor on the MEE block is.  I’m just another scientist, I guess. On the outside, we look different but on the inside, we’re all the same. (OK, perhaps we are a little different, even on the inside, but that makes life and research interesting, right?)

Here’s my academic life history: I did my Bachelors thesis on the systematics/phylogenetics of an obscure group of marine pulmonate slugs with one of the greatest Icelandic biologists I know, Jon Sigurdsson, at the National University of Singapore. I followed this up with an almost-half-year stint at the Museum of Natural Science in Berlin as a “nobody”, digitizing data. Then I won the academic lottery and headed up to Uppsala to do my masters in conservation biology on tropical pollinator diversity, (un)supervised by two amazing supervisors that never met each other, the late Navjot Sodhi (National University of Singapore) and Thomas Elmqvist, now at Stockholm University.

After a fun “childhood”, my turbulent “teenage” academic years were spent among paleobiologists at the University of Chicago, need I say more? My academic “dad” is Scott Lidgard (who told me not to play with bryozoans, at least not for my Ph.D dissertation) and my “uncle” was Leigh Van Valen (who told me I can be anything I want to be). I came of age at the University of Oslo, where my closest “family” are statistical ecologists, modelers, theoreticians and phylogenetic comparative and genomic types. So what you might infer from all this is that I am a quantitative paleobiologist who is interested in phylogenetics, ecology, conservation biology and that because “dad” explicitly told me not to play with bryozoans, I had to disobey him (although it took almost 10 years before I was brave enough to do so). By the way, did you realize that all my mentors are men? And almost all white? We need some diversity here!

And now, for what you really, really, want to know: what I, as Senior Editor, would like to see more of in Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Obviously, I would like to see more submissions in my own field: paleobiology. Paleobiology sits between many disciplines, including paleontology, paleoecology, paleoclimatology, macroevolution, microevolution, evolutionary theory, statistics, biogeography, community ecology, and others. This cross-disciplinarity makes it fertile ground for exciting method development. Methods papers in paleobiology are usually scattered in the literature to the extent that the rapid and broad communication needed for timely scientific progress is often hindered as a result. Paleobiology has very much been a discipline that documents trends and patterns using observations from the fossil record, but how do we reconcile these broad patterns with microevolutionary and ecological theory? Theory is great, but we need to develop models and frameworks that we can use to explore connections between phenomena we understand on shorter time scales and those patterns we observe on much, much longer time scales.

So, first, in more concrete terms, I think we need more work on:

  1. Integrating fossil data with extant-taxa-phylogenetics
  2. Using life-history evolution theory and data to understand the links between micro and macroevolution
  3. Quantifying and understanding phenotypic variation (and the ecological and evolutionary drivers thereof) on different time scales

Pretty easy start, right?

Second, I would like to see more efforts in the field of conservation paleobiology. What are the baselines we should use for our conservation efforts? How should we estimate those baselines and how do we draw inferences from human (hominid) history and deep (crises in the fossil record) history to help us understand, predict and prevent anthropogenic change?

Third, I want us all to share methods on how to create, use and maintain “big data” – whatever that means to different people. We know a lot collectively, but we know amazingly little individually. With so much information out there, how do we collect, digitize, store, vet, and use it? And, often as importantly, how do we do this quickly and reliably?  How do we share painstakingly data without short-changing people who collected those data and who likely understand those data best?

Overall, I just want to see the best, most creative, most important and interesting work developed and published (hopefully in Methods but I suppose competition is a good thing). I would vote for a double-blind review process (almost) anyday because it is easier to have creative newcomers break into traditional fields (and hence move things forward!) and to reduce reviewer (and editor) bias!

I’m really looking forward to working with Rob, Bob and Jana and I hope that we will receive lots of manuscripts from all of you. If there is anything you have on your mind that will help us improve the journal, especially if you are a PhD student or an early stage scientist in ecology and evolution, get in touch with me/us!

Lee Hsiang
Senior Editor, Methods in Ecology and Evolution

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