Evolutionary Quantitative Genetics: Virtual Issue

Post provided by Michael Morrissey

©Dr. Jane Ogilvie, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory

Evolutionary quantitative genetics provides formal theoretical frameworks for quantitatively linking natural selection, genetic variation, and the rate and direction of adaptive evolution. This strong theoretical foundation has been key to guiding empirical work for a long time. For example, rather than generally understanding selection to be merely an association of traits and fitness in some general way, theory tells us that specific quantities, such as the change in mean phenotype within generations (the selection differential; Lush 1937), or the partial regressions of relative fitness on traits (direct selection gradients; Lande 1979, Lande and Arnold 1983) will relate to genetic variation and evolution in specific, informative ways.

These specific examples highlight the importance of the theoretical foundation of evolutionary quantitative genetics for informing the study of natural selection. However, this foundation also supports the study other critical (quantification of genetic variation and evolution) and complimentary (e.g., interpretation when environments, change, the role of plasticity and genetic variation in plasticity) aspects of understanding the nuts and bolts of evolutionary change. Continue reading

Britain’s Smallest Bird Affected by Cold Winters: New Analysis Methods Relate Wildlife Abundance to Weather

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Attributing changes in the distribution of species abundance to weather variables using the example of British breeding birds‘ taken from the University of St Andrews.

©CJ Hughson

The goldcrest is being hit hard by cold winters. ©CJ Hughson

Britain’s smallest bird species, the goldcrest, is being hit hard by cold winters, new analysis methods developed by researchers at the University of St Andrews have revealed.

The data analysis techniques, published today in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, take a longer term view over multiple locations and for a period of several years, compared to previous studies.

They showed that the cold temperatures strongly affected breeding numbers of the goldcrest, while in contrast, the song thrush was not affected by the cold, but benefited from wet and mild summers. Continue reading

BES Guide to Reproducible Code: Tips and Tricks Needed

The British Ecological Society is currently working on a Guide to Reproducible Code. This will follow on from our previous Guides to Peer Review, Data Management and Getting Published. All of our Guides are intended to provide Early Career Researchers with a concise and easy to understand introduction to the topic. You can download them for free on our website.

Each Guide includes short pieces of advice provided by academics who are familiar with the topic – and this is where you come in. We’re looking for tips and tricks to help Early Career Researchers looking to make their code reproducible and we would like your help.

We’ve set up a Google form with sections that relate to the broad areas that will be covered in our Guide to Reproducible Code:

  1. Organising Code
  2. Writing Code
  3. Report Writing
  4. Versioning
  5. Archiving Code
  6. Additional Resources

The guide is intended for people who are fairly new to coding, so please don’t be too technical. There are options to enter three pieces of advice in each section (if you’ve got more tips and tricks, feel free to fill in the form multiple times). We’ll choose the best pieces of advice and publish them in the Guide, along with the name and affiliation of the person who provided them.

You can submit your Tips and Tricks for Making Code Reproducible here. Thank you for contributing to our Guide.

Issue 8.6: How to Measure Natural Selection

Issue 8.6 is now online!

The April issue of Methods, which includes our latest Special Feature – ‘How to Measure Natural Selection – is now online!

Understanding how and why some individuals survive and reproduce better than others, the traits that allow them to do so, the genetic basis of those traits, and the signatures of past and present selection in patterns of variation in the genome remain at the top of the research agenda for evolutionary biology. This Special Feature – Guest Edited by Jeff Conner, John Stinchcombe and Joanna Kelley – draws together a collection of seven papers that highlight new methodological and conceptual approaches to meeting this agenda.

Three of the ‘How to Measure Natural Selection’ papers – Franklin and Morrissey, Thomson and Hadfield, and Hadfield and Thomson – clarify unresolved aspects of the literature in meaningful and important ways. Following on from this Hermisson and Pennings; Lotterhos et al.; and Villanueva‐Cañas et al. tackle the genomic results of evolution by natural selection: namely, how we can detect natural selection from genomic data? Finally, Wadgymar et al. address the issue of how much we know about the underlying loci or agents of selection.

To use the Editors’ own words, the articles in this issue “deal with how we can detect selection in a way that can be used to predict evolutionary responses, how selection affects the genome, and how selection and genetics underlie adaptive differentiation.”

All of the articles in the ‘How to Measure Natural Selection‘ Special Feature will be freely available for a limited time.
Continue reading

Bottom-up Citizen Science and Biodiversity Statistics

Post provided by Ditch Townsend and Robert Colwell

Different Paths to Science

Ditch Townsend on Exmoor in Devon, UK

Ditch Townsend on Exmoor in Devon, UK

DITCH: Amateur naturalists from the UK have a distinguished pedigree, from Henry Walter Bates and Marianne North, to Alfred Russel Wallace and Mary Anning. But arguably, the rise of post-war academia in the fifties displaced them from mainstream scientific discourse and discovery. Recently, there has been a resurgence of the ‘citizen scientist’, like me, in the UK and elsewhere – although the term may refer to more than one kind of beast.

To me, the ‘citizen scientist’ label feels a little patronising – conveying an image of people co-opted en masse for top-down, scientist-led, large-scale biological surveys. That said, scientist-led surveys can offer valid contributions to conservation and the documentation of the effects of climate change (among other objectives). They also engage the public (not least children) in science, although volunteers usually have an interest in natural history and science already. For me though, the real excitement comes in following a bottom-up path: making my own discoveries and approaching scientists for assistance with my projects.

Robert Colwell at the Boreas Pass in Colorado, USA

Robert Colwell at the Boreas Pass in Colorado, USA

ROB: I grew up on a working ranch in the Colorado mountains, surrounded on three sides by National Forest and a National Wilderness Area. My mother, an ardent amateur naturalist, taught me and my sister the local native flora and fauna and our father instilled a respect for the land in us. For my doctoral research at the University of Michigan, I studied insect biodiversity in Colorado and Costa Rica at several elevations. The challenges of estimating the number of species (species richness) and understanding why some places are species-rich and others species-poor has fascinated me ever since. Continue reading

‘Size’ and ‘Shape’ in the Measurement of Multivariate Proximity

Ordination and clustering methods are widely applied to ecological data that are non-negative (like species abundances or biomasses). These methods rely on a measure of multivariate proximity that quantifies differences between the sampling units (e.g. individuals, stations, time points), leading to results such as:

  1. Ordinations of the units, where interpoint distances optimally display the measured differences
  2. Clustering the units into homogeneous clusters
  3. Assessing differences between pre-specified groups of units (e.g. regions, periods, treatment–control groups)

In this video, Michael Greenacre introduces his new article, ‘‘Size’ and ‘Shape’ in the Measurement of Multivariate Proximity’, published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution, May 2017. In the context of species abundances, for example, he explains how much a chosen proximity measure captures the difference in “size” between two samples, i.e. difference in overall abundances, and differences in “shape”, i.e. differences in compositions or relative abundances.  He shows that the popular Bray-Curtis dissimilarity inevitably includes a part of the “size” difference in its measurement of multivariate proximity.

This video is based on the article ‘‘Size’ and ‘shape’ in the measurement of multivariate proximity‘ by Michael Greenacre.

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. Continue reading

The Right Tool for the Job: Using Zeta Diversity to Communicate Uncertainty in Ecological Modelling

Post provided by Mariona Roigé

The Need for Modelling

Green vegetable bug nymph (Nezara viridula). ©John Marris. Lincoln University.

Green vegetable bug nymph (Nezara viridula). ©John Marris. Lincoln University.

Despite how far modelling has taken us in science, the use of models remains controversial. Modelling covers a huge range of common practices, from scaled models of ships to determine the shape that will have the least resistance to water to complex, comprehensive ‘models of everything’. A great example of the latter is the Earth System Model. This model aims to understand the changes in global climate by taking into account the interaction between physical climate, biosphere, the atmosphere and the oceans. Basically, a model of how the Earth works.

The controversy in the use of modelling resides in how accurately the model describes reality and the level of confidence we have in its outputs. The first argument can be a bit counter-intuitive: sometimes, a very simple model can be a great predictor. Actually, the conventional view in ecology is that simple models are more generalisable than complex models, although this view is being challenged. However, the level of confidence, or the level of uncertainty, that we have in the outputs of the model is a crucial point. We need to be able to accurately determine our levels of uncertainty if we want people to trust our models. Continue reading

Assessment of Stream Health with DNA Metabarcoding

Following on from last week’s press release ‘How Clean are Finnish Rivers?’, Vasco Elbrecht et al. have produced a video to explain the methods in ‘Assessing strengths and weaknesses of DNA metabarcoding-based macroinvertebrate identification for routine stream monitoring‘.

In this video, the authors explore the potential of DNA metabarcoding to access stream health using macroinvertebrates. They compared DNA and morphology-based identification of bulk monitoring samples from 18 Finnish stream ecosystems. DNA-based methods show higher taxonomic resolution and similar assessment results as currently used morphology-based methods. Their study shows that the tested DNA-based methods integrate well with current approaches, but further optimisation and validation of DNA metabarcoding methods is encouraged.

This video is based on the article ‘Assessing strengths and weaknesses of DNA metabarcoding-based macroinvertebrate identification for routine stream monitoring‘ by Elbrecht et al.


Fast-Moving Biodiversity Assessment: Are We Already in the Future?

Post provided by Carola Gómez-Rodríguez & Alfried P. Vogler

Time flies… in the blink of an eye! And even more so in science. The molecular lab work we were used to two decades ago seems like ancient history to today’s PhD students. The speed of change in sequencing technology is so overwhelming that imagination usually fails to foresee how our daily work will be in 10 years’ time. But in the field of biodiversity assessment, we have very good clues. Next Generation Sequencing is quickly becoming our workhorse for ambitious projects of species and genetic inventories.

One by One Approach to Studying Biodiversity

For decades, most initiatives measured biodiversity in the same way: collect a sample of many individuals in the field, sort the specimens, identify them to a Linnaean species one at a time (if there was a good taxonomist in the group which, unfortunately, it is kind of lucky these days!), and count them. Or, if identification was based on molecular data, the specimen was subject to DNA extraction, to sequence one (or several) short DNA markers. This involved countless hours of work that could be saved if, instead of inventorying biodiversity specimen-by-specimen, we followed a sample-by-sample approach. To do this now, we just have to make a “biodiversity soup”.

Biodiversity assessment based on morphological identification and/or Sanger sequencing (“The one-by-one approach”)

Biodiversity assessment based on morphological identification and/or Sanger sequencing (“The one-by-one approach”)

Continue reading