Monitoring the Distribution and Abundance of Sea Otters

Post provided by Perry Williams

Sea otters (Enhydra lutris) are an apex predator of the nearshore marine ecosystem – the narrow band between terrestrial and oceanic habitat. During the commercial maritime fur trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, sea otters were nearly hunted to extinction across their range in the North Pacific Ocean. By 1911, only a handful of small isolated populations remained.

Sea otters resting in Glacier Bay National Park. © Jamie Womble, NPS. USFWS Permit #14762C-0, NPS Permit #GLBA-2016- SCI-0022.

Sea otters resting in Glacier Bay National Park. © Jamie Womble, NPS. USFWS Permit #14762C-0, NPS Permit #GLBA-2016- SCI-0022.

But sea otter populations have recovered in many areas due to a few changes. The International Fur Seal Treaty in 1911 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) protected sea otters from most human harvest. Wildlife agencies helped sea otter colonisation by transferring them to unoccupied areas. Eventually, sea otters began to increase in abundance and distribution, and they made their way to Glacier Bay, a tidewater glacier fjord and National Park in southeastern Alaska. Continue reading


Learn to be a Reviewer: Peer Reviewer Mentoring Scheme

Today is the first day of peer review week. One of the issues that many people bring up about the current system of peer review is that there is very little formal training. There are guidance documents available (including the BES Guide to Peer Review), workshops on peer review can be found at some conferences and some senior academics teach their PhD students or post-docs about the process. In general though, peer review training is fairly hard to come by.

This is something that people have told us (the BES publications team) at conferences and through surveys, so we’re doing something about it. From October 2017 until April 2018 Methods in Ecology and Evolution is going to be partnering with the BES Quantitative Ecology Special Interest Group to run a trial Peer Review Mentoring Scheme.

The trial scheme is going to focus on statistical ecology (as we receive a lot of statistical papers at Methods in Ecology and Evolution), but if it goes well, we’ll be looking at other areas of expertise too.

Applications for Mentor and Mentee positions are now open. If you’re an experienced statistical ecologist or evolutionary biologist or an Early Career Researcher in those fields, we’d love to receive an application from you. 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

Capturing the Contribution of Rare and Common Species to Turnover: A Multi-Site Version of Generalised Dissimilarity Modelling

Post provided by Guillaume Latombe and Melodie A. McGeoch

Understanding how biodiversity is distributed and its relationship with the environment is crucial for conservation assessment. It also helps us to predict impacts of environmental changes and design appropriate management plans. Biodiversity across a network of local sites is typically described using three components:

  1. alpha (α) diversity, the average number of species in each specific site of the study area
  2. beta (β) diversity, the difference in species composition between sites
  3. gamma (γ) diversity, the total number of species in the study area.
Two tawny frogmouths, a species native to Australia. ©Marie Henriksen.

Two tawny frogmouths, a species native to Australia. ©Marie Henriksen.

Despite the many insights provided by the combination of alpha, beta and gamma diversity, the ability to describe species turnover has been limited by the fact that they do not consider more than two sites at a time. For more than two sites, the average beta diversity is typically used (multi-site measures have also been developed, but suffer shortcomings, including difficulties of interpretation). This makes it difficult for researchers to determine the likely environmental drivers of species turnover.

We have developed a new method that combines two pre-existing advances, zeta diversity and generalised dissimilarity modelling (both explained below). Our method allows the differences in the contributions of rare versus common species to be modelled to better understand what drives biodiversity responses to environmental gradients. Continue reading

piecewiseSEM: Exploring Nature’s Complexity through Statistics

Post provided by Jonathan S. Lefcheck

Nature is complicated. As a scientist, you might say, “Well, duh,” but as students of nature, this complexity is probably the single greatest challenge we must face in trying to dissect the hows and whys of the natural world.

History is a Set of Lies Agreed Upon: Moving beyond ANOVA

For a long time, we tried to strip this complexity away by conducting very controlled experiments adhering to rigid designs. The ‘two-way fully-crossed analysis of variance’ will be familiar to anyone who has taken even the most basic stats class, because, for many decades, it was the gold standard for any experiment.

It might be tough to manipulate this whole reef.

The problem is: the real world doesn’t adhere to an ANOVA design. By this, I mean that by their very nature, manipulative experiments are artificial. It’s hard—if not impossible—to manipulate an entire forest or a coral reef, and as such, we retreat to more tractable, smaller investigations. There is certainly a lot of value in determining whether the phenomenon can occur, but these tightly regulated designs say nothing about whether they are likely to occur, particularly at the scales most relevant to humanity.

To get at the latter point, we must leave the safety of the greenhouse. However, our trusty ANOVA toolbox isn’t very useful anymore, because real-world data often violate the most basic statistical assumptions, not to mention the presence of numerous additional influences that may drive spurious relationships. Continue reading

Animal Density and Acoustic Detection: An Interview with Ben Stevenson

David Warton (University of New South Wales) interviews  interviews  Ben Stevenson (University of St Andrews) about his 2015 Methods in Ecology and Evolution paper ‘A general framework for animal density estimation from acoustic detections across a fixed microphone array’. They also discuss what Ben is currently up to, including an interesting new method for dealing with uncertain identification in capture-recapture, published in Statistical Science as ‘Trace-Contrast Models for Capture–Recapture Without Capture Histories’.

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moveHMM: An Interview with Théo Michelot

David Warton (University of New South Wales) interviews Théo Michelot (University of Sheffield) about an article on his recent R package moveHMM in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. David and Théo also discuss the case study in the paper – on the understudied wild haggis – and what advances could be made to the package in future.

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Estimating Shifts in Species Distribution: An Interview with James Thorson

David Warton (University of New South Wales) interviews James Thorson (NOAA) about his paper Model-based inference for estimating shifts in species distribution, area occupied and centre of gravity. The article is included in the August 2016 issue of Methods in Ecology and Evolution.  They discuss how to estimate changes in distribution shifts accounting for changes in the spatial distribution of sampling intensity, James’ current workplace NOAA, his academic background and what trouble he is planning to get up to next.

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Uncertainty in biological monitoring : An interview with Viviana Ruiz-Gutierrez

David Warton (University of New South Wales) interviews Viviana Ruiz-Gutierrez (Cornell University) about her recent paper Uncertainty in biological monitoring: a framework for data collection and analysis to account for multiple sources of sampling bias. They discuss the main contributions of the paper, the effect false positives can have on occupancy estimates (when not accounted for) and her current position at Cornell. They finish off (in Spanish!) discussing the next step in her research agenda.

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State-and-Transition Models: An Interview with Marie-Josee Fortin

David Warton (University of New South Wales) interviews Marie-Josee Fortin (University of Toronto) about a recent article on state-and-transition models from her group in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. David and Marie-Josee also discuss what motivated her career to date in spatial ecology, and what she sees as the main advances in this area and current challenges in the field.

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