Carson’s Call: An Inspiration for Ecologists Working in a Post-Truth World

Post provided by Will Pearse

Rachel Carson (1940) Fish & Wildlife Service employee photo.

Rachel Carson (1940) Fish & Wildlife Service employee photo.

I can’t think of a more inspirational and influential ecologist than Rachel Carson. Nearly fifty years ago she released a book called Silent Spring, which argued that pesticides such as DDT were cascading up through food chains causing the death or sterilisation of birds and other animals. The publication of her book provoked public debate, likely in part because it was serialised in The New Yorker, and led to a paradigm shift in US and (arguably) global pest control policy.

With the full support of the scientific community to verify her facts and arguments, she was able to defeat the chemical industry’s backlash and galvanise public opinion in her favour. The 2005 Stockholm Convention, in which DDT was banned from agricultural use, would likely have never happened if it were not for her work.

“In a post-truth world where trust in the scientific process is being eroded almost daily, Rachel Carson is a perfect example of how we can speak out and be heard while still being scientists.”

Continue reading

Sounding Them Out: A Unique Conservation Tool for Monitoring Bush-Crickets

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Potential for coupling the monitoring of bush-crickets with established large-scale acoustic monitoring of bats‘ taken from the British Trust for Ornithology.

Speckled Bush-cricket © Tom Housley

Speckled bush-cricket © Tom Housley

New research led by British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and published today in the international journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, shows how existing bat monitoring could improve our understanding of bush-crickets.

Bush-crickets are a little-known group of insects that inhabit our marshes, grasslands, woods, parks and gardens. Some may be seen in the summer when they are attracted to artificial lights, but as most produce noises that are on the edge of human hearing, we know little about their status. There are suggestions that some bush-crickets may be benefiting from climate change, while others may be affected by habitat changes. But how to survey something that is difficult to see and almost impossible to hear? Continue reading

Lichens and the “health” of ecosystems: we are closer to a global ecological indicator

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Tracking global change using lichen diversity: towards a global-scale ecological indicator‘ taken from the University of Lisbon.

Candelaria pacifica. © Paula Matos

Candelaria pacifica. © Paula Matos

For the first time, it is possible to integrate at the global scale the results obtained with the most widely used methods to evaluate the “health” of ecosystems using lichens. This is the result of a study now published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, and represents a fundamental step for this indicator to be considered at the global scale and included in the list of indicators of the United Nations.

Lichens have long been successfully used by scientists as ecological indicators – a kind of environment health thermometer. These complex organisms – the yellow or green taints we often see on the surface of tree trunks – are very sensitive to pollution and changes in temperature and humidity. Evaluating how many lichens, of what kind, and their abundance in a certain ecosystem allows scientists to understand the impact that problems like climate change or pollution have on those ecosystems.  Continue reading

How Should Biologists Measure Climate Change?

Post provided by Christopher Nadeau

Climate change could cause the extinction of one in six species and change the abundance and distribution of those that remain (Urban, 2015). This doesn’t necessarily mean that one in six species in your backyard will go extinct though. Climate change impacts will vary greatly around the globe, with some regions seeing disproportionate effects.

The degree to which climate change will affect species in your region depends on many factors (e.g., land use and species traits), but the amount of climate change that species experience in your region – known as climate change exposure – will certainly be important. For that reason, measuring and mapping climate change exposure is critical for predicting where climate change will have the biggest impacts. Yet, biologists have no agreed upon method to measure exposure and different methods can produce dramatically different results.

A Simple Measure of Exposure and its Limitations

Climate can be defined as a statistical description of weather (e.g., temperature, precipitation) over the course of a long time period, usually 30 years. Most often climate is reduced to the average value of a particular weather variable over a 30-year period of interest. Climate change is then measured as the difference between the averages in two time periods; say the predicted average between 2070-2099 minus the average between 1971-2000.

Projected changes in annual average temperature between 1971-2000 and 2070-2099

Projected changes in annual average temperature between 1971-2000 and 2070-2099.

For example, the map to the left shows projected exposure to changes in average annual temperature. This map suggests that species in the arctic will be exposed to the most temperature change while species in the southern hemisphere will experience the least change. However, there are many problems with this interpretation. Continue reading

Biogeography Virtual Issue

Photo © An-Yi Cheng

© An-Yi Cheng

To coincide with the International Biogeography Society’s 2017 conference in Tuscon, Arizona, we have compiled a Virtual Issue that shows off new Methods in Ecology and Evolution articles in the field from a diverse array of authors.

To truly understand how species’ distributions vary through space and time, biogeographers often have to make use of analytical techniques from a wide array of disciplines. As such, these papers cover advances in fields such as evolutionary analysis, biodiversity definitions, species distribution modelling, remote sensing and more. They also reflect the growing understanding that biogeography can include experiments and highlight the increasing number of software packages focused towards biogeography.

This Virtual Issue was compiled by Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editors Pedro Peres-Neto and Will Pearse (both of whom are involved in the conference). All of the articles in this Virtual Issue are free for a limited time and we have a little bit more information about each of the papers included here: Continue reading

Issue 7.12

Issue 7.12 is now online!

The final 2016 issue of Methods is now online!

This month’s issue contains four Applications articles and two Open Access articles, all of which are freely available.

– iNEXT: The R package iNEXT (iNterpolation/EXTrapolation) provides simple functions to compute and plot the seamless rarefaction and extrapolation sampling curves for the three most widely used members of the Hill number family (species richness, Shannon diversity and Simpson diversity).

– camtrapR: A new toolbox for flexible and efficient management of data generated in camera trap-based wildlife studies. The package implements a complete workflow for processing camera trapping data.

– rotl: An R package to search and download data from the Open Tree of Life directly in R. It uses common data structures allowing researchers to take advantage of the rich set of tools and methods that are available in R to manipulate, analyse and visualize phylogenies.

– Fluctuating-temperature chamber: A design for economical, programmable fluctuating-temperature chambers based on a relatively small commercially manufactured constant temperature chamber modified with a customized, user-friendly microcontroller.

Continue reading

Topography of Teeth: Tools to Track Animal and Ecosystem Responses to Environmental Changes

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Inferring diet from dental morphology in terrestrial mammals‘ taken from the Smithsonian Institution.

By charting the slopes and crags on animals’ teeth as if they were mountain ranges, scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History have created a powerful new way to learn about the diets of extinct animals from the fossil record.

Understanding the diets of animals that lived long ago can tell researchers about the environments they lived in and help them piece together a picture of how the planet has changed over deep time. The new quantitative approach to analysing dentition, reported on 21 November in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, will also give researchers a clearer picture of how animals evolve in response to changes in their environment.

gorilla

A 3D reconstruction of the teeth of a western gorilla (Gorilla gorilla).

Continue reading

RSS Meeting on Model Averaging: Elephants, Oscars and Spiky Data

Post provided by Dr Eleni Matechou

Eleni is a Lecturer in Statistics and a member of the Statistical Ecology @ Kent (SE@K) group at the University of Kent. She develops statistical models motivated by ecological applications to study populations of birds, insects and, more recently, humans.

On September 15th 2016, a half-day meeting on Model Averaging – organised by the Environmental Statistics section and the East Kent local group of the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) – took place at the University of Kent in Canterbury .

There were three invited speakers: Professor Richard Chandler, from University College London, Professor Jonty Rougier, from the University of Bristol and Dr Kate Searle, from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, who presented via Skype.

All three talks included interesting motivating data, clever modelling and great insight.

Taming the Pachyderm

elephant-in-the-roomProfessor Richard Chandler presented joint work with Marianna Demetriou on “The interpretation of climate model ensembles”. Projecting future global temperatures is clearly a timely topic and Richard’s talk highlighted the challenges of doing this reliably. And they’re certainly not minor challenges, in his own words, this is a problem he has spent 10 years thinking about! Continue reading

Creating Bigger, Better and More Joined-up Habitat Networks

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘How to manipulate landscapes to improve the potential for range expansion‘ taken from the University of Liverpool.

©Bidgee

©Bidgee

Scientists at the University of Liverpool have developed a new ‘route planner’ tool that could help conservationists aid the movement of species as they adapt to a changing climate.

The environmental ranges of many animal and plant species are starting to alter with climate change, as temperatures change and force species to migrate to more suitable climes.

To be able to do this successfully, they will need sufficient habitat in their existing range, their future range, and any intermediate areas to enable populations to survive and thrive. Many conservation initiatives to restore habitats and increase connectivity are trying to address this issue. However, existing modelling tools mainly treat the landscape as static, and it is difficult to use these to plan restoration. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading