An international research team has developed a simple method for using a network of autonomous time-lapse cameras to track the breeding and population dynamics of Antarctic penguins, providing a new, low-cost window into the health and productivity of the Antarctic ecosystem.
The team of scientists from NOAA Fisheries and several other nations published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, descriptions of the camera system and a new method for turning static images into useful data on the timing and success of penguin reproduction. They say that the system monitors penguins as effectively as scientists could in person, for a fraction of the cost. Continue reading →
Opportunistically collected species observation data, or citizen science data, are increasingly available. Importantly, they’re also becoming available for regions of the world and species for which few other data are available, and they may be able to fill a data gap.
In Sweden, over 60 million citizen science observations have been collected – an impressive number given that Sweden has a population of about 10 million people and that the Swedish Species Observation System, Artportalen, was created in 2000. For bird-watchers (or plant, fungi, or other animal enthusiasts), this is a good website to bookmark. It will give you a bit of help in finding species and as a bonus, has a lot of pretty pictures of interesting species. Given the amount of data citizen science can provide in areas with few other data, it’s important to evaluate whether they can be used reliably to answer questions in applied ecology or conservation. Continue reading →
The ANDe system can help researchers tell whether endangered species are present.
In recent years, there have been a lot of studies on the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) for species detection and monitoring. This method takes advantage of the fact that organisms shed DNA into the environment in the form of urine, feces, or cells from tissue such as skin. As this DNA stays in the environment, we can use molecular techniques to search for traces of it. By doing this, we can determine if a species lives in a particular place.
Ecologists have long been fascinated by animal sounds and in recent decades there’s been growing interest in the field of ‘bioacoustics’. This has partially been driven by the availability of high-definition digital audio recorders that can withstand harsh field conditions, as well as improvements in software technology that can automate sound analysis.
Expert judgement is used to predict current and future trends for Koala populations across Australia
New technologies provide ecologists with unprecedented means for informing predictions and decisions under uncertainty. From drones and apps that capture data faster and cheaper than ever before, to new methods for modelling, mapping and sharing data.
But what do you do when you don’t have data (or the data you have is incomplete or uninformative), but decisions need to be made?
In real-life situations, it is far more common for decisions to be based on a comparison between things that can’t be judged on the same standards. Whether you’re choosing a dish or a house or an area to prioritise for conservation you need to weigh up completely different things like cost, size, feasibility, acceptability, and desirability.
Those three examples of decisions differ in terms of complexity – you’d need specific expert knowledge and/or the involvement of other key stakeholders to choose conservation prioritisation areas, but probably not to pick a dish. The bottom line is they all require evaluating different alternatives to achieve the desired goal. This is the essence of multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA). In MCDA the pros and cons of different alternatives are assessed against a number of diverse, yet clearly defined, criteria. Interestingly, the criteria can be expressed in different units, including monetary, biophysical, or simply qualitative terms. Continue reading →
Focus Group Discussions: What are They and Why Use Them?
A focus group discussion with local farmers in Trans Mara district, Kenya, carried out by Tobias O. Nyumba (co-author)
To paraphrase Nelson Mandela: ultimately, conservation is about groups of people. On a global scale it’s our collective human footprint that drives habitat destruction and species extinction, and the joint action of large groups that makes positive change. At a smaller scale, groups of people make decisions about conservation policy or management. In turn, communities of people feel the positive or negative effects of these actions, directly or indirectly. From global to local scales, groups of people make changes and groups of people feel the effects of those changes.
To improve conservation action and understand how decisions affect communities on the ground we need to talk to those communities. This is where focus group discussions become an asset to conservation research. They bring participants together in the same place where they can draw from their own personal beliefs and experiences, and those of other group members in a collective discussion. The researcher takes more of a backseat (facilitator) role in focus group discussions compared to interviews, allowing the group conversation to evolve organically. We can get a more holistic view of a situation from this method than from one-on-one interviews alone. Also, as respondents are interviewed at the same time and in the same place, travelling times and costs can be reduced for the researcher. Continue reading →
In reality, code is often poorly commented (or not commented at all!), hard to reuse for other projects, and difficult to interpret. To add to that, most code isn’t actively maintained, so users are on their own if they try to commandeer it for new purposes. Further, ecologists with little or no programming knowledge are unlikely to benefit from methods that exist only as poorly documented code. In a positive development, some new methods are accessible through software with graphic user interfaces (GUIs) developed by programmers spending significant time and effort. But too often these end up as tools with flashy controls and insufficient instruction manuals. Continue reading →
As a quantitative ecologist, I sometimes attempt to model species’ abundance and distribution changes in response to environmental change. Often these are species that, for one reason or another, we know a lot about. They may be high profile species of conservation concern, or have some economic or cultural importance. Some are simply model species that many people have studied because they’re easy to study because many people have studied them. Just as often though, we’re missing crucial data on one or more parameters. Frustratingly we don’t always have the time or resources to collect the new ecological or biological data required. Continue reading →
Correlative distribution models have become essential tools in conservation, macroecology and ecology more generally. They help turn limited occurrence records into predictive maps that help us get a better sense of where species might be found, which areas might be critical for their protection, how large their range currently is, and how it might change with climate change, urban encroachment or other forms of habitat conversion.
It can be frustrating, however, when species distribution models (and the predictive maps they produce) don’t adequately capture what we already know about the habitat needs of a species. A major challenge to date has been to represent the environmental needs of species that require distinct habitats during different life stages or behavioural states. Rainbow parrotfish (Scarus guacamaia), for example, spend their youth sheltered from predators in mangrove areas before moving onto coral reefs, and European nightjars (Caprimulgus europaeus) breed in heathland but require access to grazed grassland for foraging. Correlative distribution models confronted with occurrence records from both life stages or behavioural modes tend to produce poor predictive maps because they confound these distinct requirements. Continue reading →