Googling for Ecological Answers: Using the Morphic Web Application

Post provided by Gabriella Leighton

Online Images: A Treasure Trove of Ecological Data

In the proclaimed ‘information age’, where answers are available at the click of a button or a swipe of a finger, we have become accustomed to the ability to get an almost instant grasp of any topic. Other fields are already making use of this wealth of easily accessible online data, but biologists and ecologists tend to let it slip by. However, this attitude is slowly beginning to change. Some ecological and evolutionary studies are emerging that have used the internet to gather data – through online citizen science projects (e.g. Evolution MegaLab) or databases (e.g. using Google Trends) – but few have used existing data, particularly publicly available data from image repositories.

We were curious to apply the concept of using existing images on the internet to a fascinating visual biological phenomenon: colour polymorphism (or the occurrence of multiple discrete colour phenotypes). To do this, we planned to exploit an existing penchant people have for uploading photographs of animals to the Internet.

Our search phrases included the common and scientific name of the species, as well as a location-specific term

Our search phrases included the common and scientific name of the species, as well as a location-specific term

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2016 Robert May Prize Winner: Gabriella Leighton

The Robert May Prize is awarded annually for the best paper published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution by an Early Career Researcher. We’re delighted to announce that the 2016 winner is Gabriella Leighton, for her article ‘Just Google it: assessing the use of Google Images to describe geographical variation in visible traits of organisms.

‘Just Google it’ marks an important step in converting ecology to an armchair science. Many species (e.g. owls, hawks, bears) are difficult, time-consuming, expensive and even dangerous to observe. It would be a lot easier if we didn’t have to spend time, energy and risk lives having to observe organisms in the field! Continue reading

New Associate Editors

Today we are welcoming two new people to the Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editor Board. Pierre Durand is joining us from the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) and Andrew Mahon joins from Central Michigan University (USA). You can find out more about Pierre and Andrew below.

Pierre Durand

Pierre Durand

“My research is broadly focussed on the evolution of complexity. Many of my projects are related to the evolutionary ecology of programmed cell death (PCD) in unicellular organisms; how PCD impacts microbial communities; and how the philosophy of levels of selection informs our understanding of PCD evolution. I have also examined other aspects of complexity evolution such as the origin of life and group formation in unicellular chlorophytes in response to predation. The model organisms I typically use are phytoplankton. With specific reference to submissions to Methods in Ecology and Evolution, I have used a range of methods in my research, including general cell and molecular biology tools, biochemical assays, microscopy, flow cytometry, bioinformatics and computational algorithms.”

The most current projects in Pierre’s laboratory concern: programmed cell death evolution and complexity in microbial communities; changes in phytoplankton abundance and diversity in harmful algal blooms, led by PhD candidate Andrew Ndhlovu (“A red tide forming dinoflagellate Prorocentrum triestinum: identification, phylogeny and impacts on St Helena Bay, South Africa” in review in Phycologia); and the genomics of the four-celled chlorophyte Tetrabaena socialis, led by PhD candidate Jonathan Featherson.

Andrew Mahon

Andrew Mahon

“I’m a molecular ecologist who uses genetic and genomic tools to ask questions ranging from surveillance and monitoring to biodiversity and phylogeography.  My work includes development of novel molecular detection tools and metabarcoding applications for aquatic invasive species.  I’m also interested in applying molecular tools to ask questions related to the evolution and biodiversity of benthic marine invertebrates in Antarctica.”

Andrew has recently been published in the journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (‘DNAqua-Net: Developing new genetic tools for bioassessment and monitoring of aquatic ecosystems in Europe‘) and in Environmental Science and Technology (‘Influence of Stream Bottom Substrate on Retention and Transport of Vertebrate Environmental DNA‘). He also has a manuscript in press with Ecology and Evolution (‘Geographic structure in the Southern Ocean circumpolar brittle star Ophionotus victoriae (Ophiuridae) revealed from mtDNA and single-nucleotide polymorphism data‘).

We are thrilled to welcome Pierre and Andrew to the Associate Editor Board and we look forward to working with them over the coming years.

Issue 8.3

Issue 8.3 is now online!

The March issue of Methods is now online!

This issue contains two Applications articles and one Open Access article. These three papers are freely available to everyone, no subscription required.

 Solo: Solo audio recorders are inexpensive, easy to construct and record audible sound continuously for around 40 days. The paper also has a video tutorial explaining how to assemble the required hardware and comes with a companion website with more information.

 The third dimension: A novel design to obtain three-dimensional data on the movements of aquatic organisms at depths of up to 140m. The set-up consists of two synchronised high-speed cameras fixed to two articulated arms and can be used for any underwater applications that require synchronized video recordings of medium- to large-sized animals.

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Issue 8.2

Issue 8.2 is now online!

The February issue of Methods is now online!

This issue contains four(!) Applications articles and two Open Access articles. These six papers are freely available to everyone – no subscription required.

 Earth Mover’s Distance: The Earth Mover’s Distance (or EMD) is a method commonly used in image retrieval applications. The authors of this paper propose its use to calculate similarity in space use in the framework of movement ecology. This will be helpful for many questions regarding behavioural ecology, wildlife management and conservation.

 warbleR: The R package warbleR is a new package for the analysis of animal acoustic signal structure. It offers functions for downloading avian vocalisations from the open-access online repository Xeno-Canto, displaying the geographic extent of the recordings, manipulating sound files, detecting acoustic signals or importing detected signals from other software, and much more.

– meteR: The open-source R package, meteR directly calculates all of Maximum entropy theory of ecology’s (METE’s) predictions from a variety of data formats; automatically handles approximations and other technical details; and provides high-level plotting and model comparison functions to explore and interrogate models.

– Noise Egg: The Noise Egg is a device that can produce a low-frequency sound, which can be used as an experimental source of noise both in aquaria and in the field. It was developed to study the effects of noise on communication and behaviour in small aquatic animals; however, it could be used for other purposes, such as testing the propagation of certain frequencies in shallow-water habitats.

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Issue 8.1

Issue 8.1 is now online!

The January issue of Methods is now online!

All of the articles in this month’s issue of Methods in Ecology and Evolution are free for the whole year. You will not need a subscription to access or download any of them throughout 2017.

Our first issue of this year contains three Applications articles and two Open Access articles. These five papers will be freely available permanently.

– CDMetaPOP: Cost–Distance Meta-POPulation provides a novel tool for questions in landscape genetics by incorporating population viability analysis, while linking directly to conservation applications.

– Rphylopars: An R implementation of PhyloPars, a tool for phylogenetic imputation of missing data and estimation of trait covariance across species (phylogenetic covariance) and within species (phenotypic covariance). Rphylopars provides expanded capabilities over the original PhyloPars interface including a fast linear-time algorithm, thus allowing for extremely large data sets (which were previously computationally infeasible) to be analysed in seconds or minutes rather than hours.

– ggtree: An R package that provides programmable visualisation and annotation of phylogenetic trees. ggtree can read more tree file formats than other software and allows colouring and annotation of a tree by numerical/categorical node attributes, manipulating a tree by rotating, collapsing and zooming out clades, highlighting user selected clades or operational taxonomic units and exploration of a large tree by zooming into a selected portion.

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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

Conifers for Christmas: Evolution above the level of species

Post provided by  Aelys Humphreys

Conifers for Christmas

It’s somehow fitting that the centre piece of an ancient midwinter tradition in Europe – that of decorating and worshipping an evergreen tree – is an ancient seed plant, a conifer. In Europe, we tend to think of conifers as “Christmas trees” – evergreen trees with needles and dry cones, restricted to cold and dry environments – but conifers are much more diverse and widespread than that. There are broad-leaved, tropical conifers with fleshy cones and even a parasitic species that is thought to parasitise on members of its own family!

Conifer diversity. Classic Christmas tree style conifers in the snow; a broadleaved, tropical podocarp (© Ming-I Weng); the only parasitic gymnosperm, Parasitaxus usta (©W. Baker).

Conifer diversity. Classic Christmas tree style conifers in the snow; a broadleaved, tropical podocarp (© Ming-I Weng); the only parasitic gymnosperm, Parasitaxus usta (©W. Baker).

However, while today’s distribution of conifers is global – spanning tropical, temperate and boreal zones – it is fragmented. The conifer fossil record extends well into the Carboniferous and bears witness to a lineage that was once much more abundant, widespread and diverse. So we can tell that today’s diversity and distribution have been shaped by hundreds of millions of years of speciation, extinction and migration. 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.

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Smoothies and Sinusoids: Why Fourier Analysis is a Great Tool for Tropical Phenology

Post provided by Emma R. Bush and Nils Bunnefeld

What is Fourier Analysis?

Strictly speaking, Fourier analysis is the decomposition of any mathematical function into a series of sine and cosine waves (sinusoids). But let’s not talk about maths – how about food instead?

The Fourier transform is like a special set of sieves that helps you find out all the ingredients in your favourite smoothie ©VICUSCHKA/

The Fourier transform is like a special set of sieves that helps you find out all the ingredients in your favourite smoothie ©VICUSCHKA/

Imagine you’ve just bought a delicious smoothie from your local café. You like the smoothie so much that you want to know the recipe so that you can make it again at home whenever you want. You’re too shy to ask at the café, so you pour the smoothie through a series of special sieves that separate out each of the ingredients and you write down the recipe – 100ml orange juice, 50ml mango juice, 50ml banana purée and a handful of hipster kale (we haven’t tried this recipe, but we’re sure it would be lovely). You’re quite keen to keep drinking the smoothie, so you mix all the separated ingredients back together again, and the smoothie is just as delicious as before. Continue reading