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

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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

Flawed Analysis Casts Doubt on Years of Evolution Research

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution paper ‘‘Residual diversity estimates’ do not correct for sampling bias in palaeodiversity data‘ taken from the University of Bristol.

Years of research on the evolution of ancient life, including the dinosaurs, have been questioned after a fatal flaw in the way fossil data are analysed was exposed by scientists from the universities of Reading and Bristol.

Studies based on the apparently flawed method have suggested Earth’s biodiversity remained relatively stable – close to maximum carrying capacity – and hinted many signs of species becoming rapidly extinct are merely reflections on the poor quality of the fossil record at that time.

However, new research by scientists at the University of Reading suggests the history of the planet’s biodiversity may have been more dynamic than recently suggested, with bursts of new species appearing, along with crashes and more stable periods.

Continue reading

Issue 7.8

Issue 7.8 is now online!

The August issue of Methods is now online!

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

Plant-O-Matic: A free iOS application that combines the species distribution models with the location services built into a mobile device to provide users with a list of all plant species expected to occur in the 100 × 100 km geographic grid cell corresponding to the user’s location.

RClone: An R package built upon genclone software which includes functions to handle clonal data sets, allowing:

  • Checking for data set reliability to discriminate multilocus genotypes (MLGs)
  • Ascertainment of MLG and semi-automatic determination of clonal lineages (MLL)
  • Genotypic richness and evenness indices calculation based on MLGs or MLLs
  • Describing several spatial components of clonality

Continue reading

European Bison, Rewilding and Dung Fungal Spore

Post provided by AMBROISE BAKER

In the US, July is National Bison Month but most people in Europe are totally oblivious to it. I wasn’t even aware of it before being asked to write this blog post in connection with our recent Methods in Ecology and Evolution paper about quantifying population sizes of large herbivores. Some will argue that it is because we don’t ‘do’ day, month, state or national animals on this side of the Atlantic as much as the Americans do.

The European bison survived from extinction thanks to about 50 individuals kept in zoos. The species has been reintroduced in the wild in several European countries but remains ‘Vulnerable’ according to the IUCN criteria.

The European bison survived extinction thanks to ~50 individuals kept in zoos. It has been reintroduced in several countries but remains ‘Vulnerable’. ©4028mdk09

But another reason is that the European bison, Bison bonasus bonasus, is simply not sufficiently well-known or associated with European nature in the public’s mind. This is particularly true in Western Europe where this species has been extinct since medieval times.

Early European accounts from North America reported huge bison populations – with estimates of up to 60 million – moving to and fro in the great bison belt. These past migratory movements across the Great Plains are familiar well beyond the US and feed our view of untamed wilderness prior to the impact of European ’civilisation’. In contrast, there are hardly any records of European bison numbers until just before the last wild one was reported killed in Poland in 1921. Continue reading

A New Modelling Strategy for Conservation Practice? Ensembles of Small Models (ESMS) for Modelling Rare Species

Post provided by FRANK BREINER, ARIEL BERGAMINI, MICHAEL NOBIS and ANTOINE GUISAN

Rare Species and their Protection

Erythronium dens-canis L. – a rare and threatened species used for modelling in Switzerland. ©Michael Nobis

Erythronium dens-canis L. – a rare and threatened species used for modelling in Switzerland. ©Michael Nobis

Rare species can be important for ecosystem functioning and there is also a high intrinsic interest to protect them as they are often the most original and unique components of local biodiversity. However, rare species are usually those most threatened with extinction.

In order to help prioritizing conservation efforts, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has published criteria to categorize the status of threatened species, which are then published in Red Lists. Changes in a species’ geographical distribution is one of the several criteria used to assign a threat status. For rare species, however, the exact distribution is often inadequately known. In conservation science, Species Distribution Models (SDMs) have recurrently been used to estimate the potential distribution of rare or insufficiently sampled species. Continue reading

Ecological Transcriptomics for Endangered Species: Avoiding the “Successful Operation, but the Patient Died” Problem

Post provided by TILL CZYPIONKA, DANIEL GOEDBLOED, ARNE NOLTE and LEON BLAUSTEIN

Ecological Transcriptomics and Endangered Species

 The small size of the rockpool and the salamander population makes non-invasive sampling a necessity (from left: Tamar Krugman, Alan Templeton, Leon Blaustein). © Arne Nolte

The small size of the rockpool and the salamander population makes non-invasive sampling a necessity (from left: Tamar Krugman, Alan Templeton, Leon Blaustein). © Arne Nolte

Friday was Endangered Species Day – so this is a good time to reflect on what science and scientists can do to support conservation efforts and to reduce the rate of species extinctions. One obvious answer is that we need to study endangered species to understand their habitat requirements as well as their potential for acclimatization and adaptation to changing environmental conditions. This information is crucial to for the design of informed conservation planning. However, for most endangered species the relevant phenotypes are not known a priori, which leaves the well-intentioned scientist asking “which traits should I measure?”. Transcriptome analysis is often a good way to answer to this question.

Transcriptome analysis measures the expression levels of thousands of genes in parallel. This amount of data circumvents the need to decide on a reduced number of traits of unknown relevance and allows for a relatively unbiased phenotypic screen of many traits. In particular, physiological changes, which often influence a species’ distributional range, can be studied using transcriptome analysis. Also, transcriptomics provide a direct connection to the genetic level. This is essential for in-depth analyses of aspects of evolution and might even be helpful for a new kind of conservation planning, which aims to foster endangered species by promoting (supposedly) beneficial hybridization. The integration of transcriptomic analysis with ecological studies is known as ‘Ecological transcriptomics’. Continue reading

Inferring Extinction: When is a Species as Dead as a Dodo?

Post provided by ELIZABETH BOAKES

The indisputably extinct Dodo (Raphus cucullatus). ©Ballista

The indisputably extinct Dodo (Raphus cucullatus). ©Ballista

A species is either extant or extinct – it exists or it does not exist. Black and white, a binary choice. Surely it should not be difficult to assign species to one of these two categories? Well, in practice it can be extremely challenging and a plethora of methods have been developed to deal with the problem.  This of course leads to a second challenge – which of the plethora should you use?! (More on this later…)

There are a few well-studied cases where we can assert extinction confidently. For example, the chances of the Dodo (Raphus cucullatus) having existed undetected for upwards of 300 years on an island now densely populated by humans are infinitesimally small. However, many extinctions are far harder to diagnose. Species typically become extremely rare before becoming extinct. If taxa are particularly cryptic or are found across a huge geographic range it is quite plausible that the few remaining individuals may exist undetected for decades. An extreme illustration of this is the 1938 discovery of Latimeria chalumnae, a deep-sea member of the Coelacanths, the entire order of which was believed to have become extinct 80 million years earlier! Continue reading

National Wildlife Day 2015

Happy National Wildlife Day everyone!

Today is 10th National Wildlife Day. As we have done for a few awareness days this year (Bats, Biodiversity and Bees so far) we are marking the day by highlighting some of our favourite Methods in Ecology and Evolution articles on the subject. Obviously ‘wildlife’ is a pretty big topic, so we have narrowed our focus (slightly) to monitoring wildlife (with one or two additional papers that we didn’t want to leave out).

This list is certainly not exhaustive and there are many more wonderful articles on these topics in the journal. You can see more of them on the Wiley Online Library.

If you would like to learn more about National Wildlife Day, you may wish to visit the organisation’s website, follow them on Twitter and Facebook or check out today’s hashtag: #NationalWildlifeDay.

Without further ado though, please enjoy our selection of Methods articles for National Wildlife Day:

Integrating Demographic Data

Our National Wildlife Day celebration begins with an article from our EURING Special Feature. Robert Robinson et al. present an approach which allows important demographic parameters to be identified, even if they are not measured directly, in ‘Integrating demographic data: towards a framework for monitoring wildlife populations at large spatial scales‘. Using their approach they were able to retrieve known demographic signals both within and across species and identify the demographic causes of population decline in Song Thrush and Lawping.

 

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International Day for Biological Diversity 2015

Happy International Day for Biological Diversity everyone!

As you may know, today (Friday 22 May) is the United Nations Day for Biodiversity and we are celebrating by highlighting some of the best papers that have been published on biodiversity in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. This is by no means an exhaustive list and you can find many more articles on similar topics on the Wiley Online Library (remember, if you are a member of the BES, you can access all Methods articles free of charge).

If you would like to learn more about the International Day for Biological Diversity, you may wish to visit the Convention on Biological Diversity website, follow them on Twitter or check out today’s hashtag: #IBD2015.

Without further ado though, here are a few of the best Methods papers on Biological Diversity:

Methods Cover - August 2012Biodiversity Soup

We begin with an Open Access article from one of our Associate Editors, Douglas Yu (et al.). This article was published in the August issue of 2012 and focuses on the metabarcoding of arthropods. The authors present protocols for the extraction of ecological, taxonomic and phylogenetic information from bulk samples of arthropods. They also demonstrate that metabarcoding allows for the precise estimation of pairwise community dissimilarity (beta diversity) and within-community phylogenetic diversity (alpha diversity), despite the inevitable loss of taxonomic information.

Continue reading