Statistical Ecology Virtual Issue

To celebrate the International Statistical Ecology Conference and British Ecological Society Quantitative Ecology Annual Meeting, Laura Graham and Susan Jarvis have compiled a virtual issue celebrating all things statistical and quantitative in ecology.

Statistical and quantitative methods within ecology have increased substantially in recent years. This rise can be attributed both to the growing need to address global environmental change issues, as well as the increase in data sources to address these challenges. Continue reading


Remotely Tracking Movement and Behaviour with Biologgers: How to Add Accelerometer Data to the Mix

Post provided by Sam Cox, Florian Orgeret and Christophe Guinet

Animal biologging is a technique that’s quickly becoming popular in many cross-disciplinary fields. The main aim of the method is to record aspects of an animal’s behaviour and movement, alongside the bio-physical conditions they encounter, by attaching miniaturised devices to it. In marine ecosystems, the information from these devices can be used not only to learn how we can protect animals, many of whom are particularly vulnerable to disturbance (e.g. large fish, marine mammals, seabirds and turtles), but also more about the environments they inhabit.

Challenges when Tracking Marine Animals

Many marine animals have incredibly large ranges, travelling 1000s of kilometres. A huge advantage of biologging technologies is the ability to track an individual remotely throughout its range. For animals that dive, information on sub-surface behaviour can be obtained too. This information can then be retrieved when an animal returns to a set location. If this isn’t possible (e.g. individuals that make trips that are too long or die at sea), carefully constructed summaries can be relayed via satellite. This option provides information in real time, which can be very useful for researchers.

Tracks of juvenile southern elephant seals. Red tracks are individuals that returned to their natal colony. Grey are those individuals whose information would have been lost had it not been transmitted via the Argos satellite system.

Tracks of juvenile southern elephant seals. Red tracks are individuals that returned to their natal colony. Grey are those individuals whose information would have been lost had it not been transmitted via the Argos satellite system.

Continue reading

New Associate Editor: Edward Codling

Today, we are pleased to be the latest new member of the Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editor Board. Edward Codling joins us from the University of Essex, UK and you can find out a little more about him below.

Edward Codling

“My research is focused on using new mathematical and computational techniques to study problems in biology and ecology. In particular, I’m interested in movement ecology, and specifically the development of theoretical models and empirical analysis tools that give insights into animal movement and behaviour. I am also interested in spatial population dynamics and the application of modelling and analysis tools to marine fisheries and other natural resource management questions.”

Edward is currently working on a range of problems within the rapidly growing field of movement ecology. This includes a recent theoretical study of animal navigation using random walk theory and an empirical study into coral reef fish larval settlement patterns. An ongoing project is exploring how analysis of dairy cow movement and behaviour could be used as part of a farm monitoring and management system to improve cow health and welfare. He is also continuing to work on new tools and methods for the assessment and management of fisheries, particularly in the case where data is limited.

We are thrilled to welcome Edward as a new Associate Editor and we look forward to working with him on the journal.

New Associate Editor: David Soto

Today, we are pleased to be the latest new member of the Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editor Board. David Soto joins us from the University of Leuven in Belgium and you can find out a little more about him below.

David Soto

“I am an isotope ecologist with interests in developing new stable isotope methods and techniques for tracing spatio-temporal changes in food webs, and understanding animal movement and large-scale migration. My current research focus is on aquatic food webs using isotopic tracers such as hydrogen isotopes, and on insect migration patterns predicting natal origins by combining isoscapes and likelihood-based geospatial assignment methods.”

David is currently working on isotopic methodologies to quantify the linkages and support of aquatic and terrestrial primary production sources into Afrotropical aquatic food webs. He recently developed a new method to distinguish dietary sources combining stable isotopes and trace metal accumulation data. Other recent published articles investigated the use of hydrogen isotopes to track fish provenance and to infer butterfly migration movements across the Sahara. He is also collaborating with the IsoriX core team to develop a new method and R package to infer spatial origins of migratory animals using mixed models.

We are thrilled to welcome David as a new Associate Editor and we look forward to working with him on the journal.

Issue 8.11

Issue 8.11 is now online!

The November issue of Methods is now online!

This extra large issue contains seven Applications articles and three Open Access articles. These five papers are freely available to everyone, no subscription required.

 LSCorridors: LandScape Corridors considers stochastic variation, species perception and landscape influence on organisms in the design of ecological corridors. It lets you simulate corridors for species with different requirements and considers that species perceive the surrounding landscape in different ways.

 HistMapR: HistMapR contains a number of functions that can be used to semi-automatically digitize historical land use according to a map’s colours. Digitization is fast, and agreement with manually digitized maps of around 80–90% meets common targets for image classification. This manuscript has a companion video and was recommended by Associate Editor Sarah Goslee.

 vortexR: An R package to automate the analysis and visualisation of outputs from the population viability modelling software Vortex. vortexR facilitates collating Vortex output files, data visualisation and basic analyses (e.g. pairwise comparisons of scenarios), as well as providing more advanced statistics.

Continue reading

Multi-State Species Distribution Models: What to do When Species Need Multiple Habitats

Post provided by Jan Engler, Veronica Frans and Amélie Augé

The north, south, east, and west boundaries of a species’ range tell us very little about what is happening inside…

― Robert H. MacArthur (1972, p. 149)

When You Enter the Matrix, Things Become Difficult!

New Zealand sea lion mother and pup. © Amélie Augé

New Zealand sea lion mother and pup. © Amélie Augé

Protecting wildlife calls for a profound understanding of species’ habitat demands to guide concrete conservation actions. Quantifying the relationships between species and their environment using species distribution models (SDMs) has attracted tremendous attention over the past two decades. Usually these species-environment relationships are estimated on coarse spatial scales, using globally-interpolated long-term climate data sets. While they’re useful for studies on large-scale species distributions, these environmental predictors have limited applications for conservation management.

Climatic data were the first environmental information available with global coverage, but a wide range of Earth observation techniques have increased the availability of much finer environmental information. This allows us to quantify species-environment relationships in unprecedented detail. We can now shift the scale that SDMs operate at, resulting in more useful applications in conservation – SDMs now enter the matrix.

This shift in scale brings new challenges, especially for species using multiple distinct habitat types to survive. The landscape matrix, which has been negligible at the broad (global) scale, is hugely important at the fine (local) scale. It is not only that we need to quantify certain habitat types but also need to consider their arrangement in the landscape, which is basically what the landscape matrix is about. But as we enter the matrix, things become difficult. Continue reading

Issue 8.7

Issue 8.7 is now online!

© Paula Matos

The July issue of Methods is now online!

This issue contains three Applications articles (one of which is Open Access) and one additional Open Access article. These four papers are freely available to everyone, no subscription required.

BioEnergeticFoodWebs: An implementation of Yodzis & Innes bio-energetic model, in the high-performance computing language Julia. This package can be used to conduct numerical experiments in a reproducible and standard way.

 Controlled plant crosses: Chambers which allow you to control pollen movement and paternity of offspring using unpollinated isolated plants and microsatellite markers for parents and their putative offspring. This system has per plant costs and efficacy superior to pollen bags used in past studies of wind-pollinated plants.

 The Global Pollen Project: The study of fossil and modern pollen assemblages provides essential information about vegetation dynamics in space and time. In this Open Access Applications article, Martin and Harvey present a new online tool – the Global Pollen Project – which aims to enable people to share and identify pollen grains. Through this, it will create an open, free and accessible reference library for pollen identification. The database currently holds information for over 1500 species, from Europe, the Americas and Asia. As the collection grows, we envision easier pollen identification, and greater use of the database for novel research on pollen morphology and other characteristics, especially when linked to other palaeoecological databases, such as Neotoma.

Continue reading

New Associate Editors

Today we are welcoming four new Associate Editors to Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Graziella Iossa (University of Lincoln) and Theoni Photopoulou (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University) are joining as regular Associate Editors and Simon Jarman (Unversity of Porto) and Daniele Silvestro (University of Gothenburg) will be working on Applications articles. You can find out more about all of our new Associate Editors below.

Graziella Iossa

“I am an evolutionary ecologist with broad interests in behavioural and population ecology. My research has explored reproductive strategies and the evolution of male and female reproductive traits in mammals and insects and I have used a range of techniques to study the behaviour and welfare of wildlife. I have just started to explore interdisciplinary approaches with the aim to improve our understanding of the value and role of ecosystem services in human health, specifically for antimicrobial resistance.”

Graziella’s most recent paper – Micropyle number is associated with elevated female promiscuity in Lepidoptera – investigates the evolution of the micropyle, a tiny canal which sperm use to fertilise eggs in insects. This is the first study to show that micropylar variation is driven by female promiscuity – the more micropyles her eggs have, the more choice she is likely to have over which male fathers her offspring. Also, Graziella currently holds a NERC Valuing Nature placement which aims to combine perspectives from evolutionary ecology, microbial ecology, epidemiology, ecosystem science and public health to develop a new, holistic way of understanding antimicrobial resistance

Simon Jarman

“Methods employing epigenetics, environmental DNA analysis or bioinformatics for ecological research are improving rapidly and have clear potential for future development. My research focuses on creating new methods in these areas and using them to study population biology and biodiversity. Epigenetic markers for physiological features such as biological age can be used to determine key features of population biology such as age class distribution. Environmental DNA can be used to measure species distributions; biodiversity in environmental samples; and animal diet composition. I am interested in the molecular biology and computational approaches that are required to implement these methods; as well as how they can be used to study specific ecological questions.”

In November 2016, Simon published an Open Access article in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. ‘Optimised scat collection protocols for dietary DNA metabarcoding in vertebrates‘ explains how to collect scat samples to optimise the detection of food DNA in vertebrate scat samples. More recently, Simon was the last author of ‘KrillDB: A de novo transcriptome database for the Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba)‘ – which introduces the most advanced genetic database on Euphausia superba, KrillDB, and includes comprehensive data sets of former and present transcriptome projects.

Theoni Photopoulou

“I am interested in the way biological and ecological phenomena change in space and over time. My special interest is animal movement ecology and the mechanisms behind the patterns of movement we observe. Most of the time I work on ecological questions about how animals use their environment and the resources in it, using data collected remotely with animal-attached instruments. Marine biology was my first love so I will always have a soft spot for marine systems, especially movement of large marine vertebrates, but I work on all sorts of tracking data and also some non-tracking data.”

Theoni has also recently been published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Her article ‘Analysis of animal accelerometer data using hidden Markov model‘ appeared in the February issue of the journal (and provided the cover image). In the paper, the authors provide the details necessary to implement and assess a hidden Markov Model in both the supervised and unsupervised learning contexts and discuss the data requirements of each case. Another of Theoni’s articles has just been accepted for publication in Frontiers in Zoology. ‘Evidence for a postreproductive phase in female false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens)‘ investigates the evidence for postreproductive lifespan (PRLS) in the false killer whale, using a quantitative measure of PRLS and morphological evidence from reproductive tissue.

Daniele Silvestro

“I am a computational biologist and my research focuses on (macro)evolution and the development of new probabilistic models to better understand it. I am interested in the implementation of Bayesian algorithms to model evolutionary processes such as phenotypic trait evolution and species diversification and extinction. I am also interested in historical biogeography and in particular in the estimation of dispersal rates and biotic connectivity between geographic areas. A lot of my work involves developing new models and algorithms and implementing them in computer programs. I have been using both phylogenetic data and fossil occurrences to infer deep time evolutionary dynamics and I am keen to see an improved integration between paleontological and neontological data in evolutionary research.”

In his most recent article – ‘Bayesian estimation of multiple clade competition from fossil data‘ – Daniele and his co-authors explore the properties of the existing Multiple Clade Diversity Dependence implementation, which is based on Bayesian variable selection, and introduce an alternative parameterisation based on the Horseshoe prior. He was also one of the authors of ‘Mammal body size evolution in North America and Europe over 20 Myr: similar trends generated by different processes‘, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B earlier this year.

We are thrilled to welcome Simon, Graziella, Theoni and Daniele to the Associate Editor Board and we look forward to working with them over the coming years.

Movement Ecology: Stepping into the Mainstream

Post provided by Theoni Photopoulou

“Movement is the glue that ties ecological processes together”
from Francesca Cagnacci et al. 2010

CTD-SRDL telemetry tags being primed for deployment. ©Theoni Photopoulou

CTD-SRDL telemetry tags being primed for deployment. ©Theoni Photopoulou

Movement ecology is a cross-disciplinary field. Its main aim is to quantitatively describe and understand how movement relates to individual and population-level processes for resource acquisition and, ultimately, survival. Today the study of movement ecology hinges on two 21st century advances:

  1. Animal-borne devices/tags (biologging science, Hooker et al., 2007) and/or remote sensing technology to quantify movement and collect data from remote or otherwise challenging environments
  2. Computational power sufficient to manipulate, process and analyse substantial volumes of data

Although datasets often involve small numbers of individuals, each individual can have thousands – sometimes even millions – of data points associated with it. Study species have tended to be large birds and mammals, due to the ease of tag attachment. However, the trend for miniaturisation of tags and the development of remote detection technologies (such as radar, e.g. Capaldi et al., 2000), have allowed researchers to track and study ever smaller animals. Continue reading

Soaring with Eagles, Swimming with Sharks: Measuring Animal Behaviour with Hidden Markov Models


Around the world there are concerns over the impacts of land use change and the developments (such as wind farms). These concerns have led to the implementation of tracking studies to better understand movement patterns of animals. Such studies have provided a wealth of high-resolution data and opportunities to explore sophisticated statistical methods for analysis of animal behaviour.

We use accelerometer data from aerial (Verreaux’s eagle in South Africa) and marine (blacktip reef shark in Hawai’i) systems to demonstrate the use of hidden Markov models (HMMs) in providing quantitative measures of behaviour. HMMs work really well for analysing animal accelerometer data because they account for serial autocorrelation in data. They allow for inferences to be made about relative activity and behaviour when animals cannot be directly observed too, which is very important.

In addition to this, HMMs provide data-driven estimates of the underlying distributions of the acceleration metrics – and the probability of switching between states – possibly as a function of covariates. The framework that we provide in ‘Analysis of animal accelerometer data using hidden Markov models‘ can be applied to a wide range of activity data. It opens up exciting opportunities for understanding drivers of individual animal behaviour.

The following images provide an inside view into the ecosystems in which the Verreaux’s eagle and blacktip reef shark reside.

Soaring with Veraux’s Eagles

Swimming with Blacktip Reef Sharks

To find out more, read our Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Analysis of animal accelerometer data using hidden Markov models’.