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

moveHMM: An Interview with Théo Michelot

David Warton (University of New South Wales) interviews Théo Michelot (University of Sheffield) about an article on his recent R package moveHMM in Methods in Ecology and Evolution. David and Théo also discuss the case study in the paper – on the understudied wild haggis – and what advances could be made to the package in future.

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rotl Paper Published


We (Francois MichonneauJoseph Brown and David Winter) are excited to announce a paper describing rotl, our package for the Open Tree of Life data, has been published. The full citation is:

Michonneau, F., Brown, J. W., Winter, D. J. (2016), rotl: an R package to interact with the Open Tree of Life data. Methods in Ecology and Evolution. doi: 10.1111/2041-210X.12593

The paper, which is freely available, describes the package and the data it wraps in detail. Rather than rehash the information here, we will use this post to briefly introduce the goals of the package and thank some of the people that helped it come to be.

What Data Does Open Tree Have and How Can rotl Help You Get It?

The Open Tree of Life combines knowledge from thousands of scientific studies to produce a single source of information about the relationships among all species on earth. In addition to storing the trees and taxonomies that go into this project, the Open Tree provides a “synthesis tree” that represents this combined knowledge. The Open Tree data can be accessed via the web page linked above, and through an API. rotl takes advantage of this API to give R users the ability to search for phylogenetic information and import the results into their R sessions. The imported data can then be used with the growing ecosystem of packages for phylogenetic and comparative biology in R. Continue reading

Issue 7.6: Methods in Ecology and Evolution 5th Anniversary Special Feature

Issue 7.6 is now online!

The June issue of Methods, which includes our latest Special Feature – “5th Anniversary of Methods in Ecology and Evolution” – is now online!

Our 5th Anniversary Special Feature is a collection of six articles (plus an Editorial from Executive Editor Rob Freckleton) that highlights the breadth and depth of topics covered by the journal so far. It grew out of our 5th Anniversary Symposium – a joint event held in London, UK and Calgary, Canada and live-streamed around the world in April 2015 – and contains papers by Associate Editors, a former Robert May prize winner and regular contributors to the journal.

The six articles are based on talks given at last May’s Symposium. They focus on:

In his Editorial for the Special Feature, Rob Freckleton looks to the future. In his words: “we hope to continue to publish a wide range of papers on as diverse a range of topics as possible, exemplified by the diversity of the papers in this feature”.

All of the articles in the Special Feature will be freely available for a limited time. In addition to this, two of the articles (Shedding light on the ‘dark side’ of phylogenetic comparative methods and Perturbation analysis of transient population dynamics using matrix projection models) are Open Access.
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RPANDA: A Time Machine for Evolutionary Biologists

Post provided by HÉLÈNE MORLON

Yesterday saw the start of this year’s annual Evolution meeting and to celebrate Hélène Morlon has written a blog post discussing the amazingly versatile RPANDA package that she is developing with her research group. A description of RPANDA was published in the journal earlier this year and, like all our Applications papers, is freely available to read in full.

If you are attending Evolution, as well as attending the fabulous talks mentioned by Hélène below, do stop by booth 125 to see our BES colleague Simon Hoggart. Simon is the Assistant Editor of Journal of Animal Ecology and would be happy to answer your questions about any of our journals or any of the other work we do here at the BES.

RPANDA: a time machine for evolutionary biologists

Imagine “Doc”, Marty’s friend in Back to the Future, trying to travel back millions of years in an attempt to understand the history of life. Instead of building a time machine from a DeLorean sports car powered by plutonium, he could dig fossils, or more likely, he would use molecular phylogenies.

Molecular phylogenies are family trees of species that can be built from data collected today: the genes (molecules) of present-day species (Fig 1). They are often thought of as trees, in reference to Darwin’s tree of life. The leaves represent the present: species that can be found on Earth today. The branches represent the past: ancestral species, which from time to time split, giving rise to two independent species. The structure of the tree tells us which species descend from which ancestors, and when their divergence happened.


Fig 1: The phylogenetic tree of all birds (adapted from Jetz et al. 2012). Each bird order is represented by a single bird silloutter and a specific colour (the most abundant order of Passeriformes, for example is represented in dark orange). Each terminal leaf represents a present-day bird species, while internal branches represent the evolutionary relationships among these species.

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New Associate Editor: Will Pearse

Today, we are pleased to be welcoming a new member of the Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editor Board. Will Pearse joins us from McGill University in Canada and you can find out a little more about him below.

Will Pearse

“I am an evolutionary ecologist and use phylogeny to link the evolution of species’ traits with their ecological community assembly. I’m interested in phylogenetic methods, macro-evolution of species’ traits, community assembly and developing new statistical tools for all of the above.”

Will is a former winner of the Robert May Early Career Researcher Award. He won the prize in 2013 for his Applications article ‘phyloGenerator: an automated phylogeny generation tool for ecologists‘ (co-authored with Andy Purvis). phyloGenerator is an open-source, stand-alone Python program, that makes use of pre-existing sequence data and taxonomic information to largely automate the estimation of phylogenies. He has also recently had a paper on a R package that allows for measurement, modelling and simulation of phylogenetic structure in ecological data published in Bioinformatics. The article, ‘pez: phylogenetics for the environmental sciences‘, was co-authored with Marc CadotteJeannine Cavender-BaresAnthony IvesCaroline TuckerSteve Walker and Matthew Helmus.

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

Spatially-explicit Power Analysis: A First Step for Occupancy-Based Monitoring

Post provided by Martha Ellis and Jody Tucker

Where’s Waldo? Trying to find this fisher somewhere in a giant landscape is going to be tricky! ©Mike Schwartz

Where’s Waldo? Trying to find this little guy somewhere in a giant landscape is going to be tricky! © Mike Schwartz

The seemingly basic question of whether a population is increasing, decreasing, or stable can be one of the most difficult to answer. Collecting data on rare and elusive species is hard. Imagine trying to detect a handful of fisher or wolverine across hundreds of thousands of acres – it is physically demanding, time consuming and logistically complicated. And that’s just to do it once! To monitor a population for changes, you have to repeat these surveys regularly over many years. The long-term monitoring that is necessary for conservation requires careful planning and a substantial commitment of resources and funding. So before we spend these valuable resources, it’s critical to know whether the data we are collecting can help us to answer our questions. Continue reading

Stage-dependent Demographic Modelling at Your Finger Tips


Soay sheep: an organism that can be modelled with two-sex dynamics. ©Julian Paren

Soay sheep: an organism that can be modelled with two-sex dynamics. ©Julian Paren

Typically, ecology courses contain at least a day of matrix population models. So most ecologists are somewhat familiar with how simple life cycles (and complex ones) can be depicted and analysed using matrix models. Briefly, these models represent what happens to individuals over a certain time interval (do they die? do they reproduce? if so, how much?). What individuals do in the context of these models can then be used to study the dynamics of a population.

Often, individuals are classified by size in matrix models, as small individuals tend to have different survival, growth and reproduction rates than large ones. But how many classes do you need to model the dynamics of a size-structured population properly? Instead of choosing arbitrary size class boundaries, Easterling, Ellner and Dixon (2000) came up with the idea of using continuous size variables and integrals to define a population model… and that’s how the first Integral Projection Model (‘IPM’ for us friends) came to be.

Naturally, for the development of a new demographic tool to prove useful to the scientific community, it must be flexible enough to be ‘one-size-fits-all’… and the needs of ecologists, evolutionary biologists and conservation biologists – who have to date used extensively size-based matrix models – are rather variable in size, colour and shape. Continue reading

Issue 7.2: Demography Beyond the Population

Issue 7.2 is now online!

Sagebrush steppe in eastern Idaho, USA

© Brittany J. Teller

The February issue of Methods is now online! As you may have seen already, it includes the BES cross-journal Special Feature: “Demography Beyond the Population“. There are also eight other wonderful articles to read.

We have four articles in the Demography Beyond the Symposium Special Feature. You can read an overview of them by two of the Feature’s Guest Editor Sean McMahon and Jessica Metcalf here (Sean and Jessica are also Associate Editors of Methods).

If you’d like to find out more about each of the individual papers before downloading them, we have blog posts about each one. Daniel Falster and Rich Fitzjohn discuss the development of plant and provide some advice on creating simulation models in Key Technologies Used to Build the plant Package (and Maybe Soon Some Other Big Simulation Models in R). There is a look back at the evolution of Integral Projection Models from Mark Rees and Steve Ellner in How Did We Get Here From There? A Brief History of Evolving Integral Projection Models. In Inverse Modelling and IPMs: Estimating Processes from Incomplete Information Edgar González explains how you can estimate process that you can’t observe. And keep an eye out for Brittany Teller’s blog post coming next week!

Don’t wait too long to get the Demography Beyond the Population Special Feature papers though, they’re freely available for a limited time only

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Inverse Modelling and IPMs: Estimating Processes from Incomplete Information

Post provided by Edgar J. González

In demography, a set of processes (survival, growth, fecundity, etc.) interacts to produce observable patterns (population size, structure, growth rate, etc.) that change over time. With traditional approaches you follow the individuals of a population over some timespan and track all of these processes.

Demographic patterns and processes (Click to expand)

Demographic patterns and processes (Click to expand)

However, depending on the organism, some processes may be very hard to quantify (e.g. mortality or recruitment in animals or plants with long lifespans). You may have observed the patterns for the organism that you’re studying and, even better, measured some, but not all, of the processes. The question is: can we use this limited information to estimate the processes we couldn’t measure? Continue reading