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

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Can We Really Measure Habitat Condition From Space?

Post provided by Tom Harwood, Randall Donohue, Simon Ferrier, Tim McVicar, Graeme Newell, Matt White and Kristen Williams

Remotely sensing can see patterns of land cover, but how do we use this information to quantify human impact on biodiversity?

Remotely sensing can see patterns of land cover, but how do we use this information to quantify human impact on biodiversity? ©NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team

It’s very hard to make sensible choices without sensible information. When it comes to actions around changing land use and its ecological impact though, this is often what we are forced to do. If we want to reduce the impact of human activities on natural ecosystems, we need to know how much change has already occurred and how altered an ecosystem might be from its “natural” state.

Working out which parts of the landscape have been changed and mapping the absence of natural vegetation is an achievable (though onerous) task. However, moving beyond this binary view of the world is a huge challenge. Pretty much all habitat has been modified by human influences to some extent – by, for example, wood extraction, the introduction of invasive species or livestock grazing. This means that a lot of the apparently native habitat is no longer capable of supporting its full complement of native biodiversity. Continue reading

National Tree Week Virtual Issue

mee-nationaltreeweek-cover-720pxlIn the UK, National Tree Week (26 November – 4 December) celebrates tree planting within local communities. The latest BES cross-journal Virtual Issue contains recent papers that highlight the global importance of trees and forests as habitat – for species from insects to primates – and in meeting human needs for fuel and agriculture. The selected papers also demonstrate novel methods scientists are using to study trees and forests.

National Tree Week is the UK’s largest tree celebration. It was started in 1975 by the Tree Council and has grown into an event that brings hundreds of organisations together to mark the beginning of Britain’s winter tree planting season.

This Virtual Issue was compiled by Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editors Sarah Goslee and Sean McMahon. 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 Methods papers included here:

Connecting Forest Patches

Sagebrush steppe in eastern Idaho, USA

© Brittany J. Teller

Landscape connectivity is important for the ecology and genetics of populations threatened by climate change and habitat fragmentation. To begin our Virtual Issue Rayfield et al. present a method for identifying a multipurpose network of forest patches that promotes both short- and long-range connectivity. Their approach can be tailored to local, regional and continental conservation initiatives to protect essential species movements that will allow biodiversity to persist in a changing climate. The authors illustrate their method in the agroecosystem bordered by the Laurentian and Appalachian mountain ranges, that surrounds Montreal.

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Tips for Publishing Methods Papers in Ecological Journals

At the 2015 Eco-Stats Conference at the University of New South Wales there was a Q&A panel discussion of tips for authors publishing methods papers. The panel was chaired by Methods in Ecology and Evolution Associate Editor David Warton. It included Jane Elith (winner of the Methods Recognition of Achievement award), Associate Editor Matt Schofield and former Associate Editor Shinichi Nakagawa. There was also a late appearance, straight off a long haul flight from China, by Doug Yu (another current Associate Editor).

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The Arborist Throw-line Launcher

Collecting leaves or seeds from tall trees is a difficult task that many plant physiologists, ecologists, geneticists and forest managers encounter repeatedly. In a series of videos on the Methods in Ecology and Evolution YouTube channel, Kara N. YoungentobChristina Zdenek and Eva van Gorsel demonstrate how to use the arborist throw-line launcher, which significantly simplifies this task. This new way of collecting seeds and leaves from tall trees is explained in their Applications article ‘A simple and effective method to collect leaves and seeds from tall trees‘. As this is an Applications paper, it is freely available to everyone.

Basic Techniques for the Arborist Throw-line Launcher

The first of the three videos is a basic overview of the method. In this tutorial, the authors teach you how to find the ideal branch, how to use the throw-line launcher and go through some important safety information. Continue reading