Simulating the Evolution of Life in South America

Modeling the ecology and evolution of biodiversity: Biogeographical cradles, museums, and graves (2018) Rangel et al., Science, 244, DOI: 10.1126/science.aar5452

The Crux

Understanding the processes which drive biodiversity worldwide is never more crucial than now, in a world where biodiversity is shrinking rapidly. Biogeography, the study of species distributions, has come a long way, but there are still a lot of problems that need solving, including improving our understanding of the interactions between factors like climate change, dispersal abilities, fragmentation and species competition, to name a few.

This paper attempted to analyse some of the effects of those factors in concert, by producing a simulation of the evolutionary process in the world’s most biologically diverse continent, South America.

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Locating Shark’s Teeth in the Phone Book

Supervisors: they’re our mentors, bosses, idols. Sometimes, they can seem almost super-human – they know everything, and find every single flaw in your work.

So it can be easy to forget that your supervisors and various other higher-ups are not necessarily a species of perfect, paper mass-producing, hyper-creative geniuses, but in reality just experienced people, who still make mistakes and have “brain-farts”. The following is a personal encounter I had which serves as proof.

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Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson: Rise of the Planet of the Insects

Anne-Sverdrup-Thygeson has made it her life's mission to fascinate the world - with insects

Anne-Sverdrup-Thygeson has made it her life’s mission to fascinate the world – with insects (Image Credit: Håkon Sparre, CC BY 2.0)

The Internet has been set abuzz (pun intended) lately by rumours of the Insect Apocalypse. And whilst the concept itself is depressing, it’s worth smiling at the fact that the public has finally started to take an interest in the ecological plight of a group of animals until recently ignored whenever possible. After all, insects include, wasps, cockroaches, bees and myriad other ‘nasties’.

Professor Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson is one academic/author who has made it her life’s mission to turn people around on insects, which includes her recent Brage Prize nominated book “Terra Insecta”. Sam Perrin and I sat down at the recent Norwegian Ecological Society Conference to ask Anne about why people have an aversion to creepy crawlies, how scientific communication helps in her mission, and whether or not the planet could survive the eradication of the mosquito.

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Demonstrating Adaptive Evolution in Parasites

Host defense triggers rapid adaptive radiation in experimentally evolving parasites (2019) Bush et al., Evolution Letters, p. 1-9

The Crux

Adaptive radiation is a fascinating ecological concept, one with which anyone who knows the tale of Darwin’s finches will be familiar with. The basic premise is that an organism may evolve different forms (and ultimately become different species) in response to pressures exerted upon them.

But whilst this may have been observed in many vertebrates, it’s often overlooked in parasites, whereby host defenses can prompt divergence in parasite morphology. Today’s paper wanted to test the two basic concepts of evolution. 1) Can host defenses prompt physical changes in parasites? 2) Are these changes heritable?

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Why Pseudoscience Gives Me Nightmares

Whilst pseudoscience is nothing new, it seems a lot more prevalent these days. So what can the scientific community, and the public in general, do about it? (Image Credit: Becker 1999, CC BY 2.0)

Fake science – or pseudoscience – has been around forever and somehow like that really annoying guy at the party just won’t go away. How is it in an age ruled by smart phones and CRISPR sci-fi level biotech are people still buying crystals and talking about super foods (don’t get me started on Goop). While I try to adopt a Californian “you do you” attitude to almost everything, people purporting even the most innocuous pseudoscience need to be stopped by both you and me.

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Andrew MacDougall: Finding Ecological Solutions for the Farming Industry

The farming industry has had a strange relationship with ecology over the years. They have been maligned by claims they shoot native species, suck up water greedily from nature and the people, and pollute our countryside with pesticides, all whilst producing the food many of us subsist on. So why haven’t ecologists worked with them more closely?

At the recent NØF 2019 Conference, Tanja Petersen and I sat down with Canadian ecologist Professor Andrew MacDougall, who has been working with the farming industry for the past six years to quantify their contribution to ecosystem services. We talked about the often damaging public perception of farmers, how his stereotypes were challenged by working with them, and the biggest problems the industry will face heading into the next fifty years.

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