It’s the Climate, Stupid

Image Credit: Tristan Schmurr, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

“I’m not going to do it and put our kids’ economic future at risk.”

This is a quote that reverberated around Australia in mid 2019. It was uttered by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, upon being pressed on how serious a stance against climate change he would take if he won the then-upcoming federal election.

It’s a story that sadly plays out worldwide, with many politicians and members of the public opting to prioritise economic growth over the more pressing action required to combat climate change. The emotional twist is usually the same – “climate change is bad, but you still need money”.

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It Takes A Village

Testing the parasite-mediated competition hypothesis between sympatric northern and southern flying squirrels (2022) O’Brien et al. 2022, International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijppaw.2021.11.001

Image credit: Stephen Durrenberger, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, Image Cropped

The Crux

One consequence of climate change is that organisms move to new habitats, as they try and track suitable environmental conditions. This can result in closely related species coming into contact with one another, which in turns drives competition among these organisms. Competition between these organisms can manifest as either direct competition (where two organisms directly compete with one another for food or habitat), but it can also manifest as apparent competition.

Apparent competition happens when species A serves as a food source for predators or parasites, which increases the numbers of predators/parasites in the environment. This increase in predators or parasites then puts more pressure on species B. Apparent competition via parasitism was actually a major driver for the decline of red squirrels in the UK, as the introduced grey squirrel brought along squirrelpox virus that had severe effects on the red squirrels.

If one species is more tolerant to a parasite than another, this can result in competitive exclusion, where one species outcompetes the other species to such an extent that the outcompeted species goes locally extinct. This is particularly important when a climate-mediated range expansion brings two species together that share parasites. Today’s authors sought to quantify how infection by parasites affected a vulnerable population after a range expansion by a potential reservoir species.

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Don’t Look Up Isn’t A Perfect Climate Change Film. The Lord of the Rings Is.

Come on Frodo, drop those fossil fuel subsidies (Image Credit: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, New Line Cinema, 2003)

Regardless of your opinions on it, Don’t Look Up got people talking. The latest in a line of apocalyptic climate movies, will this be the one to effect change? I think we need more climate movies, but ones that are powerful, that stick with you after the Twitter hashtags vanish, films that embed themselves in our cultural consciousness. Maybe one like…

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Hairy Pawter and the Genetic Mix-Up

Red wolf and coyotes are an interesting conundrum when it comes to thinking of hybrids as ‘good or bad’. Thought to be a product of hybridisation between coyotes and grey wolves, red wolves have a lot of cultural significance in the southeastern United States. Native ranges of captive breeding programmes have worked at trying to re-introduce and establish red wolf populations in their historic ranges.

Yet these wolves have started having hybrid offspring with coyotes. This isn’t ideal, but because the red wolf population is so small, there isn’t a lot of genetic diversity among current red wolves. What if some ‘new’ genetic diversity can be found in wolf-coyote hybrids? There is a population of coyotes-not-coyotes in Galveston, Texas that have red wolf DNA – DNA that isn’t found in current red wolves! This ‘ghost’ DNA could be exactly what the doctor ordered when it comes to injecting some diversity back into the wolf population.

So if we were to breed (hybridise) the Galveston coyotes with red wolves we’d be introducing genetic diversity back into the population (yay!) but then also be making more hybrids, which… goes against what we would want – right? This is quite the tricky situation and has caused some head scratching when it comes to how best to approach this situation and really goes to show that we can’t be too black and white in our thinking.

The original research can be found here: Rediscovery of Red Wolf Ghost Alleles in a Canid Population Along the American Gulf Coast


Tanya Strydom is a PhD student at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

What 18,000 Empty Flights Does To A Climate Optimist

I want to preface this article by saying I’m a believer that individual choices can make a significant difference in the fight to change the outcome of climate change. Up to 72% of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to household consumption. While a great deal of this could be reduced by local governments and industry offering leaner and cleaner options, I refuse to believe there’s nothing we can do as individuals to reduce our carbon emissions. 

That could include living more sustainably, normalising greener behaviour, or putting pressure on governments and corporations to change their ways. The idea that our personal carbon footprint is meaningless has always struck me as defeatist. It robs us of agency, and only produces depression and apathy.

However, once in a while something comes along that really makes it hard to cling to my determined sense of optimism.

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Testing Invasive Frameworks In The Witcher

Season two of The Witcher hit Netflix late last year, giving us the chance to have a look at some all-new movie creatures (as well as Henry Cavill’s perfect chin). So in light of my love for a) invasion biology and b) top-class television (though I have to confess to sarcasm in this instance), I thought I’d traipse once more through the world of The Witcher and some of the concepts it brings up.

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The Ramifications of Clashes Between Wolves and Bears

Image Credit: Yellowstone National Park, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

Of wolves and bears: Seasonal drivers of interference and exploitation competition between apex predators (2021) Tallian et al., Ecological Monographs, https://doi.org/10.1002/ecm.1498

The Crux

I’ve written a lot about our relationship with top predators like bears and wolves on Ecology for the Masses, but their relationship with each other is also capable of having a big impact on their surroundings. When bears live in the same regions as wolves, predation levels are generally higher, but how much higher really depends on how much competition takes place between the two species.

Competition can take two forms out in the wild: interference competition, in which a bear might drive wolves away from a kill they’ve made, and exploitation competition, in which wolves have to search longer because bears have reduced the number of prey species in their area. Since both bears (through hibernation) and their prey species (through fixed mating cycles) vary in their behaviour throughout the year, could the type of competition that wolves face vary throughout the year as well? That’s what today’s authors wanted to find out.

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Hippocracy

The idea that we should live in a predator and stress free (for herbivores) has been doing the rounds again these last few days. Apart form it being a very-bad-no-good idea to remove all predators from a system its also easy to forget that herbivores can be just as big of a source of stress for other herbivores as the threat of predation.

I mean we know that herbivores sometimes order off of the meat menu (Omnomnomivores anyone?), can bully smaller species off of/away from resources, and can be a general menace to society ‘just because’. To put it simply there is always going to be something causing an individual some type of stress out there (even from their own species). Saying that predators are the problem is not a sustainable way of thinking, and is also an overly simplistic view of ‘predation’. From the view of a plant herbivores are predators are they not?

For an earlier take on when this issue cropped up last year, check out the link below.

Read More: An Attempt To Understand Painlessly Killing Predators


Tanya Strydom is a PhD student at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.

The Dog Who Cried Wolf: Promoting Co-Existence With Carnivores Through Livestock Guarding Dogs

Centuries of folklore have made us wary of carnivores. Whether it’s the Big Bad Wolf, the Tsavo Man-Eaters, or the dingo that stole Lindy Chamberlain’s baby, horrifying tales of rare events have made us uneasy about them. Yet as ecologists constantly espouse, they are integral parts of any ecosystem, and the gradual return of wolves to many parts of the northern hemisphere represents a huge boost for biodiversity.

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Bigger is Better

Population size impacts host-pathogen coevolution (2021) Papkou et al. 2021, Proc B, https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.2269

Image credit: Kbradnam, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The Crux

Host-pathogen interactions are maybe best characterized as a battle – a pathogen (a parasite that causes disease) doing what it can to maximize how much it can get from a given host organism, and a host doing what it can to defend itself from this endless attack. As a result, hosts and pathogens are locked in an endless evolutionary battle, whereby hosts evolve to better defend themselves and pathogens evolve to better attack the host. A key factor in this battle is population size, as this affects the evolutionary potential of a given population of organisms to respond to selection.

The larger a population of hosts, the more novel genetic variants there are, which are simply organisms with different genetic make-ups, which can be the result of mutations popping up or through combinations with other genetic variants within the population. The more variation there is, the more diverse the population is, and the more chance it has of carrying the genes that could help it respond to a new threat, like a pathogen.

This means that a larger host population is more likely to have a genetic variant that is able to defend itself from these pathogens. That variant will then be selected for and the host population will become more resistant to that pathogen over time. While a lot of theory has been dedicated to understanding these coevolutionary battles, actual experimental evidence is lacking. Today’s authors used a model system to conduct evolutionary experiments to test the effect of host population size on host-pathogen coevolution.

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