Author Archives: tanjakp

Appreciating the Nature On Our Doorstep With Kelly Brenner

Image Credit: Kelly Brenner, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

Over the last few months, extenuating circumstances have confined us to our homes, and the areas immediately surrounding them. For those who love nature, being trapped in the city or suburbs might seem like we’ve lost our daily opportunity to explore the ecosystems around us. Yet over recent years, the push to appreciate urban ecosystems and the species that flourish in them has grown. The exploration of urban ecosystems makes up the lion’s share of my PhD. With the increasing urbanisation seen worldwide, we are at risk of getting alienated from nature, unless we actively make an effort to stay in touch – the phrase: “You can’t save what you don’t love, and you can’t love what you don’t know” comes to mind. Urban ecosystems can offer the opportunity to reconnect with nature without having to travel far and wide to find a patch of green.

With this in mind, Sam and I recently had the chance to sit down and talk to author Kelly Brenner. Kelly, whose book Nature Obscura chronicles the many fascinating lives of urban species, has been leading the charge for renewed appreciation of the nature that is available right outside our doorstep, or in the backyards of those fortunate enough to have them. We spoke with Kelly about her new book, our attitudes toward urban nature, and even how useful Pokemon Go is in an urban nature context.

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Where the Wild Things Are

Urban aliens and threatened near-naturals: Land-cover affects the species richness of alien- and threatened species in an urban- rural setting (2020), Petersen et al., Scientific Reports, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-65459-2

The Crux

Land-use changes (in particular, urbanisation and everything related to it) have huge effects on biodiversity patterns – some habitats can support populations of many different species, others cannot. This seems intuitive on a large scale (think a rainforest vs. a large, industrialised city) and on a small scale (a small patch of concrete vs. a patch of soil in a forest), but what about on a medium scale, more relevant to management organisations? How different species of plants, animals and fungi are distributed in space on such a meso-scale is far more relevant to everyday management, compared to say a global distribution, or the organisation of a 10 x 10 metre quadrant.

Today’s authors (myself and my current supervisors) looked at how species richness changes with land-cover on a municipality scale. We also looked at whether these patterns differ if one considers the total number of species, threatened- or alien ones, and whether animals, plants and fungi react to concrete vs. forests in the same way.

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Herbivore

Image Credit: Jorg Hempel, CC BY-SA 2.0

Can plant traits predict seed dispersal probability via red deer guts, fur, and hooves? (2019) Petersen and Bruun, Ecology and Evolution, https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5512

The Crux

Large animals are key players in structuring both the physical structure and the species compositions of plant communities. They eat some plants, but not others, they trample vegetation, they deposit nutrients through feces. However, they can also affect plant communities by transporting seeds (a process called zoochory) – either by eating them and defecating later on or by acting as vehicles for seeds stuck in their fur or on their feet. As large plant eaters are found in most of the world, and several populations are actually increasing, a deeper insight into these processes could turn out to be of great importance.

Today’s authors (myself and former colleague Hans Henrik Bruun) looked at the transport of plant seeds by red deer in Denmark: whether the different kinds of seed dispersal are significantly different with regards to what species are transported, and if certain plant and seed traits can be used to predict whether a seed is more likely to be found on the outside or inside of a deer.

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Biodiverse Gardens: Where Doing Less is More

Kiftsgate Court Garden: The Wild Garden 1. An example of a “wild garden” in the UK, where the plants have been left to grow (Image Credit: Michael Garlick, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)

How do you make your garden more biodiversity-friendly? During my time at the  Futurum exhibition at The Big Challenge Science Festival, I spent a lot of time talking to people who expressed a desire to be manage their gardens for more plants and animals, but were unsure where to start. So I’ve compiled a brief guide on what to do, and it’s your lucky day – it involves not doing anything.

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Locating Shark’s Teeth in the Phone Book

Image Credit: Pixabay, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped

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, Image Cropped)

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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Bigger is Not Better

Not all GPS coordinate data are created equal, and some of it may actually be meaningless. (Image Credit: Daniel Johansson, Pexels licence, Image Cropped)

The smartphone fallacy – when spatial data are reported at spatial scales finer than the organisms themselves (2018) Meiri, S., Frontiers of Biogeography, DOI: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/2n3349jg

The Crux

One of the greatest annoyances when using museum specimens, old datasets, or large occurrence databases (such as GBIF) is when the locality of an occurrence is only vaguely described, and the coordinate uncertainty is high; “Norway” or “Indochina” doesn’t really tell you much about where that specific animal or plant was seen. Luckily, the days where such vague descriptions were the best you could get are long gone, as most of us now walk around with a GPS in our pockets, and even community science data can be reported very accurately, and more or less in real-time.

However, we have now encountered the opposite problem: the reported coordinates of organisms are often too precise to be realistic, and in the worst-case scenario, they might be borderline meaningless. The author of this study wanted to highlight how this advance in technology coupled with our eagerness to get more accurate data and results have made us too bold in our positional claims.

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The Sitka Spruce

The Sitka Spruce was introduced by the timber industry, and now covers almost 5 million hectares in Norway (Image Credit: James Brooks, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

Once again, let us talk about trees. Do not be fooled by their innocent appearance – that is exactly what they want! In reality, they can be just as problematic as any animal species. This week I takes a closer look at the Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis).

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Alien Trees & Filling the Knowledge Gap

recent report jointly published by WWF, Sabima, Friends of the Earth Norway and the Norwegian Botanical Society showed that alien tree species are one of the largest threats to native tree species, even inside protected areas. The news even reached Norwegian news outlet NRK. But why are alien trees a problem? Isn’t a tree, well, just a tree? As guest blogger Tanja Petersen explains, not quite.

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