Category Archives: Opinions

The Elusive Climax

Image Credit: ForestWander.com CC BY-SA 3.0 US, Image Cropped

Somewhere in my education, I distinctly remember a video that explained ecosystem succession moving towards a climax condition. The film depicted the gradual filling of a lake and subsequent encroachment of saplings as the system aged towards its inevitable end as a hardwood forest in the eastern United States. I remember thinking even then, “but where do lakes come from?” I couldn’t work out how there could be a mosaic of habitats if there was a steady progression towards a single endpoint.

Read more

The Numbers Game of Species Conservation

Deciding which species to conserve is hard enough, but deciding how many of a species is a viable goal is an entirely different matter (Image Credit: Frank Wouters, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

When talking about species conservation, my concern is always around how many individuals should there be in a population of species. What should be our numeric goal in re-establishing a species? Should the endangered anoa become as many as their domestic relative, the water buffalo, of which there are at least 3 million individuals in Indonesia? How about the songbirds? Should each species be as abundant as the chicken?

Read more

Of Foxes And Wolves, or, The Lady Who Threw Her Dog In A Bin

Image Credit: Dirk-Jan van Roest, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

Many parliamentary debates in Norway cover ground that is familiar to other countries; climate change, the economy, pandemic responses. Yet I’m happy to say there’s one issue that is more unique to this part of the world: what to do with all these wolves. Once native to Norway, wolves, bears and wolverines were largely pushed out of the country, but started to come back into parts of Norway in the 1970s after they became protected. Despite what one of Liam Neeson’s better old-man-action films would have you believe, wolves are shy but curious creatures and of no real danger to people. However their reintroduction has generally been met with a mix of both consternation and celebration, with urban populations cheering the reintroduction of a former native and rural populations wary of the thought of sharing space with wolves.

Read more

Next Generation Field Courses: Enhancing ECR Development Through Open Science and Online Learning

This is a guest post by Jonathan von Oppen, Ragnhild Gya, Sonya Geange, Tanya Strydom, Sara Middleton and Brian Maitner.

Many careers in Ecology and Evolution begin with a trip to the field. Stumbling around a rocky beach or a fragmented grassland can be an awakening experience for a young researcher, as it’s often the first time a person perceives themselves as really doing science. Field courses, and of course field work, provide opportunities to inspire the next generation of biologists. These experiences allow people to engage with nature from a scientific perspective, experiencing the challenges and joys of translating biological theory into hands-on research. Project-based field courses in particular provide an opportunity to work through the research workflow in a supportive environment, and experience what it means to put together a meaningful experiment. As such, project-based field courses have been an important and well-established element in the training of early-career researchers (ECRs) not only in Ecology and Evolution, but across all scientific disciplines, from psychology to genetics. 

Read more

Polly Want A City? Population Boom Sparks Call For Cull Of London’s Invasive Parakeets

When someone imagines London, they probably visualise Big Ben, Buckingham palace, and an overly patriotic use of the Union Jack. What they probably don’t picture is flocks of bright green parrots occupying every tree branch and streetlamp in view. However, urban populations of invasive parrot species are becoming more readily observed globally, and in London, there are fears the population may be growing too fast!

Earlier this year, the UK saw headlines announcing that the government has been advised to cull the iconic birds following a recent increase in numbers. But with their bright colours making them a unique addition to the fauna of the city, and their nonchalant nature towards locals and tourists, many are opposed to the cull. So what is the right thing to do when we get attached to an invasive species? And are parrots on their way to becoming the next globally distributed ‘pest’?

Read more

From Deforestation to the Pandemic: How Destroying Ecosystems Increases Novel Infectious Diseases

This is a guest post by Professor Emma Despland

Zoonotic diseases, or diseases that jump from animals to people, are not a new phenomenon.  Many well-known human diseases first originated in animal populations. In some cases, animals are the main sources of human infection and human-to-human transmission is rare or null (e.g. rabies); other diseases persist in animal populations and occasionally jump to humans, seeding a human outbreak (e.g. plague), and yet others jumped from animals to people long ago and have been circulating in human populations ever since (e.g. measles).  However, novel zoonotics have been appearing with disturbingly increasing frequency.  

Read more

A Short Review of Sexuality in the Natural World

The discovery of ‘lesbian’ seagulls in California in the 1970s shook outdated beliefs that homosexuality was unnatural. Since then, scientists have documented cases of homosexuality in hundreds more species (Image Credit: JanBirdie, Pixabay licence)

Darwin’s work on evolution, natural selection and “survival of the fittest” is probably the most well-known scientific hypothesis out there.

Survival of the fittest means that the “fittest” have the highest reproductive success – whether that is achieved by roaring the loudest, building the most beautiful nest, camouflaging the best, or performing the most impressive mating dance. Passing on their genes to the next generation is what makes an individual successful in this context.

Read more

A Story About Mortality: The Evolution of Aging and Death

A flatworm (Pseudocerus liparus) crawling on a sponge – passing through a forest of hydroids and tunicates. (Image credit: Christa Rohrbach, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Last week I posted an article about fascinating creatures that escape death almost completely, including the famous “immortal jellyfish” (link below). Yet while the jellyfish’s attitude to aging is awe-inspiring, its existence poses a more obvious, yet perplexing question: why do we age?

Read more

How You Can Help Ancient Ungulate Conservation Using Ancient DNA

We write so much here on Ecology for the Masses about the danger that countless species face in today’s world. So every now and then we need to give tangible solutions and talk about how to actually save an endangered species. It’s not an easy task, and every one comes at it from a different angle. But right now, I want to talk about the fate of two amazing species, the work my colleagues and I have been doing to try and save them using DNA from museum collections, and how you can help. Yes, you. Our awesome readers. Here is a story about my research.

Read more
« Older Entries