Category Archives: Opinions

Crossing the River Between Fishers and Fish Science

"We need the next generation of scientists to be at the coalface, communicating good scientific information."

This article was first published in late 2018 (Image Credit: Mallee Catchment Management Authority, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)

When a food source provides almost half a planet with protein, you can expect the people who deliver that food source to play an important role in society. Fishing is no exception. Any country that has a marine or freshwater ecosystem in close proximity will have a fishing community, and that community can play a variety of roles, from something as simple as putting food on people’s tables to campaigning heavily to keep your country from joining the EU.

So it makes sense that fishers should have access to good fish science, at every level. If you’re a multi-million-dollar corporation, you need to know how fish stocks will respond to certain catch levels over a sustained period. If you’re a local or specialised fishing community, you need to know how available your catch will be in five years given temperature increases. And if you’re one person on a boat in a river, you might want to know how best to treat an over- or under-sized fish to ensure it survives being released.

It follows, then, that there should be open communication between fish scientists and fishers. At this year’s Australian Society of Fish Biology conference, I asked a variety of delegates a simple question: Is there open communication?

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Even More Evil Birds, World-Destroying Cats and More Ecological Mysteries From The Search Terms

This is a cat bent on the apocalypse (Image Credit: Sa Ka, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped)

I like to think that when people visit Ecology for the Masses, they come to quench their insatiable curiosity about the ecological world and all its mysteries, and just want a well-reasoned, accessible answer to their issues (and also to figure out whether birds are reptiles of course).

But of course sometimes someone who isn’t looking for top-shelf ecology content and comics (thank you Tanya) stumbles across our site. And thanks to the magic of WordPress I often get to see what strange question brought them to the site. So because it’s the first Monday back for the year (and my first day of work in two weeks) let’s have a look at and try to answer some of the weirder search terms that brought readers to Ecology for the Masses this year.

1. Evil looking duck

If you’ve met me for more than 20 minutes or read my take on ducks, you’ll know that I consider every duck to be an evil-looking duck. Hey Hey It’s Saturday fans probably share my opinion (90s Aussie kid joke). But if I really had to pick a more objectively evil-looking quacker, it’s probably the Bullockornis. Quacker might be a false tag here, as these massive flightless prehistoric birds weren’t part of the duck family (Anatidae). But they were originally thought to be carnivores, and when someone foisted the nickname ‘Demon Duck of Doom’ on them, it stuck.

This swan on the right is still a massive creep though.

2. Are chickens reptiles?

Ok, so birds being reptiles is something that Adam has covered, and damned if it doesn’t draw the crowds. I include this one because of an conversation with my kid earlier this year. We were at a zoo in central Norway and he insisted that chickens couldn’t be reptiles, because LOOK AT THEM.

Totally fair enough. The disconnect between our traditional ideas of birds and reptiles is hard to overcome. But if you ever find yourself baulking at the fact that birds belong in the Reptilia family, just look at their feet.

3. Pseudo science annoying

If any year presented the perfect example of just how damaging pseudoscience could be, it was 2020. Pseudoscience and poor understanding (and communication) of legit science killed people in 2020 on a very visible scale. Let’s hope that the public’s relationship with science improves in the near future. Drinking bleach won’t help in the fight against climate change either.

4. Did Ross believe in evolution?

I enjoy this one so much because Ross would have been fuming at the idea that someone could believe or not believe in evolution. He’s got a point to be honest. We might call it the theory of evolution, but the distinction between a ‘law’ and a ‘theory’ in science is a lot fuzzier than you might think.

BUT that doesn’t mean Ross isn’t still the worst friend.

5. What are the evil work of marmade spirit in human body?

Last year Adam and I recorded an episode of Cinematica Animalia concerning the ecology of mermaids, in which we discussed some speculative mermaid reproductive and evolutionary ecology. So naturally some people looked up ‘mermaid sex’ and found this site, which went into the 2019 ‘Best Ecology Search Terms’ article. This inadvertently doubled the number of people winding up on our site looking for ‘mermaid sex’.

I’m not describing it here you perv. Go and listen to the episode.

6. How to prevent evil birds?

Chickens are probably the most evil birds, seeing as 70% of bird life today is poultry. So in direct opposition to my advice in this article last year, stop eating them.

This gorgeous reptile is the red jungefowl (Gallus gallus). While it’s a very good-looking bird, it also gave us the common chicken, which now makes up 70% of global bird biomass. Bad chicken. (Image Credit: Jason Thompson, CC BY 2.0)

7. Define herbivores. And write down the names of herbivores from the Lion King movie.

This hands-down wins “most-obvious-primary-school-homework-task” for 2020. I really hope that the teacher set the follow-up question “WHY does all the vegetation disappear” (and given that “why does the landscape change lion king” was another search term, they did). And potentially also “why didn’t anyone explain trophic cascades to Jon Favreau”.

8. Cats are destroying the planet

Look outdoor cats are just the worst. They spread disease, kill native species at incredible rates and probably do other awful things in their spare time like leaving their mobile phones on the table while people are having dinner and talking loudly about CrossFit. But I don’t know if you can necessarily add ‘planetary destruction’ to their list of ambitions.

Even so…

9. Ate outdoor cats bad?

Yes you are bad. Outdoor cats are bad, but please do not eat them. As well as this being unlikely to go down well with your neighbours, there’s a reason that carnivores know not to eat the carcasses of other carnivores. Do yourself a favour and forego eating cats.*

Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist currently completing his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who is looking forward to another year full of variants of ‘IS BIRZ REPTALE’ filling the search terms. You can read more about his research and the rest of the Ecology for the Masses writers here, see more of his work at Ecology for the Masses here, or follow him on Twitter here.

Conference in the Time of Corona: A Beginner’s Guide to Hybrid Conferencing

This article was co-authored by Jonatan Marquez.

About a year ago, my colleague and friend Jonatan and I were asked to organize EvoDemo7, the 7th Annual Meeting of the Evolutionary Demography Society. It was planned to be a traditional, small-sized conference: a comfortable, almost family weekend-like get-together of about one hundred scientists from all over the world, nestled in the Norwegian mountains. Little did we know that a pandemic would turn the world upside down and spark the scientific community to come up with creative ways to meet, forge collaborations and share research ideas.

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A Writer’s Guide to Great Ecological Fiction

Despite the fact that as a kid I was both a voracious reader and a budding ecologist, for some reason I never made a conscious link between the two. In hindsight, this seems absurd. When you spend hours listening to your mum reading stories about anthropomorphic kangaroos saving lost children, life and death battles between mongeese and cobras, and islands where dinosaurs never went extinct, how can you not grow up with a passion for the natural world.

The last few years have been a steep learning curve in science communication for me, and one lesson that has been hammered home is the power of good fiction to inspire care and curiosity in the world around us. So for the sake of anyone looking for a good book for themselves or (with the holidays coming up) for relatives of any ages, I asked four brilliant ecological writers to tell us about the fiction which has inspired them.

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Wilderness: A Place of Untouched Ecological Processes

Image Credit: European Wilderness Society, CC BY 4.0, Image Cropped

What comes to your mind when you think of Wilderness? Maybe it is a dense rainforest filled with a cacophony of bird calls, or plain filled with lagre grazing animals and free-roaming carnivores? They certainly qualify, but by definition, Wilderness is any area that hasn’t (or has only slightly) been modified by human activity in the past. This means that Wilderness areas can be incredibly diverse, from the aforementioned tropical forest to a murky swamp. These areas represent nature in its purest form, with the absence of human interventions allowing for dynamic, open-ended natural processes. These processes not only create marvelous landscapes and offer refuge for species, but also provide many benefits for humans.

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Fear and Hope for Britain’s Mammals: An Overview

Look to the wilderness of Northern Europe and you will find brown bears, grey wolves, wild cats, and some of the best remaining strongholds for large mammals on the continent. Look to the UK on the other hand, and you see a state of overgrazed grasslands, skeletonized hedgerows, and monocultured forests. In the face of the global extinction and climate crisis, even the most praised of Britain’s mammals are facing decline, as the IUCN red list declares one in four species at risk of extinction, and the persecution of wild populations continues. 

In this article, I offer a brief summary of some of the UK mammal species that have experienced their share of ups and downs throughout 2020, and hopes for UK mammal conservation for the future.

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Forest Parasols and a Thirsty Atmosphere

Have you ever sat down to a cold drink on a hot day and sucked down most of the glass in the first sip? Increasing thirst with increasing temperature also applies to Earth’s atmosphere – as air warms, it can ‘hold’ more water. The difference between the air’s level of moisture and its moisture capacity is dubbed the ‘vapour pressure deficit’ or ‘VPD’, which is essentially a measure of the thirst of the atmosphere.

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How Dead Whales Form Unique Ecosystems

A young octopus (Graneledone verrucosa) moves across the seafloor. Observed during the Okeanos Explorer Northeast U.S. Canyons 2013 expedition. (Image Credit: NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image cropped)

In nature every death brings new life. A fascinating example are whale-falls: when a whale dies, its carcass will sink down to the ocean floor where it creates a unique ecosystem for bottom-dwelling organisms. Whales’ bodies can weigh up to 200 tons and contain massive amounts of fat and proteins. When a dead whale reaches the ocean floor it brings a lot of resources to an environment which is usually limited by food availability. The fortunate creatures experiencing the whale-fall welcome such a great source of nutrition, and use up everything they can, until the last vertebra is decomposed. 

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A Beginner’s Guide to Endangered Species Reintroduction

Tasmanian Devil at the Zoo Duisburg.

Tasmanian Devil at the Zoo Duisburg, in 2017. The only zoo in Germany that keeps them. (Credit: Mathias Appel / CC0)

With the seemingly endless stream of bad news relating to the environment we’re often faced with these days, hearing ecosystem restoration or conservation success stories are always a welcome relief. With the number of species that have been displaced from their native habitats, the news of an endangered species being successfully introduced to a new area should be shouted out. So you cannot blame a conservation geneticist like me for jumping happily when I heard news of the release of the European bison and Tasmanian devil back to their native habitat. 

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The Freshwater Fiend’s Guide to Horror Movies

I have seen things.

Instead of my normal procrastination for the past week (too much Twitter), I’ve spent every moment not buried in my thesis finalisation preparing one of the most unpleasant blogging pieces since I started this website. It’s the sort of thing that makes me ashamed whenever I publish something by one of the fantastic team of EcoMass authors. Because their amazing work now has to share ranks with this.

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