Category Archives: Opinions

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The discovery of ‘lesbian’ seagulls in California in the 1970s shook outdated beliefs that homosexuality was unnatural.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.

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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?

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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.

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A Story About Mortality: What Jellyfish Can Teach Us

The hydromedusa of Podocoryna borealis. (Image credit: Lara Beckmann, NorHydro, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Our existences are often centered around the hope that we will live a long and fulfilled life. At the same time, while we aim to grow old, many of us abhor the aging process, dreaming of remaining young and healthy for as long as possible. It explains why we are so fascinated by the concept of immortality. Think of vampire stories, constant quests for the fountain of youth, or even the newest anti-aging products in the drugstore next door. But apart from the few extra years we gain nowadays through modern medicine and improved life circumstances, many of us can’t extend our lives much further.

We share this fate with many other animals that go through the stages of birth, growth, reproduction and death. But despite that, we don’t need to rely on science-fiction to get a glimpse of everlasting life: some organisms on our planet don’t follow these stages and some cheat it altogether – escaping death almost completely.

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Feeding the Flames

When I recently set out to see what science has to say about the likelihood of more giant fires in the western U.S and Australia, I found repeated predictions of deep droughts and epic fires. Don’t worry, instead of explaining the sad science of chronic presses and acute pulses, anomalies, chronologies, and trajectories, I’m instead going to talk about the hope right under our feet.

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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).

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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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