Image Credit: Davian Ho, Maya Peters Kostman, and Philippa Steinberg for the Innovative Genomics Institute, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0, Image Cropped
There’s a certain poetry to the popularity of disease ecology. Once a quirky biological sub-field, the study of diseases in an ecological context had spread steadily in popularity over the last two decades. Then COVID hit, and much like the disease itself, disease ecology rocketed into the forefront of natural sciences.
This wasn’t just contained to university and hospital corridors. Before COVID, how often did you hear words like “transmission”, “virulence” and “pathogen”? While disease ecology is the crux of my professional life now, there’s little chance I would have been able to make a career of it twenty years ago.
To get some perspective, I decided to talk to people who have been there for the surge in relevance disease ecology has experienced in that time. I was recently in Kruger National Park, South Africa for the 4th International Congress on Parasites of Wildlife, and had the pleasure of sitting down with two prominent disease ecologists, Dr. Sandra Telfer and Dr. Vanessa Ezenwa, in separate meetings to talk about how the field has changed over the course of their careers.
Image Credit: cunningschrisw, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped
While climate change often dominates news headlines, the fact remains that currently the majority of damage being done to the world’s ecosystems is a product of the way we use land. Major examples of land use change such as deforestation and cattle grazing do have impacts on the world’s climate of course, but they have numerous other very severe and more short-term impacts on the world’s biodiversity, as well as on human health.
Yet despite the fact that most species’ population declines and extinctions come down to the rapid degradation of their habitats, climate change remains the more ubiquitous of the two threats. With that in mind, I spoke to Professor Francesca Verones of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology earlier this year. Francesca’s work involves projecting the impact of human activity on the planet’s biodiversity, and we discussed why communicating the problems with land use change can be a challenge, and why changing our habits is hard, but necessary.
This interview was first published in late 2018 on the predecessor to Ecology for the Masses under the title “Marlene Zuk: Gender in Science”. Image Credit: Marlene Zuk, University of Minnesota, CC BY 2.0
As part of a two-day gender equality workshop for the Department of Biology at NTNU, Kate Layton-Matthews and I had the chance to interview Professor Marlene Zuk. Marlene is a prominent evolutionary biologist and behavioral ecologist, and a well-known advocate of improved gender equality in academia.
Her emphasis on bringing about more fact-based discussions on gender and how to attract women to typically male-dominated professions is unfortunately still necessary. People are still maintaining the view that women are ‘naturally less inclined’ to what are considered as ‘masculine’ disciplines, but as Marlene explains, it is impossible to disentangle culture from genetics. Her work is fundamental in the face of such dangerous over-simplification, for instance in the light of the firing of a disgraced professor at Cern, the European nuclear research centre in Geneva, where a male professor commented that ‘Physics was built by men’, which was unsurprisingly met with immediate backlash. In the words of another gender equality-advocate and professor in Physics, Jessica Wade, we need to fight against the ‘toxic and incorrect messages’ that such people are propagating.
Image Credit: Benh Lieu Song, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped
We tend to think of the concept of large herbivores roaming freely around Europe as a notion confined to the ancient past. Yet in geological terms, huge herbivores and their associated carnivores were widespread on the European continent only a short time ago. With many ecosystems badly degraded, the idea of restoring ecological processes and enhancing biodiversity by reintroducing everything from bisons to elephants has been tossed around more and more.
But how do the reintroduction of these species help European ecosystems? To learn more about the phenomena, I spoke to Professor Jens-Christian Svenning, who has spoken extensively about the advantages of bringing large herbivores and carnivores back to the European mainland. We discussed what rewilding means, some recent success stories, and why living with megafauna in Europe is no harder than in any other part of the world.
Image Credit: AJE Terzi, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped
While many biologists have to spend arduous days in the field, often sweating, getting stuck in mud or bitten by a million mosquitos, Dr. Benjamin Clanner-Engelshofen carries his study species wherever he goes: on his own forehead.
He finished his first PhD in October 2020 and is both a pharmacist and medical doctor, currently practicing at the clinic and polyclinic for dermatology and allergy of the Ludwig Maximilian University Hospital in Munich. His work focuses on the little mites that live on all of us.
Image Credit: Andrei Savitsky (left and right), CC BY-SA 4.0 ; Uwe Kils (centre), CC BY-SA 3.0
The deep sea is a wondrous world of biodiversity, darkness, and mysteries we still know very little about. Despite the fact that we rely on the deep sea as a sink for carbon dioxide – and increasingly as a source of natural gases and minerals – we have very little understanding of how our actions will affect its intricate food web.
Near the base of the food web sits an incredibly diverse group of animals called copepods. They are so abundant and have such sweeping variety that we are still struggling to come up with a way to classify them. Dr. Nancy Mercado-Salas has worked with these tiny creatures since her bachelor’s thesis, both in freshwater and in marine ecosystems, and her message is clear: We need to increase our knowledge on this group of animals before it is too late.