Category Archives: The Forefront
Ask any two researchers what separates a student from a scientist and you’ll likely get two completely different answers. Often I hear people writing their PhD thesis being referred to (and even referring to themselves) as scientists-to-be, which is surely ridiculous, considering the amount of time they spend creating data and publishing research (NO I’M NOT BITTER). But even below that level, I know plenty of Master’s students who have put together singularly impressive datasets or papers that must qualify them for the seemingly subjective title of scientist.
Every year, ecological organisations like the British Ecological Society and the Ecological Society of Australia make efforts to create a more inclusive society. Over the past few years, I’ve been lucky enough to attend several annual meetings run by such organisations, and even in such a short space of time, the differences are marked. Name-tags with gender pronouns are starting to become the norm at large ecology conferences, the audience seems to represent a much more diverse community, and conversations and workshops around promoting inclusivity are now commonplace.
2019 was a year in which many changes that our planet is experiencing came to the fore, capped off in December by the Australian bushfires, a phenomenon that scientists predicted would start to occur with increasing intensity at the beginning of last decade. With all the change that our planet is currently undergoing, it’s always worth noting that the discipline of ecology itself has changed as well.
Over 2019 we got to sit down and talk to some pretty exciting people. And whether they were at the forefront of genomics, the science-policy interface, or the wave of inclusivity currently sweeping ecology, they all had some great comments on how ecology has changed over the last few decades.
I sat down with leader of the UK Ladybirds Survey Helen Roy to talk about the stigma surrounding invasive species like this Harlequin Ladybird (Image Credit: PJ Taylor, Pixabay Licence, Image Cropped)
While climate change and habitat loss seem to keep making all the headlines when it comes to environmental damage, invasive species are still chugging along comfortably as the second biggest threat to our planet’s biodiversity. New cases are popping up all the time, with the Burmese python, Crucian carp and the emerald ash borer beetle recently reaching new levels of notoriety.
Yet the negative impact that many non-native species have on the habitats they move into have often led to stigmatisation of anything new. This can be counter-productive, as the majority of newcomers into an ecosystem won’t have a pronounced negative effect. And whilst it may seem like a smart piece of preventative management to maintain an ecosystem’s status quo by preventing species introductions, it’s often just not feasible.
With this in mind, I sat down at the recent British Ecological Society’s Annual Meeting with Professor Helen Roy of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Helen has studied the impacts of non-native species the world over, from the UK to smaller island nations like St. Helena, and has led several projects for the European Commission on non-native species. We spoke about the importance of distinguishing between invasives and non-natives, the impact of climate change on invasive biology, and the social and cultural significance of both native and non-native species.
I’m generally not one for retrospectives. And in 2019, that feels like an advantage, considering how much of the world caught fire and how many backwards steps were taken regarding environmental policy.
But to take a more positive look back at the last 12 months, we at Ecology for the Masses have gotten to speak to some pretty inspiring people. One of the best aspects of running this website is that we’re able to sit down on a regular basis and talk to some incredibly prominent and interesting ecologists, managers and even politicians and talk everything and anything about the world we live in and the creatures that inhabit it.
So here are my favourite quotes from the interviews we published in 2019. If you want more context, you can of course check out the full interview by clicking on the names.
Image Credit: Abigail McQuatters-Gollop, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped
For the past three and a half years, the UK has been trawled through the political benthic sludge that is Brexit. With a second general election in two years arriving this Thursday, some sort of resolution finally seems to be on the horizon. And while much of the public discourse has focussed on the potential implications for Brexit following the election, climate change and the environment have also featured heavily.
Image Credit: Daniella Rabaiotti, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped
A PhD can be an incredibly stressful experience for a young scientist. Time runs low, stress levels run high. Just yesterday, Nature released an article that claimed the situation could be worsening, with more than a third of PhD students surveyed globally having sought help for mental health problems related to their PhD.
Furthermore, universities often place pressure on young career researchers to publish as many journal articles as possible, despite the fact that a large number of us don’t go on into academic careers. This can often leave PhD students with little time to develop skills outside of scientific writing.
Rewilding is a tricky business. Bringing back species that once roamed a country as their native land may seem like a worthy cause, but it is often fraught with conflict. People don’t want predators threatening their safety, or herbivores destroying their crops. Rural vs. urban tensions come into play. Local and federal politics get thrown into the mix.
With that in mind, I sat down with Associate Professor Fredrik Widemo, currently a Senior lecturer with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Fredrik has previously worked at both the Swedish Association for Hunting and Wildlife Management (where he was the Director of Science) and the Swedish Biodiversity Centre. We explored some of the complexities behind the rewilding of wolves and its effects on the hunting and forestry industries in Sweden.
The red-billed chough, subject on one of Jane’s long term studies of effects of the environmental on the size and structure of populations (Image Credit: Jean-Jacques Boujot, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)