Category Archives: The Forefront

Towards Gender Equity in Ecology: Part One

We spoke to prominent female ecologists about the challenges facing women in ecology today

We spoke to prominent female ecologists about the challenges facing women in ecology today (Image Credit: Shannon McCauley, Gretta Pecl, Marlene Zuk)

Today is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Woman are still under-represented in science, with UNESCO showing that at latest count, less than a third of all researchers in Western Europe and North America are women, with the highest percentage in any region of the world 47.2%, in Central Asia. Rather than go into depth about gender in ecology myself, I thought that I’d share some of the thoughts of prominent female ecologists that we’ve spoken to over the last year. We asked these scientists two simple questions. Has the gender gap closed during your time in the discipline, and what needs to happen to close it further?

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Celine Frere: Gender, Representation, and Cultural Shifts in Ecology

The lack of senior female researchers can be daunting to younger female scientists, but openness and honesty combined with a willingness to strive for higher positions can bring about a cultural shift in ecology, says Dr. Celine Frere.

During my recent trip to the Sunshine Coast in Australia, I sat down with Dr. Celine Frere and talked about her work with charismatic species, which you can read about here. However, Celine is also one of Australia’s Superstars of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), an initiative of Science & Technology Australia designed to raise the profile of female scientists in Australia. With this in mind, I had a chat with Celine about gender equality in ecology, and the advice she’d give to young female researchers.

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Shannon McCauley: The Role of Gender in Authorship Bias

Who gets the credit in scientific articles is a pressing question (covered in a previous opinion piece), and deciding how to award authorship is especially relevant given the impact that papers in high-impact journals can have on the trajectory of a scientist early in their career.

With this in mind, I spoke with Dr. Shannon McCauley of the University of Toronto-Mississauga during her November visit to the University of Arkansas (more about Shannon can be found in our previous interview). In addition to giving a talk on some of her research, Shannon also led a workshop on authorship in science. I sat down with her afterwards to talk more about the subject.

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Johanna Schmitt: Climate Change and Plant Life

We sometimes ignore the effects of climate change on plant life, but the potential severity of these effects isn’t something that should be ignored for long (Image Credit: Pisauakan, CC0)

From the California wildfires to the recent strikes across Australian primary schools, climate change is a topic that only seems to grow in its ubiquity. Yet whilst humans are increasingly focused on more obvious repercussions, such as extreme weather events, animal extinctions and shifting coastlines, we sometimes forget that climate change will have severe repercussions for plant life as well.

I spoke to Professor Johanna Schmitt of the University of California earlier this year to discuss some of those repercussions. Johanna’s team is working to determine how well certain plant species will be able to adapt in the face of rapid climate change.

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Celine Frere: Working With Charismatic Species

Charismatic species like the bottlenose dolphin are generally easier to find funding for. So what's it like to work with them as a scientist. I spoke to evolutionary biologist Celine Frere to find out

Charismatic species like the bottlenose dolphin are generally easier to find funding for. So what’s it like to work with them as a scientist. I spoke to evolutionary biologist Celine Frere to find out (Image Credit: Jason Pratt, CC BY 2.0)

We’ve talked at length about charismatic species on Ecology for the Masses. They’re the ones that draw in the public, whether they’re cute and fluffy, majestic, or dangerous. They’re generally easier to procure funding for. So what’s it like to work with them?

During a recent visit to the University of the Sunshine Coast, I sat down with Doctor Celine Frere to find out. Celine works with two of Australia’s most charismatic species, the koala and the bottlenose dolphin. We talked about the pros and cons of charismatic species, getting the public interested in them, and the future of global conservation.

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Shannon McCauley: The Rise of Community Ecology

"...there’s been huge growth in what we can do, but I think there’s been some loss in understanding the behavioural base of biology." (Image Credit: Shannon McCauley)

Community ecology is one of the more recent ecological disciplines, and has enjoyed a rise in popularity in the last decade. Yet it’s often been criticised as a little obscure, and has had difficulties integrating with other branches of ecology like evolution and population dynamics.

With this in mind, I sat down with Doctor Shannon McCauley of the University of Toronto during her recent visit to the University of Arkansas. Shannon is a community ecologist at the University of Toronto-Mississauga who uses dragonflies and other aquatic insects to answer questions about dispersal, community connectivity, and the effects of climate change. We attempted to put a little more context behind community ecology, and highlighted its relevance in the coming years.

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