Category Archives: The Forefront

Fishers and Fish Science: The Australian Fish Scientist Perspective

Fishing is an important part of Australian society. So is communication between fish scientists and fishers strong enough?

Fishing is an important part of Australian society. So is communication between fish scientists and fishers strong enough? (Image Credit: State Library of Queensland, CC0)

Last Thursday, I posted an article on the need for more contact communication the fish scientist community and the fishing community, which you can find here. It gives a breakdown of why better communication between the two groups is mutually beneficial, and how it could be improved. The piece was written after talks with a number of prominent Australian fish biologists, whose thoughts I’ve shared in more detail below.

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The Changing Face of Ecology: ASFB Edition

I speak to another group of influential researchers on how ecology has changed over the recent decades

I speak to another group of influential researchers on how ecology has changed over the recent decades (Image Credits: Jarod Lyon, Gretta Pecl, CSIRO, CC BY-SA 2.0)

I’m 29. It’s not like that makes me uniquely qualified to give me the youth’s perspective on ecology today. But it does make me 100% unqualified to talk about how ecology has changed in recent decades. So when I was at the recent Australian Society for Fish Biology Conference (a line you’ll surely be sick of if you’ve been keeping up with my recent interviews), I decided to get some uniquely fishy perspectives on how our discipline has changed over the last 20-30 years.

The following commentaries are naturally from fish biologists. If you’d like a broader perspective on the changing face of ecology, check out Part One and Part Two of this series. You can also find the full interview with all the scientists below by clicking on their names.

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Peter Unmack & Karl Moy: Saving an Endangered Fish from Extinction

A release of the formerly endangered Running River Rainbowfish. So how were they brought back from near-extinction?

A release of the formerly endangered Running River Rainbowfish. So how were they brought back from near-extinction? (Image Credit: Karl Moy, University of Canberra, CC BY-SA 4.0)

We talk a lot about getting the public interested in conservation and ecosystems on Ecology for the Masses, but we’ve rarely talked about how conserving a species is actually accomplished. Where does funding come from? How do you decide which individuals to save? And how do you allow a population room to grow?

In 2015, Peter Unmack was sampling in the Burdekin river system in northern Queensland, Australia, when he noticed an alien population of Eastern Rainbowfish had established in Running River. Specifically a 13km stretch bounded by two gorges, which housed the Running River Rainbowfish, a species distinct to this one stretch. Knowing that the presence of the Eastern Rainbowfish could spell the extinction of the local species, he started a crowdfunding initiative, and essentially saved the Running River Rainbowfish. I spoke to Peter and postgraduate student Karl Moy about the conservation effort.

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Eva Plaganyi: Understanding the Human Side of Ecology

CSIRO scientist Éva Plagányi, who has worked with researchers from social and economic backgrounds to better understand human impacts on ecology (Image Credit: CSIRO, CC BY-SA 2.0)

At the end of the day, the aim of an ecologist is to generate a better understanding of the natural world around us. But that can amount to nothing if that understanding isn’t translated to the people who interact directly with the aspects of the natural world that we research. So whilst understanding an ecosystem should be our main priority, understanding the people who interact with an ecosystem is integral to making a difference.

This is where social sciences like anthropology can help. At the ASFB 2018 Conference, I spoke to plenary speaker CSIRO’s Dr. Éva Plagányi, who works on maintaining the sustainability of marine life. Éva’s work includes interaction with everyone from corporate businessmen to traditional fishers, and integrating social anthropology into her work has yielded great results. I spoke to Éva on the importance of incorporating social science into ecology.

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Kath Handasyde: Charisma, Culling and Conservation

Koalas are gorgeous, no doubt. But does their overwhelming charisma mean that we forget about other species?

Koalas are gorgeous, no doubt. But does their overwhelming charisma mean that we forget about other species? (Image Credit: Erik Veland, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Australia plays host to a wonderful range of very endearing species. Tourists come from the world over to get up close with kangaroos or koalas. But the charisma of these animals can often lead to issues, whether it’s prioritisation of resources for them over other more endangered species, or even to the detriment of the species themselves.

Doctor Kath Handasyde of Melbourne University has been working with Australian field wildlife for almost 40 years, and is perhaps the most charismatic teacher I had during my Bachelor’s at the same institute. During my time in Melbourne, I had the chance to talk to Kath about the sometimes problematic role of charismatic species in Australian wildlife conservation.

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Gretta Pecl: Climate Change in Coastal Waters

Gretta Pecl, founder of the Redmap project, which aims to demonstrate tangible effects of climate change to Australia's fishing community

So often the effects of climate change are somewhat intangible to us; the weather may grow warmer, but it’s a slow and gradual process, which can seem entirely at odds with the alarm bells that things like the IPCC report seem to be constantly clanging. As such, demonstrating tangible environmental changes to a community whose livelihood may depend on such changes is a great weapon in the fight against the effects of a warming climate.

With this in mind, marine biologist Gretta Pecl founded the Range Extension Database and Mapping project, also known as Redmap. Redmap aggregates public sightings of fish to show shifts in the distributions of Australia’s marine species, including some that are crucial to our fishers. At the recent ASFB 2018 conference, I sat down with Gretta to talk about changes in marine species distributions, how they’ll affect Australia, and how they might help the public understand the effects of climate change.

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Marlene Zuk: Gender in Science

Marlene Zuk, prominent evolutionary biologist and behavioral ecologist, has been trying to encourage more fact-based discussions about gender in the scientific community
Co-authored by Kate Layton-Matthews

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.

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