Search Results for: citizen science

The Elusive Climax

Image Credit: ForestWander.com CC BY-SA 3.0 US, Image Cropped

Somewhere in my education, I distinctly remember a video that explained ecosystem succession moving towards a climax condition. The film depicted the gradual filling of a lake and subsequent encroachment of saplings as the system aged towards its inevitable end as a hardwood forest in the eastern United States. I remember thinking even then, “but where do lakes come from?” I couldn’t work out how there could be a mosaic of habitats if there was a steady progression towards a single endpoint.

Read more

Not All Datasets Are Created Equal

Image Credit: Chinmaysk, CC BY-SA 3.0, Image Cropped

Species data for understanding biodiversity dynamics: The what, where and when of species occurrence data collection (2021) Petersen et al., Ecological Solutions and Evidence, https://doi.org/10.1002/2688-8319.12048

The Crux

With the rise of the internet, GPS’ and smartphones, the amount of openly available species occurrence data has reached previously unfathomable numbers. This increase is mostly due to the engagement of the citizen scientist – regular people getting out there in nature and taking part in data collection and research. From people taking photos of flowers in their backyard to organised salamander spotting safaris, citizen scientists have opened up data that previously would have cost massive amounts to produce.

The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) is the largest hub of such data, collating data ranging from amateur observation to museum specimens to professional surveys. It is well-known, however, that this kind of openly available data comes with a myriad of caveats: some species groups are reported much more than others (I am looking at you, bird-watchers), and “roadside bias” (see Did You Know?) haunts the records. But how are the records distributed among different land-cover types on a country-scale, does it differ between groups of conservation concern, and does it depend on who the reporters are?

Read more

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.

Read more

Forest Parasols and a Thirsty Atmosphere

Have you ever sat down to a cold drink on a hot day and sucked down most of the glass in the first sip? Increasing thirst with increasing temperature also applies to Earth’s atmosphere – as air warms, it can ‘hold’ more water. The difference between the air’s level of moisture and its moisture capacity is dubbed the ‘vapour pressure deficit’ or ‘VPD’, which is essentially a measure of the thirst of the atmosphere.

Read more

Environmental DNA Provides Lessons On Life

Using eDNA, we can figure out where shy animals like this platypus live without disturbing them (Image credit: Amber Noseda, Great Ocean Photography, CC BY 2.0)

As an undergraduate student, more than twenty years ago, discussions of species often referenced ‘lumpers’ and ‘splitters’. Some biologists were more likely to ‘lump’ all variation within a single species while others attributed variation to distinct subspecies, and ‘split’ organisms as such. Back then, we talked about biomes such as forests and grasslands but the term ‘microbiome’ barely existed. Now, even the concept of an organism is questioned as some scientists argue that the individual cannot be separated from the microbiome it hosts. Thanks to advances in molecular biology, every organism is now an ecosystem.

Read more

Field Experiences: Changing Lives, One Ecology Student at a Time

Bachelor students studying ecology collect data on a field course with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. (Image credit: Caitlin Mandeville, CC BY 2.0)

The first time I remember really thinking that I could be an ecologist was during a three-day trip to a field station in northern Wisconsin as part of my college limnology course. Sure, I already loved my ecology classes and learning about nature. But actually being a scientist? Real scientists, I thought, were people like my professors and graduate teaching assistants, who peppered their lectures with captivating tales of their own research.

Read more

Rebuilding Our Relationship With Urban Rivers With Dr. Cecilia Medupin

Rivers have played a monumental role in determining where people live. Their importance in providing water, transportation and a raft of other ecosystem services has meant that even today most of the world’s largest cities are situated close to a major source of freshwater, from Sydney to Delhi, Quebec to Karachi.

Yet despite their role in our history, urban rivers today are often facing increasing levels of pollution as a result of human activity. As well as often being a huge tourist drawcard, and an ongoing resource for fishers, joggers and portable BBQ toters, freshwater ecosystems carry a disproportionate number of aquatic species, which makes this trend increasingly worrying.

After meeting at last year’s British Ecological Society Annual Meeting, I got in touch with Dr. Cecilia Medupin, a freshwater ecologist at the University of Manchester. Cecilia works to increase peoples understanding of rivers, including the project Our Rivers, Our City. I asked Cecilia abut our connection with rivers, the challenges they face, and how to inspire research and change in urban rivers.

Read more

Calling All Scientists: Letters to a Pre-Scientist Needs Your Help!

Last year, 1650 students from across the US exchanged letters back and forth throughout the school year with professional scientists from around the world as part of the Letters to a Pre-Scientist program. Through the friendships formed between students and their scientist penpals, Letters to a Pre-Scientist helps kids see scientists as real people and empowers them to see themselves as future scientists.

Read more

The Public and Private Faces of Birds with Professor Dan Baldassarre

More than perhaps any other taxa, birds have managed to associate themselves with the beauty of nature. An ecosystem devoid of bird calls just feels like it’s missing something, and whilst tigers, koalas and elephants might be the face of many a conservation movement, you can’t lure them to your backyard or local park with a simple feeder (at least I hope not). The bird-watching community worldwide is massive, and ranges from casual backyard birders to those who are willing to travel far and wide to see a new species.

For bird scientists, there are pros and cons to the public’s love affairs with birds. The bird community is a huge source of information and a great place to raise awareness of conservation issue. Yet at the same time, our idealisation of birds has led to a lot of misconceptions, both about their population health and their private lives.

Professor Dan Baldassare came into bird ecology through a fascination with animal behaviour. The author of the fantastic paper “The Deal With Birds” (which we’ll get into in a subsequent article, Dan has spent his academic career studying the lives of a range of birds, from the striking Northern Cardinal to the incredible vampire ground finch.

I spoke to Dan recently about our relationships with birds, some of the positives that have come from it, and how our perception of them may have blinded us to some of the realities of their lives.

Read more

Bringing Wild Mammals to the Classroom: The MammalWeb Program

Image Credit: Lazy Daisie, CC BY-SA 3.0, Image Cropped

There’s a certain age you hit when you just can’t name your third favourite mammal anymore. I often quietly pray that the day my kid stops asking weird questions about animal snot never comes, but I know it’s probably not far off. That eagerness to learn at a young age, especially about animals, is what ecologist Sammy Mason has managed to tap into over the last two years of her PhD.

Read more

« Older Entries Recent Entries »