If we write about our statistical methods behind our ecology work, and none of our readers understand it, have we really communicated at all?
This month I’m getting meta. It’s been about a year and a half since I started writing the Stats Corner for this blog with the goal of demystifying some of the statistical methods that are used by ecologists every day. At the same time, I’ve been writing a book with Deborah Nolan called “Communicating with Data: The Art of Writing for Data Science.” The book was released this spring, so it seemed like a good time to reflect on writing about statistics accessibly.
Wildlife documentaries generally have the best of intentions, but our ability to determine their actual impact is limited at best. There have been attempts to analyse a documentary’s content or impact before, but they’re few and far between (outside of financial success).
Blackfish is a 2013 documentary which brought to light the poor treatment of orcas at SeaWorld, in particular the whale Tilikum, who killed three people while in captivity. Blackfish received widespread publicity, and in the years following its release, SeaWorld saw an enormous drop in attendance. They also saw a huge drop in stock price, redesigned their orca show to focus on conservation, and ceased their orca breeding program.
Today’s researchers wanted to investigate how closely the release of Blackfish was linked to the negative impacts and subsequent revamp that SeaWorld’s orca program underwent.
This article was first published in late 2018 (Image Credit: Mallee Catchment Management Authority, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)
When a food source provides almost half a planet with protein, you can expect the people who deliver that food source to play an important role in society. Fishing is no exception. Any country that has a marine or freshwater ecosystem in close proximity will have a fishing community, and that community can play a variety of roles, from something as simple as putting food on people’s tables to campaigning heavily to keep your country from joining the EU.
So it makes sense that fishers should have access to good fish science, at every level. If you’re a multi-million-dollar corporation, you need to know how fish stocks will respond to certain catch levels over a sustained period. If you’re a local or specialised fishing community, you need to know how available your catch will be in five years given temperature increases. And if you’re one person on a boat in a river, you might want to know how best to treat an over- or under-sized fish to ensure it survives being released.
It follows, then, that there should be open communication between fish scientists and fishers. At this year’s Australian Society of Fish Biology conference, I asked a variety of delegates a simple question: Is there open communication?
As with most of society, the COVID-19 virus has changed how ecological scientists have operated over the last few months. For some, field seasons ground to a halt as the requisite travel and cooperative work became impractical, or even dangerous. Productivity dropped for many as working from home or general anxiety took its toll. Others saw it as an opportunity to take science in new and interesting directions.
One such group was the Skype a Scientist team, who science communication initiative has flourished over the last month. The group facilitates informal online meetings between scientists and classrooms, and with a sudden global boom in video conferencing ability, its no wonder that Skype a Scientist has seen a rise in popularity. In light of the current situation, the program has even been expanded to include families, and any group of more than five students.
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.
As in nature, its often beneficial for researchers with very different perspectives to bring their distinct backgrounds together (Image Credit: Rickard Zerpe, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)
Guest post by Rachel Kelly of the Centre for Marine Socioecology, Tasmania.
Collaboration with other disciplines and knowledges is central to ecology’s capacity to contribute to addressing sustainability challenges in our world today. Interdisciplinary research involves different disciplines working together to integrate their knowledges and methods to meet shared research goals and achieve a real synthesis of approaches. It connects previously disconnected ideas, concepts and resources, and can be a rewarding experience to share collective interest in learning and understanding new perspectives.
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.
We can’t all be as happy as this little guy when thinking of the planet, but as Ben Cretois writes, the Conservation Optimism Summit is a good place to start (Image Credit: Sachin Sandhu, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)
At the beginning of last month, I attended the 2nd edition of the Conservation Optimism Summit. In times where bad news for biodiversity seem to come from everywhere, it was somehow refreshing. We need initiatives such as Conservation Optimism to help us not only keep a positive outlook on conservation in general, but also to open our eyes to new ecological solutions that are being found.
Whilst making people aware of the consequences of climate change and land fragmentation is important, choosing how to deliver that message is equally important (Image Credit: Backbone Campaign, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)
Ok, first up, I want to apologise. I know that giving Fox News any attention when it comes to scientific progress is a bad start. I’m hoping that if you’re reading this, you already know that their stance on climate change and biological degradation is… let’s say flawed.