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.
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.
Species like koalas are cute and fluffy, and thus easy to provide funding for. But how do we save species that are more threatened and less charismatic? (Image Credit: Jesiane, Creative Commons CC0)
After my recent talk with Marlene Zuk (which we’ll be publishing later this week), I have been thinking more about the species we focus on in ecology and the species we neglect. Dr. Zuk is a specialist on insects, who has remarkably been able to sell the importance of topics as obscure as cricket sex and parasite wickedness to the public (as you can see in her brilliant TED Talk). However this is more the exception than the rule. In ecology, conservationists have traditionally focused on a select few animals. So why do we care about saving the pandas that do not want snuggles (or to get it on), and ignore the native worms that are being replaced by invasives? Can we change what the public cares about, and ask them to focus more on the role of a species in an ecologic system?
The advent of social media changed many things about the world, but if there’s one big change that’s become really quite evident in the last two years, it’s how we get our information. This has influenced ecology dramatically over the last decade, with a great deal of scientists now present on social media. But are we adapting fast enough, and in the right way?
At the Australian Society of Fish Biology’s Annual Conference last week, Jarod Lyon, who manages the Applied Aquatic Ecology Section at Australia’s Arthur Rylah Institute, gave a talk about applied science in the ‘fake news’ era. I took the opportunity to sit down and quiz Jarod as to how we need to approach public communication in the era of social media.
The Australian government has been throwing around the term Carpageddon for a while now. So why is it a problem? (Image Credit: Ed Dunens, CC BY 2.0)
I think it’s fair to say that Australian politics can be guilty of a flair for the dramatic from time to time. From the recent spill crisis, to the name-calling that abounds in parliamentary displays, to Bob Katter announcing that he wasn’t wasting time on the marriage equality debate because “every three months a person is torn to pieces by a crocodile in Northern Queensland”, Auspol enjoys the sensational. So when they heard about plans to release a virus into Australian waterways to deal with Australia’s persistent carp problem, of course they named it ‘Carpageddon’. But is this in any way an appropriate title? And why is it such a problem that we use this sort of language to sell scientific endeavours?
The Great Barrier Reef has experienced mass mortality in recent years. But can we save it, and how do we impose the severity of its condition on the public? (Image Credit: Kyle Taylor, CC BY 2.0)
When I was a child, I was dragged around my home country of Australia on a family holiday. After days stuck in a back seat fighting with my sister we reached Cairns, and spent a day on the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia’s premier tourist attractions and a biodiversity hotspot, home to a myriad of corals, fish and other marine life. It was incredible.
But nowadays, tourists are flocking to the reef to say goodbye. Extreme weather events in 2016 and 2017 left a massive portion of the reef (whose lagoon is the size of Italy) completely bleached, with coral dying at unprecedented rates.