Forest Tundra on the Taymyr Peninsula between Dudinka and Norilsk near Kayerkan, Russia, taken in 2016. Was it always look like this? Should it look like this?
Image Credit: Ninaras, CC BY 4.0, Image Cropped
Although obtaining ancient DNA can be quite a headache, it is a very rewarding headache. After all the work that goes into obtaining DNA from a bone, fur, hair, or Viking’s leftover meal, researchers have to make sense of the apparent random sequence of nucleotide bases. But once that’s taken care of, there are a series of really interesting questions we can start to answer. Were DNA strands that are present in the modern times inherited from the past? How similar are today’s species to their forebears? Where is my pet velociraptor?
Volunteers collect data as part of the Centennial Saguaro Survey in Arizona, USA. (Image credit: US National Park Service, CC0, Image Cropped)
When it comes to making conservation decisions, science is just the first step. Putting scientific research to work addressing conservation challenges requires collaboration between researchers, stakeholders, and the public. And increasingly, researchers point to citizen science as a way to engage the public in conservation.
Image Credit: Carol M. Highsmith, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped
The ultimate goal of species conservation is to preserve a species’ existence in the natural world. To effectively do this, we must know the extent of “species” that we want to conserve. That may sound simple, but the concept of hybridisation can blur the lines of where one species begins and another ends beyond recognition.
Image Credit: Kennet Kjell Johansson Hultman, CC0 1.0, Image Cropped
Last week saw International Day of Women and Girls in Science. It’s an important day, recognising the importance of a strong female presence in the scientific community, and how far all scientific disciplines have to go to achieve gender equality.
So naturally the journal Biological Conservations decided to release a paper entitled Where There Are Girls, There Are Cats*. It’s an ill-informed, ill-conceived paper that essentially blames women for free-ranging cat populations. It is insulting to women, and quite frankly insulting to any scientist who has had a paper rejected in the last year (yes, I’m bitter). It’s also kind of hilarious in all the wrong ways. As such, there was justifiable mockery and jaw-droppage on Twitter. Yet as with the recent #PruittGate debacle, most of the community has veered away from directly attacking the researchers. They’ve been focussing on the real problem here – in this case the peer review system.
Whilst cichlid fish might look incredibly diverse, they are actually all relatively genetically similar. So how do we define genetic diversity, and how do we conserve it? (Image Credit: Emir Kaan Okutan, Pexels Licence, Image Cropped)
Biodiversity has become an immensely popular buzzword over the last few decades. Yet the concept of genetic diversity has been less present in everyday ecological conversations. So today I want to go through why genetic diversity is important, how we define it, and why there is often controversy about its application in conservation science. Read more
Image Credit: Elliott Brown, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped
Making Brexit work for environment and livelihoods: Delivering a stakeholder informed vision for agriculture and fisheries (2019) Beukers-Stewart et al., People and Nature, https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10054
Ok, last article on Brexit for the time being. Everyone rest easy. This week’s paper looks once again at the consequences of Brexit for both the agricultural and fishing industries, and the knock-on effects on Britain’s farmland and marine ecosystems. As has been echoed both by this week’s earlier interview with Abigail McQuatters-Gollop and the views from this week’s British Ecological Society Annual Meeting, Brexit can represent an opportunity. An opportunity to put together a directive that helps maintain both marine and terrestrial ecosystems whilst not putting the people at a disadvantage.
This week’s paper is trying to get an understanding of how to put together that framework, by speaking to the people Brexit will likely impact more quickly than others: farmers and fishers. Government subsidies support many British farmers, and it’s not clear whether they’ll remain in place going forwards. Quotas could shift dramatically for fishers.
Image Credit: Artem Beliaikin, CC0 1.0, Image Cropped
The concept of ecotourism has seen a massive surge in popularity over the last decade. It is defined by The International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” In other words, when you’re participating in ecotourism, you should be enjoying some sort of ecological marvel, and learning something, ideally whilst not damaging local people or ecosystems. Yet this can be a lot more complicated than it sounds.
The new Attenborough-narrated Netflix series Our Planet aimed to put threats to the environment at its forefront. So how well did it do? (Image Credit: Mikedixson, CC BY-SA 3.0, Image Cropped)
Nature documentaries and saving nature: Reflections on the new Netflix series Our Planet (2019) Jones, Thomas-Walters, Rust & Verissimo, People and Nature, https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10052
Nature documentaries have long been the starting point for many an ecologist. They’re the reason that David Attenborough has long been so idolised among lovers of nature. But whether or not they actually work as a conservation tool has always been a little more difficult to say. Additionally, while they’ve long showed the wonder of animals, plants, insects and everything in between, many have shied away from the damage that humans have inflicted on the planet. This week’s authors wanted to examine Netflix’s latest move into nature documentaries, Our Planet, and see if it delivered on their promise to showcase the anthropogenic dangers that ecosystems face today.
Animals of wildly different sizes may have different likelihoods of extinction, but it could all depend on their range sizes (Image Credit: Harvey Barrison, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)
Constraints on vertebrate range size predict extinction risk (2019) Newsome et al., Global Ecology and Biogeography, http://doi/epdf/10.1111/geb.1309
To act to prevent a species going extinct, we have to know that it’s at risk of extinction. Ecologists and conservationists simply don’t have the time or resources to make sure that all species remain safe. So having reliable methods of predicting species extinction risk is crucial.
On a global scale, the relationship between a species size and the area that it is found in (geographical range) has been studied intensively since ecology’s inception, both in existing and prehistoric species. Initial research showed that in general, the larger a species is, the larger its range size needed to be, with large species that had relatively smaller range sizes more prone to extinction. However more recent work has shown (naturally) that there are exceptions to this, with mammals viable range size actually decreasing up to a certain ‘breakpoint’, after which the size grows again.
This installment includes thoughts from (left to right) Dag Hessen, Erica McAlister, Rasmus Hansson and Prue Addison (Image Credits: Dag Hessen, University of Oslo; Erica McAlister, CC BY-SA 2.0; Miljøpartiet de Grønne, CC BY-SA 2.0; Synchronicity Earth, CC BY 2.0)
Running EcoMass means we get to sit down with some exceptionally interesting ecologists, conservations, and in this post, even environmental politicians. Most of these individuals have been a part of the discipline for much longer than we have, so when we get the chance we pick their brains about how ecology has changed over the past decades. It’s always interesting to hear which aspects of ecological life we take for granted simply weren’t there 40, 30 or even 10 years ago.
You can also check out parts one (link), two (link) and three (link) of our Changing Face of Ecology specials, and click on the names below to read our full interviews with each of this issue’s respondents.