Tag Archives: environment

The Changing Face of Ecology: Part Four

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.

Tim Robertson, Head of Informatics, Global Biodiversity Information Facility

Biological Data Management

I would say that I see much more collaboration today across our community, and willingness to work together and share data than when I joined 12 years ago. I think there’s less competition and there’s more willingness to share content, software and expertise. That has been a very rewarding thing to be part of. I work at GBIF, which is really more of a community than an organisation, and as a product of that change the community has grown very healthily.

Dag Hessen, Professor, Section for Aquatic Biology and Toxicology, University of Oslo

Aquatic Biology, Ecological Author

I think ecology is probably one of the topics that have changed the least. We got the basic concepts like food webs, trophic cascades etc. decades ago. But since then I think ecology has evolved too little.

I think what has changed is the type of analysis that’s done. You used to be able to go to a conference and present data from “your lake”. Just one lake. And there was someone in the audience who might raise their hand afterwards and say, maybe that’s what happens in your lake, but not in my lake. It was a very phenomenological way of thinking, which isolated case studies didn’t help. So the advent of meta analysis, time series, large spatial studies, these things that were seen as pretty laborious before have now become hot stuff. And it’s helped improve our statistical analysis.

Erica McAlister, Senior Curator, Diptera, Natural History Museum, London

Entomology, Evolutionary Genetics

We’re becoming very difficult to understand to the layperson. If you’d walked into a genetics talk at a conference these days today with no understanding of molecular incrimination, you would have struggled. We have to think about how we can communicate better. When we communicate to a wider, maybe not scientific, audience, it would be better to focus on what we’ve understood from the data, not get tangled up in methodology and vernacular. I do think we’re becoming more and more exclusive within science and in disciplines – we’re having issues communicating amongst ourselves at times due to such much science speak.

On the plus side, we can ask so much now. I don’t have to be a specialist in one discipline anymore, I can facilitate and work alongside other people with other backgrounds, which is great. I’ve got sequencing projects, morphology projects and then biodiversity projects and food security projects. I get to do all of that. So in many ways it’s brilliant that we’ve got all this technology, we’ve just got to be careful how we use it and phrase it.

Carsten Rahbek, Professor, Natural History Museum of Denmark

Global Ecology, Evolution and Climate

When I was doing my PhD thesis at the Smithsonian, I could go down to the library and sit there, and go through all the relevant journals in my field, and get an overview. That’s impossible today. The success and the relevance of ecology has caused a massive explosion of data and knowledge. So the amount of scientists working with this is immense.

Now sometimes we have the view that the more information we get the better. But massive information can lead to us not being able to tell up from down. So now we have the challenge of figuring out how to deal with all this information, so we can still extract and deduct sensible things out of it. Because if we’re just taking the consensus or the average, it’s going to be very skewed. So how do we deal with that?

Prue Addison, Conservation Strategy Director at the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust

Conservation Ecology

I think the most relevant change for me is the emergence of the field of applied research and knowledge exchange, actually achieving research impacts. It’s a growing discipline, and more and more scientists are really jumping into it. They’re asking how do we make our research more relevant, and we do that by working with end users, decision makers, the people who use the science, in a far more collaborative way. Rather than “scientist does research, publishes paper, expects the world to read it”. This is far more about, “scientist produces science that will help influence real decisions”. We want to have environmental benefits, we want to go and work out who we can work with that has the power to make decisions. To change how the environment will actually be in the future.

Whilst it is definitely improving, it’s still quite slow. The talk is happening. We know that research needs to have real societal impact and become more relevant. But metrics aren’t in place yet to evaluate whether Universities are actually doing that.

Rasmus Hansson, former leader of the Norwegian Green Party

Environmental Politics

When I grew up there was no ministry of the environment. There were no environmental studies, there was no environmental law. There was no environmental technology. There was no sector of business that made jobs and profits out of environmental solutions.

I would argue that environmentalism and everything connected to it is the biggest political and social change that has happened in Western society in the last 50 years. It is the most important project in any society. Even Russia and China have now had to become environmentally conscious. The change is colossal. The first environmental minister in Norway, more or less the first environmental minister in the world only came along sometime in the 70s. If you go back to the 1960s and take away environmentalism the world would be hell today. It would be absolute mayhem. So that’s the difference. The problem is whether development has already gone too far. Are we too far gone in terms of carbon emissions, land use? But either way, we have slowed our planet’s descent down enormously compared to what would have happened if [the environmental] movement had not started in the 1970s.

Nancy Knowlton: The Importance of Earth Optimism

Whilst it might seem like little guys like this don’t have much to smile about these days, being optimistic about the state of the environment is more important than ever, according to Nancy Knowlton (Image Credit: Rosalyn Davis, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)

At the very beginning of my PhD, I was in the audience at the STARMUS Festival when American reef biologist Nancy Knowlton gave a talk about Earth Optimism. It came just after the American President had withdrawn his support for the Paris climate agreement, and smiles regarding the state of the planet were hard to come by. So seeing an esteemed member of the scientific community give a reminder that there was hope for one of the earth’s most vulnerable ecosystem was inspiring.

At this year’s International Barcode of Life Conference in Trondheim, I had the chance to sit down with Nancy and talk about why optimism is so important in the face of the many ongoing problems that the planet faces.

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Hvorfor er dyr hvor de er?

Image Credit: Endre Gruner Ofstad, CC BY-SA 2.0

Guest post by Endre Grüner Ofstad. English version here.

Use, selection, and home range properties: complex patterns of individual habitat utilization (2019) Endre Ofstad et al., Ecosphere, 10(4), https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.2695

Det essensielle

Stedene man finner dyr omtales gjerne som dyrets habitat. Habitat er et relativt vagt begrep. Hvor individ oppholder er som regel et utfall av en rekke vurderinger: hvor finner en mat, hvor unngår man rovdyr og hvor finner man noen å parre seg. Individ avveier blant disse for å maksimere hvor mange avkom de kan tilføre fremtidige generasjoner (også kalt for ‘fitness’).

Når vi skal vurdere hvilke habitat dyr befinner seg i så jobber vi som regel med habitatseleksjon. Habitatseleksjon er hvor mye et habitat blir brukt i forhold til hvor tilgjengelig det er, dvs. hva er den relative sannsynligheten for at et dyr vil bruke et habitat hvis det får muligheten. Hvor mye tid et individ velger å bruke (eller tettheten av individ) i et habitat er som regel en god indikator på hvor viktig et gitt habitat er. Habitatseleksjon blir derfor ofte brukt til å identifisere hvilke habitat forvaltningen bør iverksette tiltak.

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Why are animals where they are?

Guest post by Endre Grüner Ofstad. Norwegian version available here.

Use, selection, and home range properties: complex patterns of individual habitat utilization (2019) Endre Ofstad et al., Ecosphere, 10(4), https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.2695

The Crux

The areas in which we find an animal is often called its ‘habitat’. Yet it’s a fairly ambiguous term. Where animals are found is usually the outcome of a range of considerations, primarily foraging, predator avoidance and mating opportunities. Animals trade-off among these in order to maximise their contribution to future generations (i.e. ‘fitness’).

When considering which habitats we most likely find animals one often works with habitat selection. Habitat selection is how much a certain habitat type is used compared to its availability, i.e. what is the relative probability that an animal will use a given habitat upon encounter. The amount of time an individual spends (or density of individuals) in a habitat is usually a good proxy for the importance the habitat to the animals. Therefore we often use this to evaluate which areas to target for management and conservation efforts.

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What About This Cathedral? The ‘Environmentalist’ Response to Notre Dame

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week (in which case what is your rent and is there more room under there), you’ll know that part of Paris’ beloved Notre Dame cathedral burnt down last Monday. It was a terrible thing to happen to such an iconic building, and naturally there was a global outpouring of grief. So why am I wasting this Monday slot to talk about it?

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