This article was originally posted on the Ducky blog. You can read more of my work there, including this piece on the positive effect that reducing your carbon footprint can have on the world’s biodiversity.
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Host availability drives the spatiotemporal dynamics of interaction metapopulations across a fragmented landscape (2020) Opedal et al. 2020, Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.3186
Ecology is all about understanding how biotic and abiotic factors interact within environments. Biotic factors are those that involve living organisms such as prey availability/resource abundance (i.e., the availability of food and resources?), competitor density, or predator density. Abiotic factors, however, are those that involve non-living aspects of the environment, such as rainfall or temperature. Studying how these various factors interact with one another allows researchers to better understand how and why ecological dynamics vary across a changing landscape.
One really cool thing about ecological dynamics is that they can play out across trophic levels, meaning something happening at the level of the resource (such as grass) can then result in changes at a higher trophic level, such as that of the consumer (deer) or predator (wolf). While there has been an enormous amount of work dedicated to understanding how these species interactions affect the species involved, much less is known about how these dynamics play out across a natural landscape. Today’s authors used a well-known model system (see Did You Know?) to study just that.Read more
Vulnerability of northern gannets to offshore wind farms; seasonal and sex-specific collision risk and demographic consequences (2020) Lane et al., Marine Environmental Research, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marenvres.2020.105196
A green on green conflict is what occurs when forms of renewable energy can have a potentially negative effect on the local environment. We see it in hydropower disrupting freshwater fish populations, or in the case of today’s paper, wind farms causing bird deaths. Marine shorebirds are often killed by wind turbines, yet it’s not totally clear to what extent population numbers are impacted by these deaths.
Additionally, whether wind farms are more dangerous to male or female, old or young birds could have a big impact on whether these bird deaths affect population numbers in the future. Today’s authors wanted to investigate this question, using a population of northern gannets off the coast of Scotland.Read more
I know what you’re thinking: not another virus article! But I want to show you the positive side, the one we all need so badly right now. I want to take you on a journey through the ocean, and show you what good viruses can do for the health of marine environments, as well as how they’ve shaped life as we see it today.Read more
This is your friendly reminder that dinosaurs are not going to be coming back anytime soon, but the imaginative science behind this idea is currently bringing back some other near-extinct species. Yes! In case you missed it, 2020 saw the birth of the first cloned black-footed ferret. This marked the first successful attempt to clone species in the brink of extinction using frozen cell lines, and consequently, our expectation around species conservation in the coming years.Read more
We’ve been out in the field, painstakingly collecting each butterfly and measuring its body length and wingspan. Now is the moment of truth. We’re about to make a plot and see if the assumptions we make about the relationship between the two measurements are backed up by a linear regression. Is the relationship between length and wingspan what we’d expect? Will a linear model be appropriate or are we going to have to break out the heavier machinery?Read more
Communication in a Post-Truth World
Communicating the importance of restoring biodiversity and fighting against climate change is particularly crucial in a world where facts can be so easily distorted. Misinformation and fake news can be easily spread through social media and other online outlets, but the same outlets could also provide effective means of communication for scientific research. However there’s still a lot of work to be done figuring out how to use these new tools, and today’s paper looks at some of the pitfalls involved.
NB: This paper is very well-written, and it’s definitely worth your time to read the whole thing. It’s not open access, but if you get in touch with the authors I’m sure they’ll be more than happy to send out a copy.
The Fine Line of SciComm
We have a pretty solid idea now of the fact that scientific communication needs to be both engaging and factual, yet scientists often forget one of the two. The authors bring up the recent ‘insectageddon‘ paper, a piece of scientific literature which was widely circulated in the media but made claims on a global scale which the data didn’t really support. While it undoubtedly alerted many people worldwide to a serious problem, the dishonest communication employed could potentially damage people’s trust in science.
Humour is a fantastic form of engaging scientific communication, which can (albeit rarely) be used in scientific literature. For a great example, check out the two papers below.
A Final Warning to Planet Earth features the fantastic line “[w]e therefore strongly oppose the agenda accompanying the warning to humanity and will not tolerate any obstacle to our way of life – be it tree-huggers or the trees themselves.”
The effects of climate change on Australia’s only endemic Pokémon – I wrote about my experience reviewing this paper last week, so go ahead and check it out.
However these carry with them dangers. We don’t expect scientific papers to be sarcastic, so it’s not a huge surprise when the authors point out that the first of these papers has already been cited as if it is a serious publication.
More worrying is the second example today’s authors present. A satirical paper by Leonard Leibovici made the claim that praying for someone’s recovery 4-10 years AFTER their hospitalisation was effective. The paper is obviously a joke, but it has been cited often by religious groups as proof of the power of prayer.
I chose to review this article because it encapsulates some of the frustrations I wrote about last week. Funny and engaging scientific communication should not be shied away from. Using humour and other more personal forms of communication humanises scientists and can engender more trust in us. It’s why I started a podcast looking at the biology of movie monsters. And there are plenty of scientists out there using humour to great effect.
Yet there are certain aspects of the way scientists communicate information – chief among them scientific articles – that are so rigid and inflexible that any novel approaches to them come with pitfalls attached. I reiterate my hope from last week that we’ll be able to change this going forward.
Dr. Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist and climate data analyst who completed his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. You can read more about his research and the rest of the Ecology for the Masses writers here, see more of his work at Ecology for the Masses here, or follow him on Twitter here.
Title Image Credit: Bernard Spragg