Tag Archives: fieldwork

Next Generation Field Courses: Enhancing ECR Development Through Open Science and Online Learning

This is a guest post by Jonathan von Oppen, Ragnhild Gya, Sonya Geange, Tanya Strydom, Sara Middleton and Brian Maitner.

Many careers in Ecology and Evolution begin with a trip to the field. Stumbling around a rocky beach or a fragmented grassland can be an awakening experience for a young researcher, as it’s often the first time a person perceives themselves as really doing science. Field courses, and of course field work, provide opportunities to inspire the next generation of biologists. These experiences allow people to engage with nature from a scientific perspective, experiencing the challenges and joys of translating biological theory into hands-on research. Project-based field courses in particular provide an opportunity to work through the research workflow in a supportive environment, and experience what it means to put together a meaningful experiment. As such, project-based field courses have been an important and well-established element in the training of early-career researchers (ECRs) not only in Ecology and Evolution, but across all scientific disciplines, from psychology to genetics. 

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Field Experiences: Changing Lives, One Ecology Student at a Time

Bachelor students studying ecology collect data on a field course with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. (Image credit: Caitlin Mandeville, CC BY 2.0)

The first time I remember really thinking that I could be an ecologist was during a three-day trip to a field station in northern Wisconsin as part of my college limnology course. Sure, I already loved my ecology classes and learning about nature. But actually being a scientist? Real scientists, I thought, were people like my professors and graduate teaching assistants, who peppered their lectures with captivating tales of their own research.

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Bigger is Not Better

Not all GPS coordinate data are created equal, and some of it may actually be meaningless. (Image Credit: Daniel Johansson, Pexels licence, Image Cropped)

The smartphone fallacy – when spatial data are reported at spatial scales finer than the organisms themselves (2018) Meiri, S., Frontiers of Biogeography, DOI: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/2n3349jg

The Crux

One of the greatest annoyances when using museum specimens, old datasets, or large occurrence databases (such as GBIF) is when the locality of an occurrence is only vaguely described, and the coordinate uncertainty is high; “Norway” or “Indochina” doesn’t really tell you much about where that specific animal or plant was seen. Luckily, the days where such vague descriptions were the best you could get are long gone, as most of us now walk around with a GPS in our pockets, and even community science data can be reported very accurately, and more or less in real-time.

However, we have now encountered the opposite problem: the reported coordinates of organisms are often too precise to be realistic, and in the worst-case scenario, they might be borderline meaningless. The author of this study wanted to highlight how this advance in technology coupled with our eagerness to get more accurate data and results have made us too bold in our positional claims.

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