The red-billed chough, subject on one of Jane’s long term studies of effects of the environmental on the size and structure of populations (Image Credit: Jean-Jacques Boujot, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)
Our world is changing rapidly. Yet our perception of just how much it has changed is often dulled by our inability to compare what we see around us to what was around fifty years ago with enough clarity. This is one of the reasons that long-term scientific studies are so important. They give us a tangible assessment of just how much our world has changed, whether that be in the climate, how species have evolved, our how populations fluctuate.
Jane Reid is the new International Chair Professor at the Department of Biology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Jane has spent years working with several long-term studies, some of them successful, others not so much. Sam Perrin and I spoke to Jane about the importance of long term studies in ecological science.
Museum collections may seem like they’re just for display, but they often house important biological information (Image Credit: Andrew Moore, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)
Last September, the devastating news of a fire in Brazil’s National Museum in Rio de Janeiro hit the world. The fire destroyed most of the collection, including about 5 million insect specimens. Many of the samples were holotypes, a subset of type specimens which are particularly valuable to the scientific world. If you want an indication of just how valuable, some researchers even charged back into the building while it was on fire to rescue these specimens, saving about 80 % of the mollusc holotypes.
Image Credit: Liliann Eidem, CC BY-SA 2.0
The concept of interdisciplinarity (essentially, scientists from different backgrounds working together to solve scientific questions) has played a major role in the development of ecology, and science in general, in the last few decades. As odd as it sounds, working across disciplines, even those as closely related as population and behavioural ecology, wasn’t a regular occurrence. Papers with one author were fairly commonplace.
Dr. Erica McAlister of the British Natural History Museum recently released The Secret Life of Flies, an exploration of the more fascinating side of the fly (Image Credit: Erica McAlister, CC BY-SA 2.0)
The Norwegian ForBio conference occurs once a year, and brings together a large collection of biosystematics experts from the Nordic countries. Biosystematics being a bit outside my field, it’s not something I’d generally attended, however this year it was 250m away from my office, so I considered attending. But what tipped me over the edge was the presence of Dr. Erica McAlister of the British Natural History Museum, who in late 2017 published The Secret Life of Flies, a brilliant expose on one of nature’s traditionally less sympathetic taxa.
Erica’s talk was fascinating, replete with stories of lost artifacts, mosquito sex and David Attenborough. Afterwards, I got the chance to sit down and chat with Erica about everything from the problem with honeybees, to the beauty of mosquitoes to issues with a certain Jeff Goldblum character.