Tag Archives: public

Policy-Relevant Ecology: Thoughts from the 4th Conference of the Norwegian Ecological Society

The city of Tromsø, in which the NØF 2019 Conference took place last week (Image Credit: The Municipality of Tromsø, Image Cropped, CC BY 2.0)

I spent last week up in Tromsø, Norway, for the 4th Conference of the Norwegian Ecological Society. A two-hour flight further north might not seem like a big deal, however if I were a species alone to myself, my northern distribution limit based on temperature would be Trondheim, where I currently reside. It’s just too damn cold for an Australian in the Arctic Circle! Yet Tromso was surprisingly mild last week, coming off the back of a particularly warm winter. And whilst that might sound great, warming temperatures in the Arctic may cause a plethora of negative effects on local wildlife, including starving local reindeer populations and reducing the vital mosquito population.

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The Concept of Certainty in Ecological Science

Image Credit: qimono, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped

Go through any scientific paper and you’ll find it littered with uncertainty. Scientists qualify parameters, give standard errors, make way for random processes even when experiments have been planned to the finest detail. Even when we get the answers we want, we provide alternative explanations that fly in the face of the assumptions we’re trying to test. Honestly, sometimes it seems like we don’t really ‘know’ anything.

I’ve written about our reluctance to declare that we know things in science before, but here I want to try and answer a couple of questions. Why is uncertainty such a crucial part of science? How does this affect the non-scientific public’s perception of science? And does this relationship with knowledge need to change in the future?

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Celine Frere: Working With Charismatic Species

Charismatic species like the bottlenose dolphin are generally easier to find funding for. So what's it like to work with them as a scientist. I spoke to evolutionary biologist Celine Frere to find out

Charismatic species like the bottlenose dolphin are generally easier to find funding for. So what’s it like to work with them as a scientist. I spoke to evolutionary biologist Celine Frere to find out (Image Credit: Jason Pratt, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

We’ve talked at length about charismatic species on Ecology for the Masses. They’re the ones that draw in the public, whether they’re cute and fluffy, majestic, or dangerous. They’re generally easier to procure funding for. So what’s it like to work with them?

During a recent visit to the University of the Sunshine Coast, I sat down with Doctor Celine Frere to find out. Celine works with two of Australia’s most charismatic species, the koala and the bottlenose dolphin. We talked about the pros and cons of charismatic species, getting the public interested in them, and the future of global conservation.

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Crossing the River Between Fishers and Fish Science

"We need the next generation of scientists to be at the coalface, communicating good scientific information."

Some fish scientists, like recent ASFB delegate Jarod Lyon, have regular contact with fishers who benefit from the work academics and researchers carry out on fish. But is there enough of this sort of communication between the fish science community and fishers? (Image Credit: Mallee Catchment Management Authority, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)

When a food source provides almost half a planet with protein, you can expect the people who deliver that food source to play an important role in society. Fishing is no exception. Any country that has a marine or freshwater ecosystem in close proximity will have a fishing community, and that community can play a variety of roles, from something as simple as putting food on people’s tables to campaigning heavily to keep your country from joining the EU.

So it makes sense that fishers should have access to good fish science, at every level. If you’re a multi-million-dollar corporation, you need to know how fish stocks will respond to certain catch levels over a sustained period. If you’re a local or specialised fishing community, you need to know how available your catch will be in five years given temperature increases. And if you’re one person on a boat in a river, you might want to know how best to treat an over- or under-sized fish to ensure it survives being released.

It follows, then, that there should be open communication between fish scientists and fishers. At this year’s Australian Society of Fish Biology conference, I asked a variety of delegates a simple question: Is there open communication?

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The Culling of Kangaroos

Image Credit: Sam Perrin, CC BY-NC 2.0

Having recently spent some time out in country New South Wales, I thought I’d share a quick description of the sight that greets you when you get out past Deniliquin in southern New South Wales and start driving north. It’s arid land, but it’s might still be beautiful were it not for the dead kangaroos that litter roadsides. You might see fifty on the drive from Albury to Deniliquin, but that quickly turns into hundreds as you go even further inland towards the border with South Australia.

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Gretta Pecl: Climate Change in Coastal Waters

Gretta Pecl, founder of the Redmap project, which aims to demonstrate tangible effects of climate change to Australia's fishing community

Image Credit: Gretta Pecl, University of Tasmania, CC BY 2.0

So often the effects of climate change are somewhat intangible to us; the weather may grow warmer, but it’s a slow and gradual process, which can seem entirely at odds with the alarm bells that things like the IPCC report seem to be constantly clanging. As such, demonstrating tangible environmental changes to a community whose livelihood may depend on such changes is a great weapon in the fight against the effects of a warming climate.

With this in mind, marine biologist Gretta Pecl founded the Range Extension Database and Mapping project, also known as Redmap. Redmap aggregates public sightings of fish to show shifts in the distributions of Australia’s marine species, including some that are crucial to our fishers. At the recent ASFB 2018 conference, I sat down with Gretta to talk about changes in marine species distributions, how they’ll affect Australia, and how they might help the public understand the effects of climate change.

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Why Do We Only Care If It’s Fluffy?

Species like koalas are cute and fluffy, and thus easy to provide funding for. But how do we save species that are more threatened and less charismatic?

Species like koalas are cute and fluffy, and thus easy to provide funding for. But how do we save species that are more threatened and less charismatic? (Image Credit: Jesiane, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped)

After my recent talk with Marlene Zuk (which we’ll be publishing later this week), I have been thinking more about the species we focus on in ecology and the species we neglect. Dr. Zuk is a specialist on insects, who has remarkably been able to sell the importance of topics as obscure as cricket sex and parasite wickedness to the public (as you can see in her brilliant TED Talk). However this is more the exception than the rule. In ecology, conservationists have traditionally focused on a select few animals. So why do we care about saving the pandas that do not want snuggles (or to get it on), and ignore the native worms that are being replaced by invasives? Can we change what the public cares about, and ask them to focus more on the role of a species in an ecologic system?

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Matt von Konrat: Harnessing Community Science

Matt von Konrat has been using community science at the Chicago Field Museum to generate data that it would have taken years for a single research team to produce, and engaging the public at the same time

Image Credit: Matt von Konrat, Chicago Field Museum, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped

Public engagement is something I’ve spoken about at length with the scientists I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to. However communicating better with the public is one thing; actively getting them involved in the scientific process is another. Matt von Konrat, of the Chicago Field Museum, has led an ambitious project which has successfully involved thousands of Americans from all walks of life in the scientific gathering of data. The result? Millions of specimens quantified, and thousands of people left with a better understanding of science.

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Trout Restoration in the Great Lakes: A Success Story

A Lake Trout, the species which was almost driven to extinction by overfishing and Sea Lamprey invasion, has now been restored in the Great Lakes

The Lake Trout, the species which was almost driven to extinction by overfishing and Sea Lamprey invasion, has now been restored in the Great Lakes (Image Credit: Cory Goldsworthy, MDNR, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

Back in June this year, I was fortunate enough to attend the 9th International Charr Symposium, a conference which takes place every three to four years focusing on fish in the genus Salvelinus. The conference took place on Lake Superior, a site where the local Lake Trout population had previously been greatly reduced by overfishing and the invasion of the Sea Lamprey in the first half of the 20th century.

Yet the concerted efforts of the State, Provincial and Federal governments’ Fisheries Departments from the U.S. and Canada worked to successfully control the invasive Sea Lamprey species, and the native Lake Trout population was restored. I spoke with Don Pereira, Don Schreiner and Cory Goldsworthy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR) and Minnesota Sea Grant (MNSG) about one of the rare success stories of invasion ecology.

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Mark Davis: Rethinking Invasive Biology

Mark Davis' 2011 paper "Don't Judge Species on their Origins" was not well-received by sections of the ecological community. But why is a call for rethinking our attitudes to invasive species so controversial?

In the series Norway’s Newcomers, we’ve looked extensively at not only Norway’s non-native species, but the genetics, definition and even the defense of alien species. So it made sense that we’d eventually find our way to interviewing an invasion biologist. I was in St. Paul, Minnesota earlier this year and was lucky enough to sit down with Professor Mark Davis.

Mark has been a strong opponent of the demonisation of invasive species for decades. Whilst many ecologists’ first reaction is to eradicate any non-native species, Mark has urged caution, and encouraged the community towards less pejorative terms. I spoke with Mark about the impact our work has on public opinion, how we should talk about non-natives, and living with the impact of invasive species going forward.

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