CSIRO scientist Éva Plagányi, who has worked with researchers from social and economic backgrounds to better understand human impacts on ecology (Image Credit: CSIRO, CC BY-SA 2.0)
At the end of the day, the aim of an ecologist is to generate a better understanding of the natural world around us. But that can amount to nothing if that understanding isn’t translated to the people who interact directly with the aspects of the natural world that we research. So whilst understanding an ecosystem should be our main priority, understanding the people who interact with an ecosystem is integral to making a difference.
This is where social sciences like anthropology can help. At the ASFB 2018 Conference, I spoke to plenary speaker CSIRO’s Dr. Éva Plagányi, who works on maintaining the sustainability of marine life. Éva’s work includes interaction with everyone from corporate businessmen to traditional fishers, and integrating social anthropology into her work has yielded great results. I spoke to Éva on the importance of incorporating social science into ecology.
The advent of social media changed many things about the world, but if there’s one big change that’s become really quite evident in the last two years, it’s how we get our information. This has influenced ecology dramatically over the last decade, with a great deal of scientists now present on social media. But are we adapting fast enough, and in the right way?
At the Australian Society of Fish Biology’s Annual Conference last week, Jarod Lyon, who manages the Applied Aquatic Ecology Section at Australia’s Arthur Rylah Institute, gave a talk about applied science in the ‘fake news’ era. I took the opportunity to sit down and quiz Jarod as to how we need to approach public communication in the era of social media.
Leadership can play an important role of a population dynamics, but is it the strength of the leaders or the willingness of the followers that has more influence? (Image Credit: Bernard Dupont, CC0)
Selection for Collective Aggressiveness Favors Social Susceptibility in Social Spiders (2018) Pruitt et al., Current Biology, doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.11.038.
Socially-influential leaders can have a large effect on the actions of any group. Think of that one person in your life that everyone looks to when it’s time to make a decision; whether it’s something trivial like where to go for dinner, or something more important like whether or not to take that job on the other side of the country, these individuals make a large impact in their social circles. This can also be seen in the natural world, like the alpha of a wolf pack, or the matriarchs of an elephant troop or an orca pod. These focal individuals greatly influence the actions and success of their groups.
In order to determine not only how important these influential individuals are, but also how much the “social susceptibility” of the followers matters, the researchers in this paper used a species of social spider in two different habitat types. By using both arid and wet environments and analyzing both sides of the influence coin, this study was able to accurately determine the importance of both influencing and being influenced in different ecosystems.