Tag Archives: technology

The Revolutionary Headache of Ancient DNA

Ancient DNA can teach us a great deal about prehistoric life. So why is it so troublesome? (Image Credit: Flying Puffin, CC BY-SA 2.0)

When we’ve talked about type specimens on Ecology for the Masses, we‘ve spent a lot of time emphasising how important it is to preserve them. Bottom line is, if they get destroyed, there are a lot of really important biological questions that become very difficult to answer.

Thankfully, landmark leaps in technology have made it  possible to extract DNA from those specimens and store them in a public repository (e.g. the NCBI nucleotide database). So then even if a specimen is lost, the DNA would still be there and could be compared to that of other specimens to figure out if it’s the same species. Sounds like a clever and straightforward thing to do, but as always, it’s more complicated in reality.

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Bringing Wild Mammals to the Classroom: The MammalWeb Program

Image Credit: Lazy Daisie, CC BY-SA 3.0, Image Cropped

There’s a certain age you hit when you just can’t name your third favourite mammal anymore. I often quietly pray that the day my kid stops asking weird questions about animal snot never comes, but I know it’s probably not far off. That eagerness to learn at a young age, especially about animals, is what ecologist Sammy Mason has managed to tap into over the last two years of her PhD.

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The Changing Face of Ecology: Part Five

Image Credit: rumpleteaser, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

2019 was a year in which many changes that our planet is experiencing came to the fore, capped off in December by the Australian bushfires, a phenomenon that scientists predicted would start to occur with increasing intensity at the beginning of last decade. With all the change that our planet is currently undergoing, it’s always worth noting that the discipline of ecology itself has changed as well.

Over 2019 we got to sit down and talk to some pretty exciting people. And whether they were at the forefront of genomics, the science-policy interface, or the wave of inclusivity currently sweeping ecology, they all had some great comments on how ecology has changed over the last few decades.

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The Why and How of Genetic Diversity

Whilst cichlid fish might look incredibly diverse, they are actually all relatively genetically similar. So how do we define genetic diversity, and how do we conserve it? (Image Credit: Emir Kaan Okutan, Pexels Licence, Image Cropped)

Biodiversity has become an immensely popular buzzword over the last few decades. Yet the concept of genetic diversity has been less present in everyday ecological conversations. So today I want to go through why genetic diversity is important, how we define it, and why there is often controversy about its application in conservation science. Read more

The Modern Biologist’s Challenge: Data Management

Modern biologists often do most of their most integral work not deep in a forest, but sitting behind a laptop while fuelling their caffeine addictions (Image Credit: gdsteam, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)

When you are asked to picture a biologist, chances are that many will picture someone like Jane Goodall or David Attenborough: a determined scientist wearing a zip-off pants and a pair of sturdy boots making their way through the thick vegetation of a remote Pacific island to study the intricate social behaviour of an elusive ground-dwelling mammal. Yet these days a large portion of modern biologists embark on very different journeys. Equipped with a computer full of code and mathematical models, they venture through a jungle of spreadsheets and tables filled with row upon row of data.

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The Anthropocene: A Human-Dominated Age on the Horizon

The impact of our species on the conditions and fundamental processes on Earth is unmistakable. From carbon emissions to the cities that dominate skylines to the plastics that swirl around in our seas, the evidence of our existence can be found anywhere. And now, a group of geologists considers our impact so drastic that a new epoch – the Anthropocene – should be declared. Whilst this change has gained support in much of the scientific community, others say that the Anthropocene is more about sensationalism or pop culture than science, as clear evidence for a new geological time is lacking. So whilst much of the scientific community, the general public and the media have already embraced the Anthropocene, the search for hard evidence for the start of a human-dominated age continues.

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Tim Robertson: The World of Ecological Data

Image Credit: GBIF, CC BY 4.0, Image Cropped

When I was a child, I’d often study books of Australian birds and mammals, rifling through the pages to see which species lived nearby. My source of information were the maps printed next to photos of the species, distribution maps showing the extent of the species range. These days, many of these species ranges are declining. Or at least, many ecologists believe they are. One of the problems with knowing exactly where species exist or how they are faring is a lack of data. The more data we have, the more precise an idea we get of the future of the species. Some data is difficult to collect, but yet more data has been collected, and is simply inaccessible.

At the Living Norway seminar earlier this month I sat down with Tim Robertson, Head of Informatics and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. GBIF is an international network that works to solve this data problem worldwide, both by making collected data accessible and by helping everyday people to collect scientific data. I spoke with Tim about the journey from a species observation to a species distribution map, the role of GBIF, and the future of data collection.

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