Author Archives

Rapid Ecology

Lovers and fighters, and how their coexistence affects their evolution within an eco-evolutionary feedback loop

Eco-evolutionary dynamics are well studied but the term is applied to a wide variety of effects and interactions. Yet comparing these different types of studies on eco-evolutionary dynamics will inform on how this field can move forward, which is precisely the aim of a recent British Ecological Society cross-journal Special Feature. Here I discuss a study published within this Special Feature that investigates how an eco-evolutionary feedback loop between population dynamics and fighter expression affects the evolution of alternative reproductive tactics.

Scanning the Horizon of Ecological Research: A graduate student initiative

The current generation of graduate students are poised to become the leaders of their respective fields by the middle of the century. It is their ideas that will be of greatest influence in advancing the field of ecology in the decades to. So, what are their ideas? How do they think long-term research will provide new insights in 10, 20, 30 years? Maybe in 30 years we’ll find out our projections were wrong, but reflection won’t be possible if we don’t first scan the horizon.

DIY Mentoring for Graduate Students

“Where do I go from here?” is one of the hardest, but most frequent, questions a graduate student faces during their PhD program and many of us turn to our mentors to determine the right direction. Unfortunately, as many students know either from personal experience or online reading, mentors come in a variety of competencies (and even with the best of mentors, one person can only provide one perspective). It is critical for students to learn the art of mentoring themselves. So where do we begin with DIY mentoring?

Everything is a model

: All quantitative research methods are based on models. All statistical tests, all summary statistics, all raw data, and even our ideas are models. Failing to appreciate the ubiquity of models leads to misunderstanding the epistemology of science itself. Conversely, realizing that all science is an act in model building leads to more creative and robust inquiries, and, ultimately, better inference.

All men are the same – or not? Discovery of a third male type in the bulb mite

Over the last century, a predominant number of biological investigations utilized either model systems or laboratory populations for experimentation. While model organisms are extensively studied from diverse perspectives (genetics, behaviour, life-history, etc.) it would be imprudent to assume new organism-oriented discoveries are behind us. Most recently, Stewart et al. (2018) revealed the existence of a new male type in the laboratory model organism, the bulb mite Rhizoglyphus robini.

Can traits of individuals inform on how populations respond to change?

We are in great need of an integrative framework that allows ecologists to predict life history strategies from functional traits that inform on population performance. The aim of a recent British Ecological Society cross-journal Special Feature is to link organismal functions, life history strategies and population performance. Here I discuss a test published within this Special Feature that shows how a recently developed dynamic energy budget population model can be used to infer from life history traits the population performance of bulb mites (Rhizoglyphus robini) in the lab.

Ecological “bright spots” and the challenge of residuals-based assessment

The bright spots approach aims to assess the performance of managed ecosystems by comparing certain ecological outcomes, while controlling for other known drivers of the outcome via a statistical model; in effect, ranking sites based on their residuals from the fitted model. While the method has the potential to reduce bias in comparing different sites, the resulting assessment may come with high variance.

Reflections on Papers Past: Revisiting Estes et al. 1998

This is a series of posts entitled “Reflections on the Past”, a series by Hari Sridhar.

“In 1998, James Estes, Tim Tinker, Terrie Williams and Dan Doak published a paper in Science providing evidence to suggest that killer whales were behind the sudden declines in sea otter populations in western Alaska in the 1990s. Estes and colleagues also showed in this paper that the otter decline had, in turn, led to an increase in sea urchin numbers and consequent deforestation of kelp forests. Eighteen years after the paper was published, I spoke to James Estes about the observations that motivated this study and what we have learnt since about the killer whale’s role in this system.”

Posts in this series are archived at

The conservation value of migration bottlenecks: A case study from the Strait of Messina

Migration bottlenecks provide researchers with fascinating opportunities to study animal movement ecology. Advances in technology enable the dissemination of migratory ground-speed data in relation to independent variables such as weather conditions and time of day. I spent a week in the region of Calabria, Italy monitoring raptor migrations over the Strait of Messina bottleneck. In a single field day over 1,382 migratory raptors were counted; approximately 80% of these were European Honey Buzzards (Pernis apivorus). This post identifies Europe’s most important migratory raptor bottlenecks and highlights the threats facing migratory avifauna.

Challenging the extractive paradigm in field work: suggestions from a case study in community engagement

The paradigm in fieldwork of travelling to remote locations, extracting data, and leaving to publish findings without engaging with local communities – particularly Indigenous ones – must be challenged. As students on a long term research project, we distributed a survey to better understand what local people wanted from us. Community engagement needs to be more than purely research-focused initiatives, and engagement with Indigenous peoples can require specific and separate efforts.