Category: Science

Highly intelligent students, staff, and their bright children

This post is jointly written by a postdoc in ecology/evolution, and a PhD student in education sciences. Our backgrounds may be very different, but we share the interest in changing the learning culture at university, which currently leaves some of the brightest minds behind. To explain what we mean by that, we would like to take you on a personal journey about our own struggles and how they shaped our views on the higher education system.

Personal tipping points

“Perhaps because I visited these forests and was struck by their uniqueness (such as the remnant Nothofagus forest) and vibrant life, I felt the recent massive destruction as a mental and even physical stress.”

Big data also need big concepts

In biology, data on species abundance, diversity and traits are made openly available in big biodiversity databases: big data. Here, I highlight some problems that big data approaches can have, which is particularly worrying if analysis outcomes are used to inform (inter)national policies on conservation strategies.*

The color purple, and the feeding ecology of a snail

Tyrian purple is a unique dye, which comes from the snail Hexaplex trunculus. Thousands of years ago, so many snails were harvested that the shells left behind forever changed the landscape of many Mediterranean cities. These middens, mounds of shell remains reflect the demand of ancient royalty for something as simple as the color purple. By pairing archeological studies of middens with modern experiments, the feeding patterns of H. trunculus can be revealed.

The Network Beneath Us: On the Discovery of Mycorrhizae and How They Shaped Our World

When plants made their foray onto land 460 million years ago, they weren’t alone; along with them evolved a new type of fungi, without which the first plants would likely not have survived. Fast forward to the present, and those same fungi now inhabit the roots of 80-90% of modern vascular land plants, offering nutrients in exchange for carbohydrates, with groups ranging from coveted truffles to species with newly discovered symbioses in the Mucoromycotina, previously thought to be only parasitic or saprophytic.

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.

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.

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.