Insects in decline: why we need more studies like this

Ecological Armageddon is a bit dramatic. But the message from this paper published in PLOS One is important. The study shows an 82% decline in mid-summer flying insect biomass since 1989 over multiple sites in Germany. Mid-summer is usually peak insect activity, so this is weird.

But every ecological study has a context. This context is described in the Methods section – the most important but least-read section of a scientific paper. For this study, most of the media stories glossed over or overextended the context. Continue reading

New page: academic miscellany!

I’ve added a new page ‘Academic Miscellany‘ to my blog. It started as a way for me to collate interesting resources that I could access quickly instead of trawling through my old blog posts.

But why not share? I hope some of the links will be useful for you too!

On the page you will find: Continue reading

Read my Methods

A scientific paper follows the classic literary plot structure. Each section follows in sequence from the previous sections, so that no individual section (with the exception of the Introduction) can be fully understood without having read the previous ones. If you pick up a novel and read the last page first, you might find out whether Jack dies, but you won’t have any idea who killed him and why. Those details are important.

In terms of understanding the Results and Discussion sections of a paper, the Methods section is critical. Results should never be read as a standalone text. The only way you, the reader, can judge if my results are valid and meaningful is if you know how I collected and analysed the data.

The sexy summary sentence in an empirical paper’s abstract doesn’t necessarily apply to everywhere and everything – there’s a context. Which is why journals that hide the Methods at the end of the paper, or in supplementary material, are doing Science a huge disfavour. Continue reading

Ecosystem services: it’s not all about the dollars

Thank you to Remember The Wild for the opportunity to write this piece for their exciting new website!

Nature is essential to our wellbeing. There are multiple layers of complexity and nuance to that statement. But they all boil down to the fact that our lives depend on the natural systems around us. Trees, insects, birds, mammals, earthworms, springtails, bacteria, fungi, plants… Soil, water, air… Ecosystems are structured by complex and dynamic interactions between all of these components, all of which ultimately affect our survival.

This fundamental fact is the basis of the ecosystem services concept. Contrary to some popular opinions, working with ecosystem services is not all about ‘putting a price on nature’. In fact, the concept has much greater potential for improving human wellbeing and promoting nature conservation than it is often given credit for.

People often call ‘ecosystem services’ a new concept. It’s not. For centuries, human communities have known that nature provides a multitude of benefits that keep us alive and happy, from food and natural fibres to the clean air we breathe. Almost every ancient text contains some reference to the ways that nature supported human lives and communities, or provides clues to how our ancestors worked within that space to reap the greatest benefits in the long-term.

Continue reading the rest of my article at Remember The Wild…

ES diagram

© Manu Saunders 2017

Blogging for the science community

I’m very excited to present a new paper on blogging that is a direct result of me blogging! The paper is co-authored with some of the awesome ecology bloggers I have been following for years.

I’m proud to fly the flag for the southern-hemisphere blogosphere. Social media are dominated by the northern hemisphere, particularly North America. The timezone effect and geographical silos have a strong effect on how academics interact via social media, and southern hemisphere perspectives can be easily overlooked. Yet, compared to the northern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere has more countries, plenty of unique ecosystems and wildlife, and quite different higher education and academic systems! So I really hope this paper inspires more southern hemisphere ecologists to engage with blogs. Continue reading

PART I. Peer Review of Grants: Can we make it better for ECRs?

This post is co-written with Jasmine Janes & Sean Tomlinson. Some thoughts on grant peer review from the perspective of early career researchers….stay tuned for Part II tomorrow, including a survey!

The current system of peer reviewing grant proposals is recent, relative to editorial peer review. It started informally in the USA around the 1950s, apparently within Defence-related research offices, and quickly spread to the major government funding bodies. Today, peer review of grants is commonplace, because it can assist in justifying government spending on research and vet ideas before expert peers.

But how fair is the process for early career researchers (ECRs)? Grant peer review is a similar process to editorial peer review and many of the same issues apply. We won’t go into too much detail on editorial issues, as these have received in-depth treatment elsewhere. Here we explore some of the issues that we have experienced personally when applying for grants.

Continue reading the full post on Jasmine’s blog….