Some interesting syntheses of long-term insect data have been published in the last few months. These synthesis studies attempt to provide an answer to the big question mark raised by the recent insect apocalypse narrative.
This is how much of an impact a single study that gets lots of attention can have on the direction of science. The insectageddon opinion piece that started this ball rolling had fundamental flaws that are now well-documented (unfortunately it is still being widely cited in scientific literature and popular media as supposed evidence of decline). Sure, one could argue it got people talking about an important issue that we already had decades of evidence for.
But at what cost? Its long-term effects on science communication and scientific efforts are most concerning, something we flagged in our analysis published earlier this year.
Will a new metric save biodiversity? This recent opinion piece in Science magazine argues for just that: “a single, simple indicator”, an annual biodiversity target based on species extinction rate. The idea is that the metric will encourage people and policy to protect nature.
The authors justify their argument based on two assumptions:
1) extinction fully incorporates the most fundamental aspect of biodiversity loss
2) extinction is widely understood and easy to communicate
This all sounds well and good. But…
I’ve just written a few lectures for a first year ecology unit on history and philosophy of ecology. I remembered my own undergrad education, dominated by the male European history of science, and didn’t want to repeat that history. Ecology is so much more that!
Modern science is founded on western philosophy, so it’s understandable that European science gets most of the attention. But despite what most of us learned at school, scientists aren’t all male and there were many non-European scientists that contributed to the development of modern scientific knowledge.
Most importantly, Indigenous people’s knowledge is tied to place, and we often ignore the wealth of knowledge about ecological interactions and processes that Indigenous cultures hold, as well as the respectful environmental interaction (management) that is embedded in country and culture.
This is a list of some good resources that I found useful to highlight an inclusive history of the development of ecological science, at an introductory level. There are more nuanced details, but these resources simply highlight the important fact that science has developed from diverse minds, not just a select few white guys. Some of those famous guys deserve the credit, others don’t so much.
I read this recent Thesis Whisperer post a few times, and it troubled me. Then they posted this follow-up post doubling down on the original argument denouncing academic writing.
Comments aren’t allowed on the Thesis Whisperer blog, so I’m writing here. I really think these posts send negative messaging to prospective (and current) PhDs. Do read the original posts, but here’s a quick summary of how I interpreted the Thesis Whisperer’s argument:
(i) the way we do PhDs needs to change;
(ii) we should galvanise PhD students to go against the norms of academia to get the personal outcome they want.
(iii) academic writing is ritualised and archaic and it “sucks”.
From a distance, this general argument might resonate. Yes, as with most sectors, there are many ways the past is holding academia back.
I agree, PhD students need to make sure they get what they need out of the 3 or more years they spend on the PhD.
But PhDs are definitely still “a degree worth having”. They will always provide the opportunity for graduates to develop a unique set of skills and expertise that are useful for academic and non-academic careers. Continue reading
Just published in Journal of Applied Ecology: Conceptual ambiguity hinders measurement and management of ecosystem disservices.
Ecosystem services is one of the most misunderstood scientific concepts. Ambiguity and confusion can be a real barrier to establishing a new scientific concept or field of research. Ecosystem services is still a young discipline (formalised in the 1990s based on a much longer heritage) and is often misrepresented as being a purely economic concept that is damaging to biodiversity conservation and ecological science. This couldn’t be further from the truth, yet this misguided opinion consistently gets regular airtime and clouds broader understanding of the relevance of ecosystem services to research, policy, and land management.
The term ecosystem disservices was first used to address an early criticism of the ES concept, i.e. that ES was largely focused on benefits and overlooked the ecological reality that nature sometimes harms us. This is a valid issue that must be addressed in any ES approach. But, as we argued a few years’ ago, creating a false dichotomy around opposing terms is not the most effective way to solve this problem. Continue reading
Literature reviews summarise existing knowledge and emerging paths for inquiry. They are essential for most grant applications, undergrad assignments and research projects.
But how do you actually do one? And what should you expect when you read a literature review?
Recently, I’m seeing a lot of papers submitted to or published in reputable journals that claim to be “comprehensive reviews” when they could not be further from the truth. Flawed review methods, no review methods, or a limited/localised observational study dressed up as a global review…. Continue reading
The concept of citizen science is as old as the hills, but large-scale coordinated projects are growing in popularity, especially those with digital engagement tools. It’s always great to see new projects that fill an important knowledge gap and engage the public with the natural world.
Recording biodiversity sightings is an easy and rewarding way to get involved. There are plenty of opportunities to contribute to coordinated data collections, such as iNaturalist or Atlas of Living Australia. Other projects have more standardised scientific goals, such as the UK’s Pollinator Monitoring Scheme, the USA’s Great Sunflower Project, and our own Australian Wild Pollinator Count (disclaimer: this is my own project).
So what about new projects that overlap existing projects and don’t provide clear information about how the data will be used? Continue reading
This is a guest post from Matthew Holden, an applied mathematician based at the University of Queensland. I loved seeing his backyard biodiversity hunt on Twitter, because so many of his pictures were of invertebrates! His story…
Well that’s what I wanted to know about my home.
It all started one day, more than a year ago, when my housemate, Dr Andrew Rogers, was cleaning out his closet. He wanted to move the spiders outside and spare them from getting sucked up by our vacuum, during a much-needed cleaning session. But there was one problem, there were a lot of spiders, definitely several species. He thought, “How many spiders do I share the house with?” It was a slippery slope … it wasn’t long till we wanted to know all of the species in our home.
From then on, we regularly talked about conducting a very local biodiversity survey, but never got around to it. We were fortunate enough to even have a taxonomist, Dr Russell Yong, move in with us, who was keen to help out. But we kept putting it off.
Then the pandemic happened. We all decided to start working for home – a perfect time to do the survey. It would give us all a social activity to bond over during this time of isolation. Andrew even came up with a hashtag for us to share our findings #StayHomeBiodiversityChallenge. Continue reading
With urban areas around the world suddenly emptied of humans, people are sharing photos and videos on social media showing wild animals cavorting in the empty streets.
I started to collate some of them on Twitter, but I gave up because it’s really hard to confirm how many of them are fake news.
The Goats of Llandudno were a legitimate lockdown observation – but it turns out they’re regular visitors to the town. Some posts are clearly a joke (a herd of buffalo in the centre of Buffalo, NY), while others would seem pretty believable to most people with no specialist knowledge of the species or location, like the ‘rare Malabar civet’ in the streets of an Indian town.
Most posts provide very little context, no confirmation of the date they were filmed, and often no confirmed source. For the average responsible social media user, there is simply no way of verifying them. Continue reading
This week I had a bittersweet achievement. I started a great new job, moved in to my beautiful new office, and then immediately moved home to work for the foreseeable future, amid the simmering anxiety of this global pandemic.
Readers who follow my blog know that I moved to Armidale three years ago to start a postdoctoral fellowship at University of New England. Before that, I was at Charles Sturt Uni in Albury, where I did my PhD followed by my first three-year postdoc.
This week I started as a Lecturer in Ecology & Biology at UNE. The position was advertised in November last year; I applied, interviewed and found out I was successful a few weeks ago. I’m so excited!
But it’s a really strange time to be starting a new job – my thrill at joining the teaching team has understandably been overshadowed by the ongoing stresses of COVID19. Continue reading