Science needs Nature: so why keep them apart?

A few years ago, I wrote an article for Ensia about how popular media tend to separate science and nature stories as if they’re unrelated categories. Most major online news websites have separate pages for ‘Science’ stories (predominantly technology, space and medical research) and ‘Environment’ stories (mostly pieces on nature, wilderness, environmental activism, or cute wildlife, sometimes with a few pieces on climate change thrown in for good measure). Continue reading

On the conservation of single-author papers

The number of authors included on research papers in many disciplines has increased over time. This editorial in Journal of Applied Ecology is the latest analysis of this trend, finding that published single-author research papers in that journal have declined since 1966 (two years after the journal started publishing). N.B. the authors only quantify research papers (i.e. data papers, but they don’t specify if they include reviews/meta-analyses…see below), and applied ecology should be a multidisciplinary field, so this is a good thing.

The editorial is excellent, and you should read it – the discussion of underlying causes of this trend is mostly reasons why we should encourage more multi-author papers.

But…there will always be a place for single-author papers in research, especially for early career researchers. Continue reading

What is sustainable agriculture anyway?

Sustainable agriculture is an ambiguous term. Because ‘sustainable’ simply means ‘maintained at the current level’, sustainable agriculture can be whatever you want it to be. It’s used more than it probably should be in scientific and political documents, because it’s a broad encompassing term that most people have heard. But it needs to be interpreted within the context it’s referring to, not on its own. Sometimes that context isn’t clear.

Modern agriculture is a leading driver of our current environmental problems, already pushing us beyond the safe limits of most planetary boundaries. But not all agriculture is equal. Very few studies, or their associated news  stories, clarify the subtle social and ecological differences between individual farms and landscapes.

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

Pest and beneficial insects in apple orchards

My latest paper is out. It’s a leftover from my last postdoc at Charles Sturt Uni where I was working on ecosystem services in SE Australian apple orchards with Gary Luck and PhD student Rebecca Peisley – see her blog posts on her work here.

Our main research question for the project was to calculate the net outcome, in terms of yield, of all the positive and negative effects of animal interactions across a growing season. You can read our previous paper on those results here.

In this new paper we looked at another interaction, the influence of landscape vegetation and orchard ground cover on different invertebrate groups. I really enjoyed this project as it was an opportunity to explore an idea I had been thinking about for a while. I first got interested in orchard ground cover during my PhD, comparing wild pollinators in almond orchards with and without living ground cover. Continue reading

PhD opportunity!

PhD Opportunity: Ecosystem Services Networks in Multifunctional Landscapes

 Supervisors: Dr Manu Saunders, Dr Romina Rader; University of New England

We are looking for candidates interested in applying for a PhD scholarship through the University of New England, Armidale. Candidates interested in insect ecology, landscape ecology, ecosystem services and environmental modelling are encouraged to apply. Experience with entomological sampling, particularly flying insects, will be highly regarded.

This interdisciplinary project will integrate theory and concepts from ecology, economics and agricultural science to better understand how to sustainably manage multifunctional landscapes that support agricultural production, nature conservation and human well-being. The project can be tailored to the successful candidate’s interests and could be predominantly field-based, modelling-based, or a mix of both. Field work will be mostly around northern New South Wales in a variety of land uses, including remnant forest, berry farms, dairy farms and mixed cropping.

Candidates must be an Australian or New Zealand citizen (or have Australian Permanent Residency). Willingness to work independently and as part of a team are important qualities. The applicant must be proficient in spoken and written English, have a current driver’s license and a First Class Honours or Masters level qualification in ecology, entomology, zoology or related area. The preferred applicant should also have a demonstrated commitment to science communication and outreach and an interest in natural history. Selection of applicants will be based on merit.

The successful PhD candidate will receive operating funds up to 10K, a new computer and access to conference funding.

To apply, or for any questions, contact Dr Manu Saunders: manu.saunders@une.edu.au

For more information on our research: https://ecologyisnotadirtyword.com and https://www.raderlab.com/

Applications should include a CV, a list of any publications (including outreach), and a cover letter describing your background and interest in the project.

Scholarship applications through UNE close 29 September 2017: https://www.une.edu.au/research/hdr/hdr-scholarships/rtp-scholarship

Invertebrates benefit agriculture in lots of different ways

Production benefits from invertebrates (other than pollination and natural pest control) are often overlooked in agroecosystems.  There has been much more focus on the impact of insect pests. But invertebrates provide lots of other benefits in production systems. Developing sustainable farming systems is an imperative for our future – sustainable systems are those that produce food and fibre, while also enhancing human well-being and supporting ecosystem function through ecologically-sound management.  Understanding how farms can be managed to enhance production via the benefits invertebrates provide is a key to sustainable agriculture. Continue reading