Ecology vs Math: do we need to pick sides?

Like many other young ecologists, I chose this career because I cared about the Earth and because I wanted a job that gave me the thrill of discovery every day. Whether it’s seeing a new ecosystem for the first time, sighting a wild plant or animal species I’ve never seen before, coming up with a novel theory, methodology, or sampling technique, or finally ‘getting’ the statistical analysis I’ve been struggling with for weeks – I get to play explorer every day, and I love it.

Sadly, in some countries, it is a field that struggles to convince a large number of graduates to stay in a research career. This is mostly because of funding issues, but can also come from confusion after 4-5 years of being pushed and pulled between too many stimulating sub-disciplines and inspiring mentors.

Many students are bombarded throughout their degree with promotion of multiple sub-disciplines of ecology as “the one that rules them all”. As a naive undergraduate with a lot to learn about the industry and the world in general, this can influence which career path they take.

So it’s heartening when the more experienced generation encourage aspiring scientists to follow their passion and intuition and stick with science (particularly ecology and the natural sciences), even if they don’t fit into the apparent intellectual “norms”. E.O. Wilson’s recent piece in The Wall Street Journal is just that. Continue reading

Eyes wide open

A few years ago, a couple of ecologists were on holiday in Ecuador and visited the Yasuní National Park. While they were absorbing the beauty of one of the most biologically-intense places on Earth, they saw an amazing sight – a thickset solitary bee delicately drinking tears from a river turtle’s eyes.

Confused? As it happens, most of the salt on Earth is concentrated in the ocean, so many terrestrial herbivores struggle to find enough nutrients to satisfy their cravings. This is why some herbivores frequent ‘salt-licks’ and why you often see butterflies or moths hovering on faeces or carcasses. Continue reading


I came across this blog post yesterday (link below), written by Joern Fischer – in the post and his attached paper he sums up succinctly the themes I touched on in my last post and in Science is not a corporate ladder. Hear hear!

The rest of his blog is a pretty good read too!

Ideas for sustainability blog: Now published: Academia’s obsession with quantity.

© Manu Saunders 2012