PhD begins, Coding Club returns

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After a field season in Northern Scotland and a field season in the Arctic, I am back in Edinburgh to delve into the world of biodiversity change and its drivers. I have started a PhD! My project aims to quantify the effects of land use change on global and local patterns of species richness, abundance and composition, and develop a computational framework to facilitate answering ecological questions using big data and global synthesis of long-term observations. In particular, I will investigate whether: 1) changes in species richness, abundance and composition can be attributed to land use change over recent decades, 2) land intensification and land abandonment are both causing species homogenisation, and 3) biodiversity change processes are more pronounced in areas of high land use change rates.

We have also led the first Coding Club workshop – exciting to see Coding Club back for a second year of coding and statistics inspiration and knowledge sharing! With Coding Club, we want to create a friendly environment in which we can learn about quantitative analysis together. Coding Club is for everyone – all students and staff are welcome to come along and participate, regardless of their current R knowledge. We were thrilled to see people returning to our workshops, as well as many new faces – with new students come new ideas, new research projects and new data presents to open – ah, imagine the graphs!

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The Coding Club cookies, featuring some pipes we piped!

Coding Club will soon celebrate its first birthday – in one year there have been many lines of code, majority of them working, many workshops, posters and emails to spread the word. Every week there is a little pocket of R magic in our university building, and with over 50 people coming to our two workshops last week, the pocket doesn’t feel so little anymore! We have ambitious plans for developing Coding Club further, sharing what we have learned so far, and forming new collaborations. You can check out our tutorials on efficient data manipulation, data visualisation, mixed effects models and more on the Coding Club website. We are also very happy to have other people use our tutorials to deliver Coding Club workshops around the world, and would also love to have more people contribute online tutorials. If you are interested, you can get in touch with us at ourcodingclub (at) gmail.com.

A particularly great aspect of Coding Club’s first week back was that the workshops were lead by Sam and Claudia – two of Team Shrub’s new honours students. We hope to spread inspiration and motivation to learn through our workshops, and we were definitely inspired by Sam and Claudia’s great work! Coding can be scary and intimidating, but among the occasional fear and many R errors, we are glad that there is a place where we can brave the errors together and get better at finding the answers to our research questions.

 

An Arctic summer

Carpets of purple, white, pink and yellow flowers, shrubs with shiny green leaves, amazing sunsets shortly followed by sunrises, lots of phenology and community composition data – there were so many magical moments during my time as a field assistant on Team Shrub on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island Territorial Park in the Canadian Arctic.

Here is a collection of photos and excerpts from blog posts – the titles include links to the full blog posts on the Team Shrub blog, where you can find many more exciting stories from the field!

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Mystical evenings on Qikiqtaruk

The power of stories

“I feel like we could be sharing stories for hours” said Qikiqtaruk – Herschel Island Park ranger Ricky to me one evening after we had chatted about our homes and cultures out on the rangers’ porch. I walked back to Signal’s House with a smile on my face, hoping that we would continue the conversation. Time has passed since that evening, we have shared more stories, and on a rainy day like today, it feels like just the time to tell you one more – a story about stories.

From one end of the world to the other, stories about how the world around us is changing and about the connection between people and land make me feel at home. Some of those stories have been scientific stories: a clear structure, many numbers and frequent reminders of why those numbers are important. Scientific stories take many shapes – journal articles, reports, presentations, computer code, blog posts and more. Just like a good story, a good scientific paper takes you on a journey through what we know, what we don’t know, and what it all might mean. Sure, there might be more graphs and less pictures than your usual story, but as a whole, scientists are professional tellers of very precise and accurate stories about how the world around us is changing and what that might mean for people and places.

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Changes on Qikiqtaruk: Perspectives from Ranger Ricky Joe

There is no sense of time when you are travelling around here – you need a lot of patience. You need to know where and when to stop, when it’s safe to move on. Now everybody is always in a hurry, people travel to places quickly, but don’t get to fully experience them. There are journeys that used to take us days when I was little, and today we can travel to those places in hours. But you still have to remember to really experience the place, to stop and take it all in. My family and I, we just love travelling. It’s hard to say what we love about it – everything. The openness. We have all been travelling since we were very little. I was always with my grandmother and her dog team, helping her, hauling ice for fresh water and hunting.

Arctic smellscapes

Over the last two months we have often asked you to imagine what it would be like to be here with us in the Arctic. Through words, photos and videos, we have tried to bring the Arctic closer to you. So close that if you just imagine, you may well see it. You could even hear it. If you ponder the many changes occurring on Qikiqtaruk Herschel Island, from changes in vegetation structure and community composition to changes in what our life is like here, and listen again, you could hear a change. The Arctic – you can see it, you can hear it, and now, for a fuller experience, we present the Arctic smellscape of Qikiqtaruk, so you can smell it, too. It may have started as a joke, and there may or may not be talk of an Arctic taste- and touchscape, but for now, we do think that the Arctic smellscape represents a unique blend of aromas – smell alone could often reveal what is going on around us and how the landscape, and our day to day camp life, is changing.

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Beautiful light and the calming sight of moving ice in Pauline Cove, Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island Territorial Park

Qikiqtaruk Book Club based on Mark Vellend’s “The Theory of Ecological Communities”

Qikiqtaruk is a beautiful and inspirational place – science chats are particularly special when you can see, feel, hear and even smell your study system change as the growing season progresses. Out during phenology data collection yesterday, we saw that the spring flowers are fading and seed dispersal is beginning… summer is well under way. And this year, in addition spotting awesome wildlife, admiring magnificent sunsets and informally chatting about science in our remote Arctic field site, we have also started a book club!

Our book club discussions are summarised in four blog posts:

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part I: Ecological communities in the Arctic

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part II: Selection in the Arctic

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part III: Speciation, drift and dispersal in the Arctic

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part IV: Theory and high-level processes in the Arctic

Tangled up in plots

It was a long stretch of hot days, almost as hot as the hottest day of the year, when, amidst the buzzing of mosquitos and boat noises, dramatic words echoed through the tundra – hour after hour, one could overhear: “Three live, two standing dead”, “Salpul, seven point four”, “Wait, how many were dead?”, “Four dead.” The soundscape of point framing!

Team Shrub has been going back to the same 1 x 1m plots on Qikiqtaruk for six years, and this year I was lucky to be there for the poinframing joy! Half of the plots are in the Herschel vegetation type, and the other half in the Komakuk vegetation type. The communities there are very different, as we previously pondered in our first book club blog post after we started reading Mark Vellend’s “The Theory of Ecological Communities”. We have kept up reading the book in between fieldwork this summer, and point framing in particular has been a thought-provoking companion to our reading. We will be posting our second book club post soon, but until then, grab an imaginary pin flag, and picture yourself in the tundra landscape as we share with you our impressions from the 2017 point framing season.

 

The hottest day of the year and the epic storm that followed

Imagine yourself alone in the tundra. But imagine it isn’t quite as cold as you might think. The sweat is dripping down your back, the whine of mosquitos is incessant in your ears.  As you gasp for air while climbing the hill with your heavy backpack on, you just suck in the mosquito netting wrapped around your head.  DEET coats your skin with a shiny plastic-dissolving sheen as polymer bonds around you are destabilized and carcinogens seep into you through your skin.  This is the hottest day of the year on Qikiqtaruk.

Tough decisions have to be made on days like this – none more so that the perfect balance between having enough layers to avoid mosquito bites, but not so many as to boil in the humid Arctic heat. There came a point when the heat brought us to a naïve sense of bravery – the layers of clothing were coming off! Out of the frying pan, so to speak, and into the fire of mosquito bites and the eternal itching.

We are now all back from the Arctic and onto new adventures – I have started my PhD! My arctic summer, though, will always be a special adventure! Here’s to hopefully many more successful field season (and by that point, we might have gotten better at high-fiving)!

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Great determination, terrible execution!

Qikiqtaruk Book Club based on Mark Vellend’s “The Theory of Ecological Communities”

This series of blog posts was written on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island in the Western Canadian Arctic as part of Team Shrub’s island book club, aiming to read and discuss Mark Vellend’s 2016 book “The Theory of Ecological Communities” while we are out in the field, right next to the communities we study.  

Qikiqtaruk is a beautiful and inspirational place – science chats are particularly special when you can see, feel, hear and even smell your study system change as the growing season progresses. Out during phenology data collection yesterday, we saw that the spring flowers are fading and seed dispersal is beginning… summer is well under way. And this year, in addition spotting awesome wildlife, admiring magnificent sunsets and informally chatting about science in our remote Arctic field site, we have also started a book club!

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Plant communities on Qikiqtaruk

Our book club discussions are summarised in four blog posts:

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part I: Ecological communities in the Arctic

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part II: Selection in the Arctic

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part III: Speciation, drift and dispersal in the Arctic

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part IV: Theory and high-level processes in the Arctic

We thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Theory of Ecological Communities” whilst on fieldwork at our remote field site in the Canadian Arctic. There is particular charm in reading about a certain ecological process, be it high- or low-level, and then observing it in action moments later in the field. We look forward to continued discussions of the synthesis of ecological theory, but definitely agree with Mark that four high-level processes do shape community composition – selection, speciation, dispersal and drift.