From the Highlands to the high latitudes

Beautiful woodlands, bluebells in bloom, blue tit chicks hatching and growing and many exciting wildlife sightings across Scotland – a great way to spend the spring! I had a lovely field season collecting data on plant and bird phenology – I learned a lot, visited new places and had the chance to contribute to an exciting research project, led by Ally Phillimore. I loved spending time outdoors and really seeing spring arrive – leaf buds bursting and delicate new leaves emerging, whilst blue tits are dashing from branch to branch bringing in nesting material.

Along the many highlights of the field season was spotting a young fawn lying among a field of bluebells – there aren’t many fairy tales about field assistants checking nest boxes, but if one were to write such a story, it would certainly be set in an woodland just like this one.

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Science, outreach and coding galore in April

This April has been full to the brim with everything I love about science and academia – an art-science collaboration to give science outreach a creative spin, a conference to learn about cool research and meet new people, a coding workshop to spread our love for efficient coding practices and start new collaborations, a drone symposium to learn about the role of drone technology in advancing ecology, and finally fieldwork across beautiful woodlands in Scotland.

Team Shrub at the Edinburgh Science Festival

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I was very happy to help with the awesome outreach events Team Shrub organised for the Edinburgh International Science Festival. A great collaboration between scientists, science communicators (James Howie and the ASCUS Lab) and artists (Simon Sloan and Archie Crofton) resulted in a wonderful collection of photographs, data visualisations and fieldwork artifacts under the theme of “Arctic from Above” – Team Shrub’s first exhibition! You can still check out the exhibition in the Summerhall War Memorial Library before it closes on the 12th May!

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Graphic design tutorial (InDesign)

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Graphic design skills are a great addition to a scientist’s skills set, and making posters / slides / diagrams that are both informative and beautiful is super fun (and potentially a time sink if you get too carried away perfectly aligning images, but I think it makes a difference)!

Last week I lead a workshop for the Geoscience Outreach course on using Abode InDesign for science communication, and in particular, for making posters. As part of the assessment for the course and general promotion of outreach projects, students make a small poster that conveys the key messages of their outreach work.

What makes a good poster? We covered this topic by going on a beautification journey – first by looking at a poster from last year at different stages (bad, good, better), and then by working away on choosing colour schemes, layouts and making diagrams. The workshop was very fun, as usual I loved teaching, and I’m very happy to have contributed to the Geoscience Outreach course!

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How can we use Adobe InDesign to make beautiful and informative posters? Check out the tutorial online to find out!

Meta-analyses, theory and stylised facts in ecology

What is a theory? Is ecology theory-poor and if yes, why? What are the paths to theory development in ecology? Meta-analyses? Data syntheses? Big data? Stylised facts? These are the questions we set out to discuss during  this week’s lab meeting. We extended an invitation to EdGE (the EdEN discussion Group for Ecology) to get more diverse perspectives, and shared our thoughts on these topics, largely inspired by Dynamic Ecology’s posts about stylised facts in ecology and why meta-analyses in ecology often don’t lead to theoretical insight. We also added in Marquet et al.’s 2014 paper “On Theory in Ecology” into our discussion, bringing forward many thoughts on the different types of theory in ecology, and whether theory in ecology is possible to begin with.

We defined theory as a hierarchical framework of postulates, based on a number of assumptions, and leading to a set of predictions. As we set out to do our research, we can use theory as the base on which you build your hypotheses – and if you find enough support for your hypotheses, in time they might grow into a theory, thus prompting more hypotheses – a self-propelling cycle of gathering empirical evidence and developing theory. But is the cycle broken, with empirical evidence (or its synthesis) becoming an endpoint that prompts little theoretical insight?

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We had a mix of undergraduates, PhD students and PIs in the room, and it was interesting to see how our thoughts varied based on our career stage. We started off with a quick quiz on 1) whether we had heard of the theories covered in the paper before, and 2) whether we had thought deeply about them. Here are the results!

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Out of sight, out of mind

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My opinion piece on conservation issues in Australia’s Outback recently got published in the BIOSPHERE magazine! I first pondered Outback conservation challenges during the Conservation Science course I took in the last year of my degree, for which I wrote an opinion piece about the destructive effects of invasive species on marsupials such as the yellow-footed rock wallaby. Since I can’t resist the opportunity to make things look pretty and be more creative with scientific assignments, I made mine look like a magazine article – thanks to some great encouragement afterwards, telling me that my opinion piece could become a real magazine article, I decided to pursue this direction, and here it is!

You can read the opinion piece here.

How can we deliver conservation outcomes in areas that are out of sight and out of mind for so many? Recognising the importance of the communities that have always seen the value of the vast interior of Australia, and re-connecting them with their land, can empower people not only to identify environmental degradation, but also to actively engage in mitigating it.

The role of β-diversity in conservation

What indicators should we use in conservation? Why do different biodiversity indicators seem to disagree? What is the role of beta-diversity in conservation? This week we extended our usual TeamShrub lab meeting to hold a discussion on two recent biodiversity papers, as part of the EdEN (Edinburgh Ecology Network) EdGE (EdEN Discussion Group for Ecology) meetings. We talked about what are the best indicators to assess biodiversity change, whether there is a place for β-diversity metrics in guiding conservation actions, and why do different indicators of biodiversity change seem to disagree with one another.

We all had an interesting and jolly discussion, inspired by the following papers:

Socolar, Jacob B., et al. “How should beta-diversity inform biodiversity conservation?.” Trends in ecology & evolution 31.1 (2016): 67-80.

Hill, S. L.L., Harfoot, M., Purvis, A., Purves, D. W., Collen, B., Newbold, T., Burgess, N. D. and Mace, G. M. (2016), Reconciling Biodiversity Indicators to Guide Understanding and Action. CONSERVATION LETTERS, 9: 405–412. doi:10.1111/conl.12291

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