Why do bumblebees follow ferries?

Sejero - 20160910_180359.png

A few years ago I mentioned in my post “Garlicky archipelago” that I had seen bumblebees (Bombus spp.) following the ferry from Southampton to the Isle of Wight, a distance of about 1.5km across water.  If I remember correctly it was my colleague Scott Armbruster who first mentioned this to me: he lives on the Isle of Wight and commutes regularly to the mainland.

I’ve not thought much about this since then as 1.5km is a fairly modest distance for a bumblebee to fly.  But then a few weeks ago I saw the same thing in Denmark, but this time over a much longer distance.

Karin and I were visiting friends on the small island of Sejerø, which (at its closest point) is about 8km from the mainland of Zealand.  To get there you have to catch a ferry which takes about an hour to cross this stretch of water.  About half-way across,  whilst looking over the stern of the ship, I spotted a bumblebee following the ferry.

So that’s twice, on two different ferries and under very different contexts, that I’ve seen this phenomenon.  A pattern is starting to form….  Has anyone else observed this?  Please do comment.

I can think of a few explanations/hypotheses for what’s going on here (some of which are not mutually exclusive):

  1.  Clearly bumblebees do fly across significant stretches of open seawater.  Perhaps all I’m seeing is bees that do this, but spotted from the only vantage point where it’s viewable (i.e. the ferry).
  2. These bumblebees are taking advantage of the slipstream created by the ferry to reduce the energy required to fly these long distances.
  3. The bees are hitching a lift on the ferry and I only observe them as they arrive or depart.
  4. The bees are following the wake of the ship to navigate between the island and the mainland, in order to exploit significant flower patches.  Work by one of my PhD students, Louise Cranmer, a few years ago showed that bumblebees follow linear features such as non-flowering hedgerows to navigate – see Cranmer et al. (2012) Oikos.  Perhaps something similar is happening here?

There’s probably other possibilities I’ve not thought of.  But whatever the explanation, it looks to me as if there’s some potential for interesting experiments marking and recapturing bees on islands/mainland, releasing bees on ferries to see if they follow the wake, etc.  If only Northampton wasn’t so far from the coast….

 

 

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Spiral Sunday #1

Spiral tomato 20160925_135721.png

Spirals have been a bit of an obsession with me for many years, as evidenced by the main image that has always adorned this blog (which, one day, I will tell the story of).  Not sure where that obsession originated but it’s manifested itself in a collection of ceramic bowls with spiral motifs, and with a growing set of photographs that I’ve taken.

This spiral obsession has some relevance to biodiversity.  Spirals are a recurrent feature of nature, and crop up everywhere from the flower heads of members of the daisy family to the whorled shells of gastropod molluscs.  Some of these are governed by mathematical processes such as the Fibonacci Series.  The spiral is also a much better description of the natural sequence of life and death than “the circle of life“.  Circles go back to where they started, which life never does; a spiral, it seems to me, captures that circular forward motion much more effectively, at least when viewed in three dimensions.

Some of the photographs I’ve taken are also of human constructs and cultural artefacts, because the spiral has been a motif used by artists and crafts people for thousands of years, as well as a useful bit of geometry for engineering and architectural purposes.

But, mainly, I just like spirals.  And I need an outlet for this obsession beyond scouring eBay and antique shops for interesting bowls.  Hence I thought I’d start Spiral Sunday*, a regular (maybe) posting of spiral images that I’ve captured, together with a brief description.  It’s possible that this may amuse no one except me, but ho hum.

Spiral Sunday #1 was taken this morning as I harvested the last of our tomatoes.  An undisciplined water regime on our part has meant that some of the fruits have split; in this case tensions within the tomato skin have resulted in a spiral split.

 

*I freely admit to having been inspired by the “Silent Sunday” feature on the Murtagh’s Meadow blog.  Check it out if you don’t know it.

 

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Urban areas as a refuge for insect pollinators: conservation for the city

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Urban conservation ecology is a fast growing field that has mainly focused on how towns and cities can support populations of plants, animals and fungi that may be declining or threatened in the surrounding rural environment.  That is, the city for wildlife conservation.  In a new essay in the journal Conservation Biology, written with colleagues from across the world, we argue that conservation for the city (an idea originally conceived, I believe, by Steward Pickett) should also be a focus of future research and management activities.

Conservation, or ecology, for the city in essence means that plants, animals and fungi, as well as being supported by the city (see our recent urban bees example), play a role in supporting the city itself through the provision of ecosystem services such as decomposition, flood alleviation, and crop pollination.

It’s pollinators and pollination that we particualrly focus on in this essay – here’s the abstract:

Urban ecology research is changing how we view the biological value and ecological importance of cities. Lagging behind this revised image of the city are natural resource management agencies’ urban conservation programs that historically have invested in education and outreach rather than programs designed to achieve high-priority species conservation results. This essay synthesizes research on urban bee species diversity and abundance to suggest how urban conservation can be repositioned to better align with a newly unfolding image of urban landscapes. We argue that pollinators put high-priority and high-impact urban conservation within reach. In a rapidly urbanizing world, transforming how environmental managers view the city can improve citizen engagement while exploring more sustainable practices of urbanization.

I’m happy to send the PDF to anyone who wants a copy; here’s the full citation:

 

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The macroecology of animal versus wind pollination – a new study just published

In collaboration with colleagues in Brazil, Denmark, and elsewhere in the UK, we’ve just published a new research paper which looks at the global spatial distribution of wind and animal pollinated plant species, and the underlying historical and contemporary ecological causes of that distribution.  It’s a study that builds on my “How many flowering plants are animal pollinated?” paper in Oikos, and has been a long time in its gestation.  We’re very excited by its findings and plan to develop this project in the future.

As a bonus we made the cover of the journal with the amazing image below!  Big thanks to Pedro Viana and Jesper Sonne for the photos.

Here’s the citation with a link to the publisher’s website; the abstract is below.  If anyone wants a PDF copy, please ask.

Rech AR, Dalsgaard B, Sandel B, Sonne J, Svenning J-C, Holmes N & Ollerton J (2016) The macroecology of animal versus wind pollination: ecological factors are more important than historical climate stability. Plant Ecology & Diversity 9: 253-262

 

Abstract:

Background: The relative frequency of wind- and animal-pollinated plants are non-randomly distributed across the globe and numerous hypotheses have been raised for the greater occurrence of wind pollination in some habitats and towards higher latitudes. To date, however, there has been no comprehensive global investigation of these hypotheses.

Aims: Investigating a range of hypotheses for the role of biotic and abiotic factors as determinants of the global variation in animal vs. wind pollination.

Methods: We analysed 67 plant communities ranging from 70º north to 34º south. For these we determined habitat type, species richness, insularity, topographic heterogeneity, current climate and late-Quaternary climate change. The predictive effects of these factors on the proportion of wind- and animal-pollinated plants were tested using correlations, ordinary least squares (OLS) and logistic regression analyses with information-theoretic model selection.

Results: The proportion of animal-pollinated plant species was positively associated with plant species richness and current temperature. Furthermore, in forest, animal pollination was positively related to precipitation. Historical climate was only weakly and idiosyncratically correlated with animal pollination.

Conclusion: Results were consistent with the hypothesised reduced chance for wind-transported pollen reaching conspecific flowers in species-rich communities, fewer constraints on nectar production in warm and wet habitats, and reduced relative effectiveness of wind dispersal in humid areas. There was little evidence of a legacy of historical climate change affecting these patterns.

andre-capa-1

 

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Do reference management systems encourage sloppy referencing practices?

Over at the Dynamic Ecology blog there’s an interesting discussion going on about “how to keep up with the literature” that’s relevant to all fields, not just ecology.  Spoiler alert: it’s impossible to “keep up” if “keep up” means “read everything”.  But do check it out as there’s lots of good advice in that post.

One of the topics that’s arisen in the comments is about the use of reference management systems such as Endnote, Refworks, Zotero, Mendeley, etc. Everyone has their own preferences as to which to use, and there seems to be advantages and disadvantages to all of them.  However a minority (so it seems) of us don’t use any kind of reference management system, which strikes those who do as very odd.  Personally, I tried Endnote a long time ago, it was ok, then I lost the database when an old computer bit the dust.

I’m not sure how much more efficient/effective I would be as a publishing academic if I was to get back into using a reference management system. One of the supposed advantages of these systems, that they will format references to the specific requirement of a particular journal, seems to me to be a double-edged sword.  I actually find re-formatting references quite relaxing and I think (though I may be wrong) that it develops attention-to-detail and accuracy skills that are useful in other contexts.

Also I suspect, but have no proof, that reference management software is responsible for perpetuating errors in the reference lists of papers that then result in mis-citations on Web of Knowledge, etc.  My suspicion is that this has got worse over time as people rely more and more on reference management software rather than their brains.  These citation errors can have an impact on an individual’s h-index, as I mentioned in a post last year.

By coincidence yesterday I spotted a hilarious example of just this kind of mis-citation that I think can be blamed on a reference management system. This paper of mine:

Ollerton, J., Cranmer, L. (2002) xxxxxxx Oikos xxxxxx

was rendered in the reference list of another paper as:

Ollerton, J., Cranmer, L., Northampton, U.C., Campus, P. (2002) xxxxxxx Oikos xxxxxx

The last two “authors” are actually from the institutional address – University College Northampton, Park Campus! [UCN is the old name for University of Northampton].

Now in theory that shouldn’t happen if an author’s reference management software is doing its job properly, and information has been correctly inputted, but it does happen: errors are not uncommon.  In addition (it seems to me) authors often don’t check their reference lists after they have been produced by the reference management software. That’s sloppy scholarship, but I can understand why it happens: people are busy and why bother if the software is (in theory) getting it right every time?  It also shouldn’t happen at the editorial production end of things, because references are usually cross-checked for accuracy, but again it does, even for top-end journals (in this case from the Royal Society’s stable!)

Again it’s anecdotal but I’m also noticing that reference lists in PhD theses that I examine are getting sloppier, with species names not in italics, various combinations of Capitalised Names of Articles, unabbreviated and abbrev. journal names, etc. etc.

Does any of this really matter?  Isn’t it just pedantry on my part?  Whilst the last statement is undoubtedly true, I think it does matter, because attention to detail at this very basic level gives the reader more confidence that attention has been paid at higher levels, such as citing accurate statistics from primary sources to back up statements, rather than relying on secondary sources, as Andrew Gelman discussed in an old blog post on referencing errors.

But maybe I’m a lone voice here, I’d be interested in your thoughts.

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Two-day Steven Falk bee ID course at Oxford University Museum 15th-16th October 2016

Male B lap on Salvia cropped P1120309

One of the most exciting, pollinator-related publishing events of last year was the publication of Steven Falk’s eagerly-anticipated Field Guide to the Bees of Britain and Ireland.  Not only does this book provide a state-of-the art account of the natural history and identification keys for all of the bees currently known from Britain (over 270 species) but it’s backed up by Steven’s own Flikr site with more photographs of the bees, including lots of close ups, and an ongoing list of updates and corrections.

But as Steven himself acknowledges, the identification of many of our bees is a challenge, even with the book and the additional imagery.  Anyone who is really keen to get to grips with bee identification is therefore recommended to book onto a hands-on identification course.  Steven has just announced that he is running a two-day course in Oxford on 15th to 16th October, at a cost of £60 per person – here’s a link to the booking page.  Seems like good value to me!

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Elsevier successfully patents a common peer review process

As reported yesterday on Mike Taylor’s Sauropod Vertebra blog, who in turn picked up the story from the sec.uno site, at the end of August the giant publisher Elsevier successfully patented what they see as a unique form of peer review: waterfall (or cascading as it’s long been known) peer review. This is described as “the transfer of submitted articles from one journal to another journal” owned by the same publisher.  And there’s nothing new about it, it’s been accepted practice for a number of publishers for years now.

If you want to look at the original U.S. patent, here’s a link to it.

I don’t often re-work the content of others’ blogs, but his is exceptional: the motivation for Elsevier’s actions seem dubious at best and it’s worth clicking through and reading those pieces in detail.  What is Elsevier thinking?

The timing of this one story is also interesting.  It’s as if the Gods of Publishing had actually read my last post about peer-reviewed versus non-peer-reviewed publishing, and decided to have some fun with us mere mortals…..

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How many non-peer-reviewed publications should a scientist produce?

Peer-reviewed writing move science forwards; non-peer-reviewed writing moves science sideways.  

That’s my publication philosophy in one sentence.  In other words, when scientists write research papers and book chapters that are peer-reviewed, the underlying rationale is that we are adding to the sum total of human knowledge, providing insights into a topic, and moving a field forwards. When we write non-peer-reviewed articles we are generally writing about science for a broader audience, with little original content (though perhaps with some original ideas).  This moves concepts out of a narrow subject area and into the purview of wider society, which can be other scientists in different fields, or government agencies or policy makers, or the general public.

There can be exceptions to the rule, such as the IPBES pollinators and pollination report that I’ve been discussing this year. The report was widely peer-reviewed but is intended for a much broader audience than just scientists.  Conversely, non-peer-reviewed critiques and responses to published papers can clarify specific issues or challenge findings, which will certainly move science forward (or backwards into muddier waters, depending on how you view it).  However, in general, the principle stated above holds true.

This raises the (admittedly clunky) question I’ve posed in the title of this post: just how much non-peer-reviewed publication should a scientist who is an active researcher actually do?  How much time should they spend writing for that wider audience?

It’s a question that I’ve given some thought to over the 30 years1 that I’ve been writing and publishing articles and papers.  But a couple of posts on other blogs during the past week have crystalised these thoughts and inspired this post.  The first was Meghan Duffy’s piece on Formatting a CV for a faculty job application over at the Dynamic Ecology blog. There was some discussion about how to present different types of publications in the publication list, and notions of “sorting the wheat from the chaff” in that list, which seemed to refer to peer-reviewed versus non-peer-reviewed publications.

One of the problems that I and others see is that the distinction is not so clear cut and it’s possible to publish non-peer-reviewed articles in peer-reviewed journals.  For example the “commentary” and “news and views” type pieces in NatureScience, Current Biology, and other journals are generally not peer reviewed.  But I’d certainly not consider these to be “chaff”.  To reiterate my comment on Meghan’s post, all scientific communication is important.  As I’ve discussed in a few places on my blog (see here for example) and plenty of others have also talked about, scientists must write across a range of published formats if they are going to communicate their ideas effectively to a wider audience than just the scientists who are specifically interested in their topic.

Peer-reviewed publication is seen as the gold standard of science communication and it is clearly important (though historically it’s a relatively recent invention and scientific publications were not peer reviewed for most of the history of science).  So why, you may be asking, would scientists want to write for that wider audience?  One reason is the “Impact Agenda” on which, in Britain at least, there’s been a huge focus from the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and the Research Councils. Grant awarding bodies and university recruitment panels will want to see that scientists are actively promoting their work beyond academia. That can be done in different ways (including blogging!) but articles in “popular” magazines certainly count.  I should stress though that this wider, societal impact (as opposed to academic impact, e.g. measures such as the h-index) is not about publishing popular articles, or blogging, or tweeting. Those activities can be part of the strategy towards impact but are not in themselves impactful – the REF would describe this as “Reach”2.

The second recent blog post that relates to the question of peer-reviewed versus non-peer-reviewed publications is Steve Heard’s piece at Scientistseessquirrel on why he thinks it’s still important to consider journal titles when deciding what to read.  He makes some important points about how the place of publication says a lot about the type of paper that one can expect to read based just on the title.  But the focus of Steve’s post is purely on peer-reviewed journals and (as I said above) it’s possible to publish non-peer-reviewed articles in those.  I think that it’s also worth noting that there are many opportunities for scientists to publish articles in non-peer-reviewed journals that have real value.  Deciding whether or not to do so, however, is a very personal decision.

Of the 96 publications on my publication list, 65 are peer-reviewed and 31 are not, which is a 68% rate of publishing peer-reviewed papers and book chapters.  Some of the peer-reviewed papers are fairly light weight and made no real (academic) impact following publication, and (conversely) some of the non-peer-reviewed articles have had much more influence. The non-peer-reviewed element includes those commentary-type pieces for Nature and Science that I mentioned, as well as book reviews, articles in specialist popular magazines such as New Scientist, Asklepios and The Plantsman, pieces for local and industry newsletters, and a couple of contributions to literary journal Dark Mountain that combine essay with poetry.  This is probably a more diverse mix than most scientists produce, but I’m proud of all of them and stand by them.

So back to my original question: is 68% a low rate of peer-reviewed publication?  Or reasonable?  I’m sure there are scientists out there with a 100% rate, who only ever publish peer-reviewed outputs.  Why is that?  Do they really attach no importance to non-peer-reviewed publications? I have no specific answer to the question in the title, but I’d be really interested in the comments of other scientists (and non-scientists) on this question.


I had to double check that, because it seems inconceivable, but yes, it’s 30 years this year. Gulp.

Impact is how society changes as a result of the research undertaken.  So, for ecologists, it could be how their research has been translated into active, on-the-ground changes (e.g. to management of nature reserves, or rare or exploited species), or how it’s been picked up by national and international policy documents and then influenced policies on specific issues (invasive species, pollinator conservation, etc.)

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Release today of the IPBES Summary for Policymakers of the Assessment Report on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production

Inula at Ravensthorpe 20160710_145426Following on from the press release earlier this year announcing of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) assessment of pollinators, pollination and food production (which I reported on in February) it looks as though the full report may shortly be published.  A Summary for Policymakers has just been released by IPBES and can be downloaded by following this link.  I’ll put up a link to the full report once it becomes becomes available.

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Why has a 102 year old ecologist been asked to vacate his university office?

David W. Goodall is an Australian ecologist with an outstandingly long career – he received his PhD 75 years ago!  Over that period he has produced some seminal works in the field of vegetation analysis, and acted as Editor-in-Chief of the 36 volume, highly influential Ecosystems of the World series.

Until recently David had been allocated office space at Edith Cowan University in Perth, and commuted into campus by bus and train at least four days a week.  As reported in the Australian media, however, David has now been asked to give up his office and only come on to campus, accompanied, for pre-arranged meetings.

The university claims that it made the decision in David’s own interest, but his own daughter (who surely knows him and his capabilities better than the university authorities) says it’s the “the worst thing …[they]… could possibly do, I don’t know if he would survive it”.

I really hope Edith Cowan University reconsiders this, it seems a very shabby way to treat a distinguished researcher with such a long working history, who is still active (his most recent paper is from 2014!) and contributing to the scholarly life of his department.

Please read the original story and, if you feel so inclined, tweet your reaction to @EdithCowanUni

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