Tag Archives: Ecology

Saved by a bee: a true story, with reflections and photos from PopBio2017

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The blog has been a bit quiet of late, due to a lot of traveling on my part, starting with field work in Tenerife, then a weekend away with friends on the Isle of Wight, followed by the topic of this post: PopBio2017 – the 30th Conference of the Plant Population Biology Section of the Ecological Society of Germany, Austria and Switzerland in Halle, Germany.  And I’d like to begin with a story….

The organisers of PopBio2017 had invited me to be one of five keynote speakers at the conference and I was due to deliver a talk on “The macroecology of wind and animal pollination” first thing (09:00) on Thursday morning.  So the night before I duly set my phone’s alarm for 07:00, thinking I’d have enough time to get ready, have breakfast, then take the tram to the venue (a 15 minute ride/walk).

It was a very hot night and I left the windows open, but my mind was restless with thoughts of how to deliver the talk most effectively.  So I kept waking up during the night, and actually slept through the alarm.  The next thing I know it is 07:45 and I am being woken up by an urgent buzzing noise….from a bee!

I swear this is true: a bee had flown in through the window, buzzed for a few seconds right in front of my face, and woke me up in time to deliver my talk on pollinators!  It then turned around and flew straight back out of the window.

It actually wasn’t until I’d jumped out of bed and into the shower that I’d woken up sufficiently to appreciate what had happened…and wondered if anyone would actually believe me!  Anyway, I got to the venue with 15 minutes to spare, the talk seemed to go well, and it’s a story I think I’ll enjoy telling for some time to come.

The conference was really fabulous, with some very impressive science on show.  It was a good mix of postdocs, PhD students, and established researchers talking on a diverse range of plant ecology topics, not just “plant population biology” (whatever that really is – there was some discussion on that score).   The organisers had arranged the programme so that the keynotes in each session were followed by shorter talks broadly related to that topic, so I was followed by a series of presentations on pollination biology.  And very good they were too.

Here’s some photos from the week:

A slightly blurry audience waiting for my talk to begin (not as blurry as me after the dash to the venue however…):

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I was fascinated by the coypu that are common in the River Salle which flows through the city of Halle.  They are classed as an invasive species, but are very, very cute:

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Indeed so cute I couldn’t resist taking a selfie…

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Some interesting urban greenery including swales for flood defence:

 

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Wall plants surviving the graffiti:

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Halle’s most famous resident, Handel:

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There’s a Harry Potter feel to some parts of the town:

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The fabulous double-double-spired cathedral:

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There had to be a spiral or two, of course:

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On the Saturday after the talks had finished we took an excursion to the fascinating “Porphyry Hills” dry grasslands – unique western extensions of plant communities and species normally found in the east, including many plants of the steppe:

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These rocky outcrops have become exposed as agricultural ploughing caused the surrounding soil level to drop:

 

Some of the grassland areas have very thin soils with resultant high plant diversity:

 

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Lots in flower, though not as many pollinators as I would have liked:

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On the last evening a couple of us had a private tour of the university’s botanic garden, and well worth a visit it is too:

It was a thirsty conference – “To beer or not to beer….”?

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Finally thanks to the organisers of PopBio2017 for the invitation to speak, and to all of the conference attendees who made it such a special meeting.

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Gardens, Macroecology, Pollination, spirals, Urban biodiversity

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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Filed under Biodiversity

Polinode – a user-friendly tool for visualising ecological networks

Birds mixed flocks (2) - curvedIt is a general ecological rule that no species exists in isolation; all species interact with other organisms within the communities to which they belong. The collection and analysis of ecological interaction data has burgeoned over the past couple of decades, particularly in my own area of (largely) mutualistic species interactions such as plant-pollinator relationships – see for example this recent post on hummingbird-plant networks.

There are a number of software packages available for analysing and visualising this type of data, including bipartite  and foodweb in R, Food Web Designer, and Gephi.  Tools such as this vary in their flexibility and in the investment of time required to produce good quality graphics, and ultimately it’s down to personal preferences which you use.

Recently I discovered some very user-friendly network visualisation software that is browser/cloud based, free to use (at least the basic version), very flexible, intuitive and quick to learn. Ideal if you are pressed for time and want to generate some quick food webs.

The system is called Polinode and was developed primarily to visualise business and social science data (the “poli” part is nothing to do with pollination, that’s purely coincidental). However there’s no reason why it can’t be used for ecological data, as the image above demonstrates. This is a visualisation of mixed-species flocks of birds feeding together and alone on a local urban park that I’ve discussed previously.  The thickness of the line is proportional to number of interactions observed, and the size of each node is proportional to the number of birds.  Both are scalable in Polinode.

One could also present these data as a straight-line graph, without the loops to indicate single-species feeding:

Birds mixed flocks (5)

As well as these types of networks it’s also possible to produce bipartite (what Polinode terms “hierarchical”) graphs, for example this network of bumblebees feeding on different plant families in a British grassland (click for a closer view – I realised afterwards that I downloaded a rather small version):

Bombus hypnorum with plant families

The system is very flexible and nodes can be grabbed and moved around (as I did above to offset the plant family nodes), recoloured, resized, text resized, etc.

Polinode also calculates a range of network metrics such as degree and Louvain communities (a measure of modularity) which is more limited than some ecologists might require, but which is a good starting point for those new to ecological network statistics.

Data files can be uploaded directly from Excel, and there are example templates showing how to lay out the data.  There is also ample online support including written guidance, videos, and a regular blog. Even in the few months I’ve been playing with the system the developers have added more features, including a graphing facility that generates column and scatter plots from your networks.

There you go, that’s an introduction to Polinode for ecologists; hope it’s useful for your work.

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Birds

Something for the weekend #3

The latest in a regular series of posts to biodiversity-related* items that have caught my attention during the week:

 

  • A new report by WWF documents over 1000 new species discovered in Papua New Guinea between 1998 and 2008, and the risks to their survival from logging and other human activities.

 

  • How does history inform ecological restoration?  Ian Lunt has a great post on this topic.

 

 

  • In the latest in a series of high-profile rewilding initiatives, the conservation charity Lynx UK Trust has launched a survey to elicit public views on their proposal to reintroduce these large cats – make your views known here.

 

 

  • The University of Northampton’s annual Images of Research exhibition is available to view online and you can vote for your favourite three images.  Now I’m not saying that you should vote for “An ecosystem in a cup”.  But you could.  If you wanted to.

 

  • Staying with the University of Northampton, the Press Office has made me the first Staff Blogger of the Month.  Which is nice.  Not sure exactly how many other staff blog, but my impression is that it’s not many so it may be only a matter of time before I’m honoured again.  I thought I’d share what I wrote when asked about why I blog:

“Why do I blog? The main aim is to communicate the science relating to the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services (and therefore why we need to conserve species and habitats) to as wide an audience as possible, including the general public, students, non-governmental organisations, businesses, and policy makers, as well as other academics.  Some of that communication relates to examples from our own research, and I also draw on the work of others in the field.  A secondary aim is to give my students a flavour of what it is that I actually do in the rest of my job: teaching is only part of the story!”

 

  • All of which links nicely to the recent post by Jeremy Fox, and subsequent discussion, over at Dynamic Ecology about whether science blogging (and specifically “ecology” blogs, whatever they might be) is on the decline.  For what it’s worth, I don’t think it is and I also think that the definition of what “ecology” blogging actually covers is much wider than the discussion suggests.

 

Feel free to recommend links that have caught your eye.

*Disclaimer: may sometimes contain non-biodiversity-related links.

10 Comments

Filed under Biodiversity, Personal biodiversity, University of Northampton, Urban biodiversity