The climate of climate change

4 09 2012

The primary scientific literature on climate change spawns hundreds of debates on an array of topics. When the technical debate among experts, and the obvious uncertainties, are taken up by the media, they are typically treated as any other topic, which ends up in some people not trusting science and others exploiting the ‘debate’ for their own interests.

Many media debates consist of one moderator and several speakers with two confronting views. When the topic under discussion affects our daily life (e.g., unemployment), the average spectator will often agree with one of the views. When the topic affects people (apparently) in a general fashion (e.g., climate change), the spectator might distrust or simply ignore both views. Thus, the media shapes public opinion such that people’s perception of the news becomes black, white, “I don’t believe it” or “it doesn’t exist”. Public debates on climate change are like a ‘contact sport’ (1), a team has to win in a contest where both parties alternate attack and defence. The participation of speakers without specialised expertise on climate change, especially if they represent short-term political and economic interests, instigates public mistrust and inhibition (2). This situation erodes the informative role that science and scientists must play in the creation of novel environmental policies aiming to improve the present and future wellbeing of our society (3, a Science paper unsurprisingly challenged by US administration’ bastion Fred Singer: 4). Read the rest of this entry »





Arguing for scientific socialism in ecology funding

26 06 2012

What makes an ecologist ‘successful’? How do you measure ‘success’? We’d all like to believe that success is measured by our results’ transformation of ecological theory and practice – in a conservation sense, this would ultimately mean our work’s ability to prevent (or at least, slow down) extinctions.

Alas, we’re not that good at quantifying such successes, and if you use the global metric of species threats, deforestation, pollution, invasive species and habitat degradation, we’ve failed utterly.

So instead, we measure scientific ‘success’ via peer-reviewed publications, and the citations (essentially, scientific cross-referencing) that arise from these. These are blunt instruments, to be sure, but they are really the only real metrics we have. If you’re not being cited, no one is reading your work; and if no one is reading you’re work, your cleverness goes unnoticed and you help nothing and no one.

A paper I just read in the latest issue of Oikos goes some way to examine what makes a ‘successful’ ecologist (i.e., in terms of publications, citations and funding), and there are some very interesting results. Read the rest of this entry »





We only have decades…

26 04 2012

… not centuries.

Here’s a little video production The Environment Institute put together that explains some of our lab‘s work and future directions.


CJA Bradshaw





A supervisor’s lament

5 09 2011

© hradcanska http://ow.ly/6lCAO

Time for a little supervisory whinge. I’ve lamented these very issues over many a beer at many a conference, so I thought I’d solidify those hazy arguments into a blog post.

I’m by no means the most burdened academic when it comes to student load. We tend to be very picky in our lab when engaging post-graduate student prospects, and even pickier when hiring post-doctoral fellows (because the latter require little things like salaries that unfortunately, do not grow on trees). We also endeavour to share the load – most of our post-docs have at least one primary PhD student responsibility which reduces some of my burden and gives the post-doc in question the requisite experience in supervising. In my opinion, it’s a good way to run a lab, and allows for a high number of productive students, yet is not overly onerous for any one person.

That said, I make sure I read EVERYTHING my students produce, and I take a certain amount of pride in providing as much of my intellectual input as possible: from study design right through to proof correction. If my name is going to be on a paper, I had better bloody well earn my co-authorship. Read the rest of this entry »





Gagging scientists about marine parks

14 08 2011

© Louisa Gouliamaki AFP

Apologies to my readers for the lack of a post this past week – I’ve been attending the Ecological Society of America‘s 96th Annual Meeting in an extremely hot (42 °C) Austin, Texas. As usual, I’ll provide a synopsis of the conference in a little bit, but I have some rather worrisome reports about the marine park process in Australia with which to regale you first.

My last post was the reproduction of a letter cosigned by over 150 marine scientists (mostly from Australia, including me) who are concerned that the a proposed network of marine reserves in the Commonwealth waters of the South West bioregional marine planning region is not based on sound scientific principles, and is instead a mash-up of what amounts to leftovers that industry hasn’t yet found a way to exploit. Not the best way to plan for marine biodiversity conservation in the long run.

After the post went live, I had a few interesting (and frightening) e-mail exchanges with a few colleagues who work for various Australian marine science institutions who complained that they were forbidden to cosign the letter. What? What? What? What? What? Read the rest of this entry »





The Joke’s On Us

30 11 2010

 

© decostudio.pl

Here’s an idea to garner some appreciation for the dire straits in which humanity finds itself mounting from the global biodiversity crisis. More importantly, I hope that ‘appreciation’ would translate into ‘action’ as a result.

The idea came, as good ideas often tend to, around a table with some mates1,2 and several bottles of wine. The idea got more outlandish as the bottles were emptied, and I have to say I can’t remember many of the finer details (probably a good thing).

But the nugget of that idea is, I think, a very good one. I’d like to hear your opinions about it, and some suggestions about how to make it happen.

(get to the point, Bradshaw)

Right.

The idea would be to create an international (televised) comedy festival called ‘The Joke’s On Us‘ where very high-profile comedians would be individually matched to high-profile scientists of various areas of expertise. Let’s say we had a climate change scientist like James Hansen sit down with, oh, maybe Eddie Izzard, the famous and highly regarded Gaia creator, James Lovelock, locked in a room for a few days with Michael McIntyre, tropical deforestation specialist, Bill Laurance, matched with Chris Rock, and that population bomb, Paul Ehrlich, with Robin Williams or Jerry Seinfeld. The possible combinations are endless. Read the rest of this entry »





Appalling behaviour of even the most influential journalists

4 11 2010

 

 

© J. Dunn

 

I’ve said it a few times in public and in private – one of the main reasons I, as a busy scientist with probably insufficient time to devote to a lay blog (no different to any busy scientist, mind), got into this whole gig in the first place was to fight back against dodgy reporters and shonky ‘journalists’.

For the most part I have to say that I’ve been represented reasonably well in the media – even if most of it is owned by a few highly questionable moguls who espouse wildly partisan views. There have been a few occasions though where I’ve been the victim of simply crap reporting, terribly investigation and downright dirty tactics done by so-called journalists. I’ve talked about this on a few occasions on ConservationBytes.com (see ‘Crap environmental reporting‘, ‘Science turned bad by the media‘ and ‘Poor media coverage promotes environmental apathy and untruths‘).

In a bit of a coincidental turn of events, Bill Laurance sent me an interesting piece published in Nature on this very subject just while Paul Ehrlich and I (most of you know that Paul is in Adelaide at the moment) were talking about ways in which scientists could turn around public opinion from one of suspicion of science, logic and intellectualism, to one applauding the application of objective techniques to solve the world’s worst problems. Paul half-jokingly said “what if there is no solution?” – but I suspect that one such as he has found that constant writing, outreach and excellent research are the only ways to tear down the walls of ignorance, despite all the stupidity of certain elected officials. Two steps forward, one step back.

Bill suggested ConservationBytes would be a good place to reproduce this excellent article by Simon Lewis of the University of Leeds, and I agree. So here it is: Read the rest of this entry »





The importance of being serious in science

11 10 2010

CJA Bradshaw1,2

1The Environment Institute and School of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

2South Australian Research and Development Institute, Henley Beach, South Australia, Australia

Introduction

The rising influence of the conservative voice in science politics (Prick et al. 1981; Wanker, Apcin, Jennerjahn & Waibel 1998) compels the modern empiricist to conduct experimentation, publication and general science communication in an entirely open and highly professional manner (Pain 1996). However, scientists having not yet established a solid reputation for objective excellence (Loser, Jennings, Strauss & Sandig 1998), might find this approach challenging. Of course, scientific mentoring (God, Gumm & Stump 2001; Lancelot et al. 2005) has assisted bringing younger scientists to the fore of public science debates (Odour 1996), even though their ability to convince public dissenters (Yob et al. 2001) might appear futile (Russell & Waste 1998) without employing unconventional communication tools.

To measure a scientist’s capacity to address misinformation (Wrong, Norden & Feest 1994) quickly, efficiently and wittily, here I present a novel analysis measuring the degree of humour employed by scientists as a function of years elapsed since obtaining a PhD. I hypothesise that the use of humour will decrease with age.

Methods

I used the ISI® Web of Science search tool to compare 153,496 scientists’ output and impact scores (assessed using the m-index; Crap et al. 1995). I then manually assigned an entirely subjective measure of comedic content for each paper’s title and abstract, summing over each author’s publication list. This, the Subjective Humour Index Tally (S.H.I.T) was then regressed against the number of years elapsed since PhD. Read the rest of this entry »





Supercharge Your Science

10 09 2010

In a little under two weeks I’ll be co-running a workshop of the same name at James Cook University at both the Cairns and Townsville campuses.

With me will be super-scientist, media-guru and anti-deforestation advocate, Distinguished Professor Bill Laurance (who you might remember came to Adelaide earlier this year and gave some great talk), ex-Microsoft man and social media guru (and self-entitled ‘geezer’), Mike Seyfang, and the Media Coordinator for the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Jennifer Lappin.

Should be heaps of fun (and hopefully highly educational). Basically we’ll be preaching to aspiring and well-established researchers in many areas about how they can maximise the impact of their scientific research, in terms of media, education, outreach and policy.

I’ll be talking about science blogging (and blogging science!), other social media uses in science, and some of my personal experiences with ConservationBytes.com. I haven’t yet finalised my presentation, but I think it’ll be insightful.

Here’s the official blurb for the 1-day workshop: Read the rest of this entry »





August issue of Conservation Letters and more citation statistics

3 08 2010

Trash fish © A. Lobo

The latest issue (Volume 3, Issue 4 – August 2010) of Conservation Letters is now available free-of-charge online. This issue’s papers include 1 Mini-Review, 2 Policy Perspectives, 6 Letters, 1 Correspondence and 1 Response:





Big Blog Theory Finalist: please vote

13 07 2010

Just a quick post to mention that ConservationBytes.com has been chosen as a finalist in the 2010 National Science Week‘s Big Blog Theory Australia’s Best Science Blogger competition. Voting starts now, and I need votes to win!

If you enjoy my posts, please vote for me by navigating to this website.

Thanks for your support!

CJA Bradshaw

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Faraway fettered fish fluctuate frequently

27 06 2010

Hello! I am Little Fish

Swimming in the Sea.

I have lots of fishy friends.

Come along with me.

(apologies to Lucy Cousins and Walker Books)

I have to thank my 3-year old daughter and one of her favourite books for that intro. Now to the serious stuff.

I am very proud to announce a new Report in Ecology we’ve just had published online early about a new way of looking at the stability of coral reef fish populations. Driven by one of the hottest young up-and-coming researchers in coral reef ecology, Dr. Camille Mellin (employed through the CERF Marine Biodiversity Hub and co-supervised by me at the University of Adelaide and Julian Caley and Mark Meekan of the Australian Institute of Marine Science), this paper adds a new tool in the design of marine protected areas.

Entitled Reef size and isolation determine the temporal stability of coral reef fish populations, the paper applies a well-known, but little-used mathematical relationship between the logarithms of population abundance and its variance (spatial or temporal) – Taylor’s power law.

Taylor’s power law is pretty straightforward itself – as you raise the abundance of a population by 1 unit on the logarithmic scale, you can expect its associated variance (think variance over time in a fluctuating population to make it easier) to rise by 2 logarithmic units (thus, the slope = 2). Why does this happen? Because a log-log (power) relationship between a vector and its square (remember: variance = standard deviation2) will give a multiplier of 2 (i.e., if xy2, then log10x ~ 2log10y).

Well, thanks for the maths lesson, but what’s the application? It turns out that deviations from the mathematical expectation of a power-law slope = 2 reveal some very interesting ecological dynamics. Famously, Kilpatrick & Ives published a Letter in Nature in 2003 (Species interactions can explain Taylor’s power law for ecological time series) trying to explain why so many real populations have Taylor’s power law slopes < 2. As it turns out, the amount of competition occurring between species reduces the expected fluctuations for a given population size because of a kind of suppression by predators and competitors. Cool.

But that application was more a community-based examination and still largely theoretical. We decided to turn the power law a little on its ear and apply it to a different question – conservation biogeography. Read the rest of this entry »





June 2010 Issue of Conservation Letters

9 06 2010

The third issue of Conservation Letters Volume 3 is now out. A good line-up of papers, indeed. Note that we’ve gone up to 9 papers in this issue, so keep the good submissions coming. Conservation Letters will most likely be listed on ISI Web of Science this year, and receive its first Impact Factor in 2011.

Thanks for the support.

CJA Bradshaw





How many species are there?

4 06 2010

© japanprobe.com

An interesting research note just came out in the American Naturalist by Hamilton and colleagues entitled Quantifying uncertainty in estimation of tropical arthropod species richness. I retweeted a Science Daily twitter feed on this that had a terribly misleading opening line: “New calculations reveal that the number of species on Earth is likely to be in the order of several million rather than tens of millions“. This is, of course, absolute rubbish because the authors only looked at estimating tropical arthropod richness, not all species on Earth. The number of protists alone is probably > 4 million species, and there are an estimated > 1.5 fungi.

That whinge about crap reporting aside, this is what Hamilton and colleagues concluded:

  • using stochastic models, they predict medians of 3.7 million and 2.5 million tropical arthropod species globally
  • estimates of 30 million species or greater are predicted to have < 0.00001 probability
  • uncertainty in the proportion of canopy arthropod species that are beetles is the most influential parameter
  • in spite of 250 years of taxonomy and around 855000 species of arthropods already described, approximately 70 % await description

Interesting, but I didn’t give it much notice until New Scientist contacted me to get an assessment (their article will appear shortly). This is what I had to say: Read the rest of this entry »





Most accessed Conservation Letters articles

3 06 2010

Not a big post, but I thought Conservation Bytes readers would appreciate knowing the most accessed papers in the journal Conservation Letters in 2008 and 2009:

2009

  1. Critical need for new definitions of “forest” and “forest degradation” in global climate change agreements Nophea Sasaki & Francis E. Putz
  2. Global priority areas for incorporating land–sea connections in marine conservation Benjamin S. Halpern, Colin M. Ebert, Carrie V. Kappel, Elizabeth M.P. Madin, Fiorenza Micheli, Matthew Perry, Kimberly A. Selkoe & Shaun Walbridge
  3. Hitting the target and missing the point: target-based conservation planning in context Josie Carwardine, Carissa J. Klein, Kerrie A. Wilson, Robert L. Pressey & Hugh P. Possingham
  4. Mapping cumulative human impacts to California Current marine ecosystems Benjamin S. Halpern, Carrie V. Kappel, Kimberly A. Selkoe, Fiorenza Micheli, Colin M. Ebert, Caitlin Kontgis, Caitlin M. Crain, Rebecca G. Martone, Christine Sheare & Sarah J. Teck
  5. Ecosystem services and conservation strategy: beware the silver bullet Bhaskar Vira & William M. Adams

2008

  1. Is oil palm agriculture really destroying tropical biodiversity? Lian Pin Koh & David S. Wilcove
  2. Native wildlife on rangelands to minimize methane and produce lower-emission meat: kangaroos versus livestock George R. Wilson & Melanie J. Edwards
  3. Conservation action in a changing climate T.R. McClanahan, J.E. Cinner, J. Maina, N.A.J. Graham, T.M. Daw, S.M. Stead, A. Wamukota, K. Brown, M. Ateweberhan, V. Venus & N.V.C. Polunin
  4. Quiet, Nonconsumptive Recreation Reduces Protected Area Effectiveness Sarah E. Reed & Adina M. Merenlender
  5. Calibrating conservation: new tools for measuring success Valerie Kapos, Andrew Balmford, Rosalind Aveling, Philip Bubb, Peter Carey, Abigail Entwistle, John Hopkins, Teresa Mulliken, Roger Safford, Alison Stattersfield, Matt Walpole & Andrea Manica

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Where in the world to invest in plant conservation

31 05 2010

© CBD

It’s been a good few weeks with many of our papers coming out online early – for example, I highlighted one last week on ecosystem function breakdown from global warming.

Although this has been out for a few weeks, our new paper lead by PhD candidate Xingli Giam (formerly of National University of Singapore, recently completed Australian Endeavour Scholar, now at Princeton University and all-round up-and-coming research star), and with contributions from Hugh “Vascular” Tan and Navjot Sodhi of National University of Singapore and me, is entitled Future habitat loss and the conservation of plant biodiversity (just published online in Biological Conservation).

This one is a bit of a complicated one, so let me walk you through it.

Plants not only represent a huge component of global biodiversity (~320 000 species), they represent the ‘habitats’ in which animals live and provide the major source of nutrients to food webs. They also provide most of our food and other materials essential for human existence. Basically we’d be screwed without them.

Because so many of the world’s biomes are severely threatened now because of massive habitat loss, degradation, over-exploitation, invasive species, extinction synergies and climate change, we need to maximise our efficiency in protecting what’s left. While global prioritisation schemes have a fruitful scientific history since Myers & colleagues’ classic paper (see Biodiversity Hotspots), there are a number of problems that plague the concept and its implementation. Read the rest of this entry »





The planet is our bottle

22 05 2010

Professor Chris Thomas, conservation ecologist extraordinaire, tells it like it is. This might be a little basic for many ConservationBytes.com readers, but it’s the kind of pitch that might convince even the stupidest of yobs. I reproduce the Guardian article here in full.

Why do we care about nature, and can we actually quantify what the benefits are? This is what the UN’s The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb) project is all about, and the answer is remarkable. The natural world – biodiversity – provides us with food, materials and energy. We eat animals and plants; insects pollinate many of the foods we consume; microbes in the soil provide the nutrients the plants to grow; vegetation and soil biodiversity reduce flooding and release clean drinking water; vegetation soaks up a substantial proportion of the climate warming carbon dioxide gasses that we emit. The list goes on and on. Urban and rural citizens alike rely on these natural products and benefits.

The real cost of damaging nature, it turns out, is at least 10 times greater than the cost of maintaining the ecosystem as it is so that we can reap the associated benefits. To take an example close to the University of York where I work, the costs of flood defence construction and flood-related insurance claims in the Vale of York hugely outweigh the agricultural benefits of drainage ditches and overgrazing in the River Ouse catchment. Rather than treating nature as a pleasant luxury, Teeb argues that we should integrate the real costs and benefits within our decision-making. It should not be the preserve solely of environment and conservation ministries, but it should be at the core of the activities of finance departments. Teeb argues that we should get rid of subsidies that are environmentally damaging and reward beneficial activities that maintain natural ecosystems. This might be by including the costs of damage within the purchase price of products to encourage us to buy the least damaging items, and potentially by paying land owners and countries directly to maintain natural ecosystems. Farmers in the Ouse catchment have recently received payments for blocking their drainage ditches; and the perverse subsidies that rewarded farmers by the animal – resulting in over-grazing, trampling and erosion – have been removed. It can be done. Achieving this at a global scale is far more difficult. Read the rest of this entry »





Ecosystem functions breaking down from climate change

17 05 2010

I’m particularly proud to present to ConservationBytes.com readers a new paper we’ve just had published online in Journal of Animal Ecology: Mechanisms driving change: altered species interactions and ecosystem function through global warming (Lochran Traill, Matt Lim, Navjot Sodhi and me).

It wasn’t easy to write a review discussing climate change effects on biodiversity, mainly because so many have been written already and we needed to examine the issue from a fresh perspective. The evidence for single species’ responses to rapidly shifting climates around the world is overwhelming (see for a few thousand examples, see the following: Stenseth et al. 2002; Parmesan et al. 2003, 2006; Roessig et al. 2004; Thomas et al. 2004; Poloczanska et al. 2007; Skelly et al. 2004; Dunn et al. 2009). It’s rather remarkable how many things are moving in response, with reduction in range size being more common than expansion.

However, predicting extinction risk from climate change is far more problematic because traditionally there have been too few data on species interactions to make heads or tails of a particular species’ eventual response (e.g., see comment on Chris Thomas’ famous paper regarding this matter). As systems heat up, some species will change in abundance, thereby affecting the abundance of others (think predators and prey, pollinators and their host plants, etc.) – this whole complicated process combined with single-species’ responses makes predicting what a future ecosystem might look like nearly impossible. Add in all the other ecosystem damage we’ve done from forest clearance, invasive species and over-harvesting, it’s a right mess.

It is for this reason we focussed on reviewing the links between species rather than on the species’ responses per se. We looked specifically at ecosystem function, that is, “the processes that facilitate energy transfer along food webs, and the major processes that allow the cycling of carbon, oxygen and nitrogen. ‘Function’ also includes ecosystem services.” Read the rest of this entry »





Who are the world’s biggest environmental reprobates?

5 05 2010

Everyone is a at least a little competitive, and when it comes to international relations, there could be no higher incentive for trying to do better than your neighbours than a bit of nationalism (just think of the Olympics).

We rank the world’s countries for pretty much everything, relative wealth, health, governance quality and even happiness. There are also many, many different types of ‘environmental’ indices ranking countries. Some attempt to get at that nebulous concept of ‘sustainability’, some incorporate human health indices, and other are just plain black box (see Böhringer et al. 2007 for a review).

With that in mind, we have just published a robust (i.e., to missing data, choices for thresholds, etc.), readily quantifiable (data available for most countries) and objective (no arbitrary weighting systems) index of a country’s relative environmental impact that focuses ONLY on environment (i.e., not human health or economic indicators) – something no other metric does. We also looked at indices relative to opportunity – that is, looking at how much each country has degraded relative to what it had to start with.

We used the following metrics to create a combined environmental impact rank: natural forest loss, habitat conversion, fisheries and other marine captures, fertiliser use, water pollution, carbon emissions from land-use change and threatened species.

The paper, entitled Evaluating the relative environmental impact of countries was just published in the open-access journal PLoS One with my colleagues Navjot Sodhi of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Xingli Giam, formerly of NUS but now at Princeton University in the USA.

So who were the worst? Relative to resource availability (i.e,. how much forest area, coastline, water, arable land, species, etc. each country has), the proportional environmental impact ranked (from worst) the following ten countries:

  1. Singapore
  2. Korea
  3. Qatar
  4. Kuwait
  5. Japan
  6. Thailand
  7. Bahrain
  8. Malaysia
  9. Philippines
  10. Netherlands

When considering just the absolute impact (i.e., not controlling for resource availability), the worst ten were:

  1. Brazil
  2. USA
  3. China
  4. Indonesia
  5. Japan
  6. Mexico
  7. India
  8. Russia
  9. Australia
  10. Peru

Interestingly (and quite unexpectedly), the authors’ home countries (Singapore, Australia, USA) were in either the worst ten proportional or absolute ranks. Embarrassing, really (for a full list of all countries, see supporting information). Read the rest of this entry »





Fanciful mathematics and ecological fantasy

3 05 2010

© flickr/themadlolscientist

Bear with me here, dear reader – this one’s a bit of a stretch for conservation relevance at first glance, but it is important. Also, it’s one of my own papers so I have the prerogative :-)

As some of you probably know, I dabble quite a bit in population dynamics theory, which basically means examining the mathematics people use to decipher ecological patterns. Why is this important? Well, most models predicting extinction risk, estimating optimal harvest rates, determining minimum viable population size and metapopulation dynamics for species’ persistence rely on good mathematical abstraction to be realistic. Get the maths wrong, and you could end up overharvesting a species (e.g., 99.99 % of fisheries management), underestimating extinction risk from habitat degradation, and getting your predictions wrong about the effects of invasive species. Expressed as an equation itself, (conservation) ecology = mathematics.

A long-standing family of models known as ‘phenomenological’ models (i.e., because they deal with the phenomenon of population size which is an emergent property of the mechanisms of birth, death and immigration) has been used to estimate everything from maximum sustainable yield targets, temporal abundance patterns, wildlife management interventions, extinction risk to epidemiological patterns. The basic form of the model describes the growth response, or the relationship between the population’s rate of change (growth) and its size. The simplest form (known as the Ricker), assumes a linear decline in population growth rate (r) as the number of individuals increases, which basically means that populations can’t grow indefinitely (i.e., they fluctuate around some carrying capacity if unperturbed). Read the rest of this entry »








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