Drawn to Science

Drawn to Science: When wildlife rescue and research collide, by Kate Cranney

Drawn to Science: When wildlife rescue and research collide, by Kate Cranney

We have several talented artists among us at Qaeco, not least of whom is Kate Cranney. Kate’s been using her flair for images and words in a series of pieces for Melbourne Uni student magazine Farrargo. Each piece tells us the story of a BioSciences PhD student and their research, paired with Kate’s stunning original artwork.

From sock possums to desert fish, and profiles of the fascinating work of Qaecologists Hannah Fraser, Michelle Freeman, and Casey Visintin, it’s well worth a read. Do yourself a favour and check out the full series over on Kate’s website.

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#EMAPI2015 & #ICOET2015: upcoming Qaeco talks

emapicoetNext week sees Qaecologists presenting on either side of the US:

At International Conference on Ecology and Transportation in Raleigh, North Carolina, Casey Visintin will be talking about “Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions: Predicting Where to Mitigate with a Conceptual Modelling Framework”.

Monday, September the 21st, Session 101: Crossing Structures, Reducing Collisions, Increasing Connectivity – Part I, 10:30 – 12:00 AM

While over at the Ecology and Management of Alien Plant Invasions conference in Waikoloa, Hawai’i, Qaecologist Esti Palma will be talking about “A global assessment of functional changes in urban plant communities” in the symposium on “Global change and plan invasions.”

Tuesday Sept 22nd, 4.40-5.00 pm, Naupaka I

Didn’t you hear?—We love conferences!

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Around the world in 80 collaborators

The Alps, summer playground of select Qaecologists. Photo: Reid Tingley

The Alps, favoured summer playground of Qaecologists. Photo: Reid Tingley

Qaecologists love to travel, and with so many international conferences in the Northern Summer, it’s also a great chance to visit and learn from other labs and meet colleagues. Here’s a few of the cool labs and fabulous collaborators we’ve had a chance to visit over the last couple of months:

Starting in the US West Coast, Casey Visintin met up with Kate Tiedeman and Fraser Shilling at the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis. Kate sits in Robert Hijman’s lab. They discussed possible collaborations modeling species distributions and risks to wildlife using citizen-science collected data in both California and Victoria.

Most extravagant banana split ever; thanks ESAmerica. Photo: random ecologist with Hannah Fraser's camera.

Most extravagant banana split ever; thanks ESAmerica. Photo: random ecologist with Hannah Fraser’s camera.

Meanwhile East Coast style, Hannah Fraser  went to the American ESA, met lots of people and had a fantastic time (click here for her long-form post on that). One of her highlights was the ESA conference dinner—instead of the usual sit-down meal, they had a range of food trucks and gave out tokens to spend at them. Not only delicious (most extravagant banana split ever) but great for mingling, particularly when you compare this with the usual sit down format where you have to steal someone’s spot to join a group and you can’t really do this before all the food is served because many people have specific dietary requirements. She strongly endorses the format for other conferences (nudge, nudge, ESAustralia!). Very fun and productive.

Skipping to Asia now, Lucie Bland stopped in to Singapore and the august-sounding World Congress on Risk, a multidisciplinary conference covering topics such enthralling topics as occupational health and safety, environmental health, engineering, ecological risk analysis, and risk perception.

Perceived vs. actual risks in the workplace. Eeek - glass of wine! Image from Talaka et al. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4003859/pdf/uoeh11_326.pdf

Perceived vs. actual risks in the workplace. Eeek – glass of wine! Image from Talaka et al.

Lucie took the chance to drop in on Ryan Chisolm’s lab at the National University of Singapore. Ryan lab’s focusses on some important theoretical questions in ecology, including patterns of biodiversity in tropical forests and biodiversity-ecosystem function models, and they had some great chats on the extinction of plants and birds in Singapore. Given Ryan studied with Qaeco godfather Mark Burgman, this surely makes the Chisolm lab some sort of Qaeco half-sibling?

To Europe now, with many Qaecologists taking advantage of their trips to ICCB. Lucie visited the a few researchers at the University of Montpellier, including Sonia Kefi (who works on signals of impending regime shifts in ecosystems) and David Mouillot (a coral reef biologist who is keen to strengthen links with the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems).


CosmoJazz Festival in the Chamonix Valley. Photo: Reid Tingley

Darren Southwell popped by Tolouse, to visit Regis Sabbadin at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research and yak about ways to manage complex ecological systems, such as metapopulations.

Further north, Pia Lentini, Freya Thomas, Natalie Briscoe, and Reid Tingley visited Wilfried Thuiller and the Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine (LECA) in Grenoble. They had various reasons for doing so (other than the Alps) – but most were interested in chatting with all of the clever folks at LECA about traits and species distributions. Fortunately, this also provided them with an opportunity to catch up with former Qaecologist Laura Pollock in her new Grenoble digs (and see the Alps).

British tourists ride through the Alps on some sort of summer holiday jaunt. Photo: Natalie Briscoe

British tourists ride through the Alps on some sort of summer holiday jaunt. Photo: Natalie Briscoe

Reid and Freya particularly enjoyed the CosmoJazz Festival in the Chamonix Valley, while Natalie and Freya also saw some folk riding bikes.

In sunny England, Natalie Briscoe visited, Chris Thomas, Jane Hill and their lab group at the University of York to talk about modelling species range dynamics under climate change – in particular how we can incorporate factors such as weather variability, species traits and population dynamics. Hearing about the projects going on in the group, Natalie was reminded again of the value of comprehensive long-term monitoring datasets (such as those that exist for many butterfly species in Europe), which provide a unique opportunity to evaluate how well models are able to predict species’ responses to recent environmental change.

Meanwhile further south, Kate Giljohan met up with Ben Collen at University College London, and Stuart Butchart at BirdLife International in Cambridge to talk biodiversity indices.

And much further south and hotter still, Kate, Natalie, and Luke Kelly visited Lluís Brotons at the Eco-Land Lab in Solsona, Catalonia, in Spain. Luke has just moved to Spain for two years on a Veski Fellowship and is starting an exciting new collaboration between Qaeco, the Forest Sciences Centre of Catalonia and the Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications.

Melbourne meets Catalonia in Montpellier. Photo: Luke Kelly

Melbourne meets Catalonia in Montpellier. Photo: Luke Kelly

The Forest Sciences Centre of Catalonia is also the new home of ex-Qaecologist Alejandra Morán-Ordóñez, and ICCB was a great chance for old and new colleagues from the two lab groups to meet.

Gosh scientists can be peripatetic. Can’t wait for next winter!

And you can read much more about any of these trips and collaborations at many Qaecologists’ personal pages linked above.

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More than the humble yabbie: conserving Australia’s freshwater crayfish

Above: Glenelg spiny cray; below: richness of freshwater cray species (l), & richness of threatened crays (r). Images: Lucie Bland

Above: Glenelg spiny cray;
below: richness of freshwater cray species (l), & richness of threatened crays (r). Images: Lucie Bland

Australia has nearly a quarter of the world’s 600 freshwater crayfish species, but we lag far behind in conserving them (and other invertebrates). Over at Decision Point, Qaecologist Lucie Bland shines a bright light on these fascinating yet neglected species, and discusses what we can do to conserve them.

From mountain streams to desert burrows, boiled in pots to boiled by climate change, you can read it in full here.

And remember, look out for Decision Point each month to see latest science from Qaeco and other members of the Environmental Decisions Group explained outside of the journal form.

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Botanical whirlwind with Freya Thomas


Botanical wonderlands – a mere snippet of some of the variety of flowers Freya saw on her travels. Photos: Freya Thomas

Qaecologist Freya Thomas has just returned from a five month stint overseas visiting fire ecologists and managers, below she gives a brief outline on her trip, but watch her blog page for more detailed posts, upcoming as soon as she recovers from jet lag. Over to Freya:

I received a Veski Fellowship  (which fellow Qaecologists Geoff Heard and Luke Kelly have also made great use of) that allowed me to undertake a five-month overseas study mission.  This was an absolutely excellent opportunity for me to extend my research and make some valuable international connections.   I thank The Victorian Endowment for Science, Knowledge and Innovation for this opportunity.

My research revolves around modeling growth and reproduction in multiple plant species and using functional traits as species-specific predictors of growth trajectories. My thesis aim is to interrogate if this approach can be used to generalize demographic trajectories for multiple species using relatively easy to collect functional trait data and to make predictions based on traits to species for which we lack data. This approach has the potential to be very useful within a management context where often time, money and data are scarce yet decisions still need to be made.  This fellowship allowed me to visit fire ecologists, managers as well as statisticians, botanists and ecologists and discuss my research.


Landscapes to look out for in Freya’s upcoming blog series.

I began my trip in The USA and visited Distinguished Professor Philip Rundel at The University of California, Los Angeles, I was also fortunate to meet Sarah Ratay and Steve Laymon, two excellent Californian Botanists.  Whilst in LA I met Marti Whitter, a fire manager with the National Parks Service.  I took a drive via some central Californian ecosystems to Sequoia National Park to meet with Jon Keeley and other fire managers at The USGS Western Research Centre.  I then took a drive through the Mojave Desert to UC Riverside, where I met Helen Regan.  I then went to the East Coast of America and undertook a course in Structured Decision Making and met with Michael Runge and Sarah Converse amongst others at Patuxent Wildlife Research Centre, before heading to Ireland to visit Yvonne Buckley at Trinity College.  From Ireland I headed to Spain to talk fire ecology with Juli Pausas, before travelling south to South Africa to visit William Bond and Jeremy Midgely at The University of Cape Town and Jasper Slingsby at The South African Environmental Observation Network.  Finally, I travelled north again to visit Wilfried Thuiller at Laboratoire d’ecologie alpine in Grenoble and attend ICCB in Montpellier.   Needless to say, it was an action packed couple of months and there are many people I have missed in this overview.  Please stay tuned for a more complete piece in some upcoming blog posts, starting with this one.

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Qaeco Highlights from #ICCB2015 — the International Congress for Conservation Biology

Qaecologists Freya Thomas, Michaela Plein, Darren Southwell, Posing Waiter, Stefano Canessa, Natasha Cadenhead, Kate Giljohann, Heini Kujala, and Zebra Enthusiast (L to R)

Qaecologists Freya Thomas, Michaela Plein, Darren Southwell, Posing Waiter, Stefano Canessa, Natasha Cadenhead, Kate Giljohann, Heini Kujala, and a Zebra Enthusiast enjoy the summer evenings (L to R). Photo: Natalie Briscoe

It’s Spring in sunny Melbourne, and many Qaecologists are returning from what’s becoming an annual migration north to Montpellier, in France. This year, #ICCB2015 – the 27th International Congress for Conservation Biology and 4th European Congress for Conservation Biology; in other words, the big shindig for Conservation Scientists. We thought we’d ask them to share their highlights.

Naturally there’s the delightful weather, wine, and company of Montpellier – but evidently lots of great talks too, many enjoyed from the overflowing confines of a hallway.

For Natalie Briscoe, highlights were hearing research about how climate change may drive local extinctions in species like some butterflies that can have multiple generations per year via a “suicidal” extra generation that has very high mortality (paper here), and how scientists figured out that some aquatic microfauna can protect frogs from chytrid fungus (and paper here).

Stefano Canessa presents at ICCB

Ex-Qaecologist Stefano Canessa carefully points out something fascinating at ICCB. Photo: Michaela Plein

Kelly Hunt de Bie meanwhile enjoyed the symposium “Social Science in conservation in the anthropocene: New paths to a social-ecological wellbeing”. It brought in a mix of speakers who presented significant progress in managing socio-ecological systems, including developing social indicators and methods integrating social science into environmental decision making. She loved the quote from Karma Norman of NOAA’s NorthWest Fisheries Science Centre, “Combining social and ecological disciplines results in conservation that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Qaecologists at ICCB were pleased to hear wolves and other large mammals on the increase in Europe. Great work conservation! Photo by Jan Nijendijk, Wikimedia commonsns

Qaecologists at ICCB were pleased to hear wolves and other large mammals on the increase in Europe. Great work conservation! Photo by Jan Nijendijk, Wikimedia commons

Libby Rumpff on the other hand, got a kick out of Luigi Boitani’s comment that “We are not used to managing our successes”. This was during the symposium on ‘Evaluating the impacts of conservation interventions’ and discussing the recent expansion in range and numbers of many transboundary species in Europe. (Whilst also pointing out that conservation scientists are really having a hard time establishing exactly what difference conservation interventions have had in comparison to factors ‘we’ have had little to no control over). There’s a whole book to check out, and perhaps another thing to add to the list of things conservation scientists need to do better?

Luke Kelly also enjoyed this session, and was happy to hear that populations of wolves, bears and other large mammals have generally increased across  much of Europe. Of course, it’s more complex than that but it’s still pretty exciting for someone like Luke who is obsessed with mammals and has recently moved to Europe – and it’s nice to hear a good news story from a leading conservation biologist. You can check out more from that group here.

On the botanical side of re-wilding, Michaela Plein enjoyed hearing about green infrastructure (incidentally her fave new jargon of the conference) with wild-flower strips among crop fields as pollinator corridors, and clover among grains to enhance nitrogen fixation.

Chris Baker, like apparently all of Conservation Science on twitter, loved the plenary and reaction to the debate between TNC chief scientist Peter Kareiva and Social-Ecologcial Economics professor Clive Spash. The debate certainly set the conference alive, such as the entertaining live commentary from from Qaecologist provocateur Mike Bode.

But conferences are about so much more than their face-value content, especially in the south of France in Summer! Darren Southwell loved the farewell dinner, while for others the informal haunts capped off the event. Natasha Cadenhead loved the conference, but for her the highlight was one word: Tartare. While Reid Tingley agreed the food was great, it was the conversations with colleagues and old friends (and some new ones) that transpired at the various pubs, restaurants, and cafés along the charming laneways of Montpellier that are really memorable. And for Lucie Bland, the city too had the charm with so many places to go for coffee, lunch, dinner, and drinks. For as we know, conferences are a great opportunity to catch up with collaborators from all over the world. So why not, asks Lucie, do it over a plate of snails and some rosé?

Win. We love conferences.

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Does More Data Mean Better Decisions?

We love more research and more data—but will they always mean better decisions? Interrogating this trade-off is at the heart of what much of Qaeco does.

Over on the Methods Blog, recent PhD graduate Stefano Canessa discusses in detail The Value of Information: Does More Data Mean Better Decisions?

This blog complements a recent paper by Stef wrote with Qaecologists Gurutzeta Guillera-ArroitaJosé J. Lahoz-Monfort, and Darren Southwell, and a host of fantastic collaborators:

When do we need more data? A primer on calculating the value of information for applied ecologists

And if you’re super keen, you can hear the dulcet tones of Stef walking you through process on the MEE YouTube Channel.

As always, keep up with all the research coming from Qaeco at our publications page.

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