Soft ecology

Ecologists are multi-talented folk (if we do say so ourselves!). A diverse set of skills are required to write grants, heft field-gear over mountains, code statistical analyses, run simulation models, draft manuscripts and chat with the media. Less obvious, however, are the ‘soft skills’, such as emotional IQ, resilience, decision-making, flexibility and the ability to empower the talents of others. Nonetheless, these skills are fundamental to collaborative success in academia, government and private industry. For our first QAECO reading group of 2017, Bronwyn Hradsky selected Gibert, Tozer and Westoby’s ‘Teamwork, soft skills, and research training’ which was recently published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Gibert et al. compiled a list of 14 soft skills that they considered important for scientific collaboration and teamwork, and asked a group of influential research team leaders to review them. ‘Inspiring moral trust’ and ‘emotional intelligence’ were the skills most frequently ranked as important for effective collaboration. The majority of leaders thought that all 14 skills could be improved or learned (rather than just being inherent personality traits), and believed that they could assess soft skills during recruitment. Gibert et al. argue that graduate programs should include short training courses to increase young scientists’ self-awareness of the skills they currently possess, and ability to demonstrate these skills in interviews.

Our group agreed that these soft skills are very important for both academic and non-academic careers. In particular, bringing an open attitude and a talent to empower others was highly rated. People have experienced conflict within collaborations when these skills have been lacking, especially when there was a lack of trust in others’ conduct.

We concluded that, although these skills are important, they can sometimes be overlooked within the university system. More training in soft skill development, as well as skill awareness, would be highly valuable. As not all roles involve practising the full range of skills, other potentially useful opportunities for training could include:

  • Active participation in collaborations. Senior academics can help foster these skills in their students and post-docs by providing opportunities for them to actively participate in collaborations, and be involved with strategic meetings and decisions.
  • Mentoring. Whether this occurs formally or on an ad hoc basis, trusted seniors can provide guidance and advice on how to successfully manage professional relationships.
  • Online courses. Many universities, including ours, provide online training for staff, and providers such as Coursera also offer courses on leadership, conflict management, emotional intelligence, appreciative inquiry, and many other soft skills.
  • Self-reflection. These soft skills can take a lot of time and effort to develop, and require self-analysis on how to improve, as well as empathy towards other people.
  • Workshops. At the next QAECO retreat, we plan to run an expert-led session on conflict resolution and peoples’ behavioural and learning styles.

Effective teamwork and collaboration are key to a successful and fulfilling career in ecology and conservation. We look forward to updating you on the workshop!

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Tourism puts dolphins at risk in Southeast Asia – here’s what to look for on your next holiday

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Tourist boats looking for dolphins on the Mekong River, Cambodia. Gerry Ryan

Gerry Ryan, University of Melbourne; Putu Liza Mustika, James Cook University, and Riccardo Welters, James Cook University

It’s hot, and you’re sitting sweating in a small wooden boat. Your cold bottle of water is dripping, and the pink polyester roof does nothing to shade the glare of the setting sun. The young man at the back of the boat smiles and points at the water, and there you see it: one of Cambodia’s most magnificent spectacles.

Angkor Wat? No, it’s a critically endangered dolphin rising from the brown waters of the Mekong River, breathing, looking at you, and then disappearing below.

Our recent research suggests that while dolphin and whale tourism in Southeast Asia can be great for communities, it can also come at a cost to the environment.

So what should you look for if you’re going on tour? Continue reading

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The Spatial Solutions Fire Ecology Project

QAECO researchers Luke Kelly and Mick McCarthy, alongside Kate Giljohann and a number of other collaborators, have recently started up a new fire ecology project! Read more about it below:

Now that we’ve assembled our exciting team – including new recruits Dr Kate Giljohann (Research Fellow), Fred Rainsford (PhD student) and Kate Senior (PhD student) – it’s a perfect time to introduce the project.

The Team: Luke Kelly (UoM), Andrew Bennett (La Trobe/ARI), Andrew Blackett (DELWP), Michael Clarke (La Trobe), Kate Giljohann (UoM/La Trobe), Michael McCarthy (UoM), Fred Rainsford (La Trobe), Kate Senior (UoM).

What are we going to do?

Continue reading

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ESA 2016: Look out for us!

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This year’s Ecological Society of Australia conference is upon us! Next week will see the annual migration of a flock of qaecologists over to the conference, held this year in Fremantle, WA. There will be presentations & posters on topics ranging from feral predator management, to the impacts of global trade on biodiversity, to validating distribution models, to using drones to find sneaky tree kangaroos!

In addition, Jane Elith will be giving the Keynote address on Tuesday morning, where she will be presented with the Australian Ecology Research Award for 2016. Jane will be giving a talk about the application, challenges and recent progress in using species distribution models with kinds of data that are typically available.

So if you’re heading to ESA, keep an eye out for the following talks & posters from qaeco members throughout the week: Continue reading

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Reading group: Assessing species vulnerability to climate change

Climate change is predicted to be one of the major threats to the biodiversity loss in the coming century, both via direct impacts on species and through synergistic effects of other extinction drivers. For last week’s reading group, master’s student Anwar Hossain, selected a paper titled “Assessing species vulnerability to climate change”, published in the journal Nature Climate Change. The paper, led by Michela Pacifici and his colleagues of the IUCN Climate Change Specialist Group, examined the focus of existing studies on species’ vulnerability to climate change, and discussed the limitations /benefits of three main approaches used to conduct such assessments (i.e., correlative, mechanistic and trait-based approaches). Continue reading

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Congratulations to our qaeco grant-getters!

The latest round of ARC funding has been announced and we would like to congratulate those qaeco members who were successful in their applications:

Brendan Wintle & Pia Lentini received funding on their Discovery Project predicting the ecological and economic impacts of trade. They will be working alongside their CEBRA colleagues Mark Burgman & Tom Kompas, CSIRO scientist Dr. Brett Bryan, & Professor Joshua Lawler at the University of Washington, as well as a number of postdocs & PhD students. This project “aims to understand and predict the effects of global trade on land use and biodiversity. Growth in international trade increases trade-mediated land-use by increasing demand for commodities directly or indirectly derived from the land. Accurate predictions of trade effects and opportunities would allow governments to maximise ecological and economic benefits and minimise effects through judicious planning and regulation, but such analyses do not exist. This project expects to advance trade policy evaluation by improving and integrating computable global equilibrium models and land-use and ecological models to better characterise consequences of trade.”original_pink-and-teal-fun-printed-balloons

Reid Tingley was awarded a DECRA (Discovery Early Career Researcher Award) to conduct research into incorporating developmental plasticity into models of species distributions. His project “aims to develop a generalizable framework for predicting effects of environmental variability on organisms’ developmental strategies, using anuran tadpoles as a test case. This framework will reveal how environmental variability influences geographic variation in developmental strategies, and provide tools to account for that variation in mechanistic models of species distributions. These tools are expected to increase the capacity to predict extinction risk in changing environments, and be amenable to any taxon or environment, providing a solid foundation for understanding the evolution of life-history strategies in variable environments.”

Well done! And those that missed out this time – you’ll get ’em next round!
 

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Reading group: You made a G today, but you made it in a sleazy way

For this fortnight’s reading group we got together to discuss a recent paper in Conservation Letters by environmental ethicist, Michael Paul Nelson, and colleagues.

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Cecil the lion lemon shortbreads. Because themed baked goods are always a welcome reading group snack, regardless of your opinions on the morality of consequentialism.


Emotions and the Ethics of Consequence in Conservation Decisions: Lessons from Cecil the Lion
uses the controversy surrounding last year’s killing of a well-known lion in Zimbabwe to frame ways conservationists should think about the ethics of trophy hunting. Natasha Cadenhead picked the paper because a slew of academic articles have recently been published on the killing of Cecil (here, here, and here, for example) and because it covers an area that our group rarely works on, both research-wise and geographically.

Trophy hunting – the practice of hunting animals for recreation, rather than for sustenance, income or protection – is harnessed as a tool for conservation in some countries. It is an issue that causes heated debates in both the public sphere and within conservation circles. Below are some of the common arguments that we discussed both for and against using trophy hunting as a means of conservation:

Continue reading

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