Culling animals “ethically”

kangaroos-1563624_1920In reading group earlier this month Linda Riquelme led a discussion on the issue of wildlife culling. This is something that relates to projects a few of us in the lab work on. For example, the management of endangered Buloke Woodlands in the Victorian Mallee, which involves an annual kangaroo cull at Wyperfeld National Park in north-western Victoria.

Not all wildlife management strategies involve culling, though it is used in many situations: kangaroo culls in eastern Australia to manage grazing, badger culls in the UK to control bovine tuberculosis, culling of exotic brushtail possums in New Zealand, the list goes on.

A paper published earlier this year by Dubois and colleagues proposed a list of seven stepwise “principles for ethical wildlife control”. These principles came about as a result of a 2-day workshop held in 2015 that brought together 20 international experts from academia, industry, and non-governmental organisations. The aim of the workshop was to develop a set of steps that managers could work through to determine whether it was possible to mitigate a problem by changing human behaviour, or if not, whether a problem was serious enough to warrant a cull.

These seven principles are: Continue reading

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Is there truly “no saturation in the accumulation of alien species worldwide”?

sea-water-port-industryIn reading group last week (May 11th) Hannah Fraser brought the group a paper reflecting a synergy between QAECO interests and her current role in the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis. This paper by Seebens et al. (2017) “No saturation in the accumulation of alien species worldwide” evaluates the trends in the introduction of alien species from 1800 to 2000. They have three hypotheses

  1. The rate at which taxa that are deliberately introduced (mammals, birds and vascular plants) should be declining
  2. The rate at which taxa are accidentally introduced should be increasing due to increases in trade
  3. The rates of alien species introductions should vary between countries depending on country’s history and biosecurity regulations

They show that, overall, the rate of introductions is increasing and that this increase is particularly stark for algae, fungi and invertebrates which are thought to be primarily introduced by accident. They note that the rate of mammal and fish introduction has declined in recent years, possibly consistent with their hypothesis that the rate of deliberate introductions is falling. Continue reading

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Life in corrupt science: when metrics become targets

Publish or perish’. The overused phrase describing career aspects in today’s academia. Whereas day-to-day work is rarely quite as grim, we all learn early on that our performance as scientists is very much measured by the number of publications, citations, and successful funding applications we produce.

Perverse_incentives

For our latest Reading Group meeting, Heini Kujala had selected a paper by Edwards and Roy (2017) on the importance of maintaining scientific integrity in the 21st century climate of perverse incentives and hyper-competition. It is a depressing but engaging read addressing the current metrics-based evaluation of scientists, which, coupled with an increasing number of academics and stagnant funding budgets, has created a perverse incentive system that is pushing academia to the ‘normalisation of corruption’. Continue reading

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Wanting to learn Species Distribution Modelling? Consider enrolling in our online subject!

Are you interested in modelling? Are you a graduate student, and your project involves studying species distributions? Or maybe you are a research professional or a manager wanting to expand your quantitative skills?

Species distribution modelling is one of the most highly cited areas of ecological research. And it is not just about research; species distribution models are also very useful for supporting a wide range of environmental decisions. So why not learn more about them?

We are pleased to announce that at the University of Melbourne we are running a graduate subject on Species Distribution Modelling, delivered entirely online. The subject runs this year from 24 July to 22 October, and it is offered to externals (with a cost) through the university’s Community Access Program (CAP). Through this program, you may choose to study in either assessed or non-assessed mode.

The subject covers species distribution modelling from two different angles, ecophysiological models and correlative models (GLMs, Maxent, BRTs…), and consists of video lectures and guided computer practicals in R. The content emphasises an understanding of the problem, the data, and the model, and provides practical skills in fitting the models. The subject team includes Mike Kearney and Jane Elith, two internationally recognised experts in the field!

Tempted? Get in touch if you are; we will be happy to answer your queries. Please email José, the subject coordinator (jlahoz@unimelb.edu.au).

For information about the subject and the CAP program see:
https://handbook.unimelb.edu.au/view/2017/EVSC90026
http://students.unimelb.edu.au/achieve/community-access-program
https://futurestudents.unimelb.edu.au/admissions/fees/CAP

Please spread the word through your networks!! Thanks!

The SDM subject team :-)
Mike, Jane, Guru and José

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Enquiries about the application process should be directed to ask.unimelb.edu.au or the 13MELB phone line.

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Reading group: An Italian wolf in Switzerland

wolfIn reading group this fortnight (March 16th) we talked about the social acceptability of Italian wolves in Switzerland based on a recent article available online at Journal of Applied Ecology: Behr, D.M., Ozgul, A. & Cozzi, G. (2017). Combining human acceptance and habitat suitability in a unified socio-ecological suitability model: a case study of the wolf in Switzerland.

I (David Duncan) chose this paper because many QAEco folk have more than a passing interest in models that explain and/or predict the current or potential distribution of species, and their application for the conservation of biodiversity.  Fortunately, the article was well written and in general clearly explained so it was not an onerous read.

I was struck by the strong opening gambit – i) that a Habitat Suitability Model (HSM) without sociological data on human acceptance toward the focal species is deficient; ii) that such HSM misrepresent observed processes (I think this is a reference to colonisation); and iii) that such HSM lead to inappropriate management – and I wanted to hear what people thought about the article.

Continue reading

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Qaeco’s favourite papers of 2016

A little late off the mark this time around, we asked people in the lab to nominate a paper they had enjoyed in 2016. This year, we based one of our fortnightly reading groups on this topic and everyone gave a short summary of their paper. We had an interesting mix of papers closely related to people’s research, papers on how better to do that research, and papers inspired by other aspects of life that engaged our attention in 2016 (*cough* the US election *cough*). We hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

Arianna Scarpellini
Bliss-Ketchum, L. L., de Rivera, C. E., Turner, B. C., & Weisbaum, D. M. (2016) The effect of artificial light on wildlife use of a passage structure. Biological Conservation199, 25-28.

raccoon_shortI chose this paper because it is relevant to my Master’s degree project and also because to my knowledge it is the first paper that presents an experimental study about the impacts of artificial lights on mammals’ use of crossing structures. Lights with different intensities were set up at different sections of an existing crossing structure. Their results showed that artificial lights reduced the use of the crossing structures for some species such as black-tailed deer and opossums but not for others, such as raccoons, as they’re probably more adapted to urban landscapes. I would have liked a more thorough and clear description of the study site (e.g. presence of wildlife fences?) and a more clear discussion about the results connected to their second hypothesis presented at the end of the introduction.

Continue reading

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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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