The Daphnia genus is really old. That’s really interesting for studying infectious diseases.

Preface: This post is a bit different than a typical post for me (or any of us here at DE!) It relates to an interesting bit of Daphnia biology that I find myself relating a lot when I talk to people more generally about my research. People seem to find it surprising and interesting, so I decided to write a post on it in the hopes that others find it interesting, too.


If I put a bunch of different Daphnia on a microscope in front of you, you’d probably think they all look pretty much the same.* As an example, when keying out the species I’ve done the most work on, Daphnia dentifera**, using the excellent online Haney et al. key, these are two of the first traits you need to focus on:



Those aren’t exactly traits that are overwhelmingly obvious, are they?

I think it is because of their morphological similarity that it is then very surprising to most people when they learn just how old the genus Daphnia is. It’s really old.

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Dear journals: please list some keywords for your editors

When submitting a paper to a journal, you ordinarily want to suggest one or two editors who would be well-qualified to handle the paper. Many journals require you to do this. This makes it much easier for the EiC to assign your paper to the most appropriate editor.

Journals can help authors do this by listing some keywords for their editors. Or even better, organizing the editors into broad subject areas. For instance, here’s BMC Ecology’s nicely-categorized list of editors. This is SO helpful! As someone who does not have a mental Rolodex of every single ecologist and evolutionary biologist in the world, I cannot always just glance at an alphabetical list of approximately eleventy-thousand editors and instantly recognize an appropriate name. I mean, yes, I always do know the names of some people whom I think would be good candidates to handle my paper. But in the fairly-likely event that none of those people happen to be on your board, I need a fallback. And it is not feasible to google all eleventy-thousand editors, or to click links to eleventy-thousand personal websites.

Less commonly, there’s such a thing as too much information. I’m looking at you, Journal of Ecology. Your editorial board is excellent. But the only reason the online list of editors exists is so authors can quickly skim it to identify promising candidates to handle their papers. So I’m sorry, but a whole paragraph on every editor’s research is too much information to easily skim. Well, except for the various J Ecol editors for whom there’s no information at all…

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t a big deal. But it’s not a big deal to fix either. So Brian, remember when you asked what you can do as EiC to encourage authors to submit to your journal? Here’s a suggestion: add some keywords to your list of editors.🙂

Fun ways of deciding authorship order

Last spring, I did a poll related to authorship order in ecology. I’ve written up a couple of posts presenting the results of that poll (part 1, part 2), and plan on writing more. But, for now, I want to focus on some . . . less standard ways of deciding authorship for ecology and evolutionary biology papers.*

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Has any popular approach for inferring process from pattern in ecology ever worked?

Ecologists, especially community ecologists, are always looking for ways to infer process from pattern, cause from effect. Ideally, they’d like some way to do this that:

  • Is based on previously-collected or easily-obtained observational data
  • Is “off the shelf”, meaning that it can be implemented in a routine, “crank the handle” way, without the need for much customization or even thought from the user.
  • Can be used in any system

Examples of previously- or currently-prominent ways to infer process from pattern in ecology include:

  • randomization of species x site matrices to infer interspecific competition
  • plotting coexisting species onto a phylogeny to infer contemporary coexistence mechanisms
  • plotting local vs. regional species richness to infer whether local communities are closed to invasion, or whether local species richness and composition is just a random draw from the regional “species pool”
  • using the shape of the species-abundance distribution to infer whether communities have neutral dynamics
  • using ordination to infer the process dominating metacommunity dynamics
  • the use of power law distributions of movement lengths to infer whether foraging animals follow Levy walks
  • using body size ratios of co-occurring species to test for limiting similarity
  • attractor reconstruction and convergent cross-mapping

The above approaches to inferring process from pattern all have something in common: none of them work, either in theory or practice. Which leads to the my question:

Has any widely applicable “off the shelf” method to infer process from pattern in ecology ever worked? Can anyone name one?

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Friday links: quit saying all scientists should do X, climate change comic, and more

Also this week: new RSC Fellows, preregistration contest, “sorry for the slow reply”, how to run a class discussion, Andrew Hendry vs. Andrew Hendry, Dave Tilman vs. macroeconomics (apparently), and more. Also: highlights from our recent comment threads, which are much better than whatever you’re reading instead.

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Ask us anything: investing in your scientific beliefs, and applied papers as corporate prospectuses

A while back, we invited you to ask us anything. Here are our answers to the next two questions, from Kevin Chase. Questions are paraphrased for brevity, click the link to see the originals.

Would you invest real world money on your published scientific predictions?

Do you think if we wrote more manuscripts like a company prospectus (outlining management focus, failures and successes over the past year or couple of years and foreseeable risks) we would be able to get stakeholders and policy makers to feel more confident about investing money into the conservation programs we so highly recommend?

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The loneliness of the career microcosmologist

My first paper was from my undergraduate honors thesis; it was a protist microcosm experiment (Fox and Smith 1997). Almost 20 years later, protist microcosms are still my main study system, because they remain the system best suited for answering the questions I want to ask.

Which as best I can tell makes me almost the longest-tenured “microcosmologist” in the history of ecology, and one of a very few to spend my entire career using microcosms as my main study system.

Which is a bit surprising. After all, protist microcosms have some features that you’d think would make them broadly attractive to a lot of people. They’re cheap and easy to learn, set up, and run. You can get long-term data (hundreds of generations) in a single summer. Etc. And a decent number of people have dabbled in them. So why don’t more people make a career out of them?  More broadly, what makes for a “fruitful” study system in which lots of people will spend their entire careers?

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What’s the origin of the term “field work”?

In a rare foray onto Twitter the other day, I made a silly joke about “the field”, as if there was literally just one field where ecologists collect data:

Which prompted Meg to note that the place she does her field work isn’t a field at all (or if it is, it’s always flooded):

Which got me wondering: what is the origin of the term “field work”? How did a term that originally meant (roughly) “farm labor” come to mean “practical research conducted in any natural environment, as opposed to a lab or office”:

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Poll: have you ever cited a blog post during peer review?

Via Twitter, Diogo Provete noted that he’s cited our blog posts at least three times during peer review. Thanks Diogo! I’ve cited some of Brian’s posts on statistical machismo and model selection in a peer review. Which got me wondering: is citing blog posts in peer review becoming a Thing? To collect some anecdata, here’s a little poll. Looking forward to your responses!