A while back we invited you to ask us anything. Here are our answers to our next two questions, from “lb”:
- How do you make a good journal club for people working on different topics, ranging from social insects to plants?
- What’s one question or idea you’ve always wanted to investigate but haven’t?
- I suggest not reading technical papers about the topics the group members are working on. Instead read papers and blog posts about cross-cutting topics in which all group members are interested. The “replication crisis”, for instance, or how to write an “elevator pitch“. Or read the Origin of Species. And some of Meghan’s ideas for what to do at lab meetings (besides read papers) would work.
- I’ve long wanted to do something on modern coexistence theory. I think it’s a tremendously important complex of ideas that’s now ripe for empirical application. Maybe I will do something on this soon!
- I agree with Jeremy’s basic approach – reading a technical paper on pollination one week and salamander reproduction the next won’t work in the long run as a journal club. But I would add to Jeremy’s suggestions you can read science papers, just read really big idea science papers. EG papers that are in Science and Nature are already pre-selected to have broad appeal as are papers in TREE. My department over the last 5 years has successfully created an ecolunch out of nothing. Our basic formula is you either have to talk about your own work in which case be as technical as you want or if you’re going to pick a paper, pick a really broad topic (about half are skills based like Jeremy suggests and about half are big idea and/or controversial science topics). People seem to feel both of these are worth while.
- I’ve always wanted to apply evolutionary game theory to community ecology. And I have published a more typical evolutionary ecology paper using game theory (on evolution of mutualisms) and I even have a review paper on evolutionary game theory. And I have a couple of papers where I talk about how community assembly is a strongly frequency dependent problem. But I’ve never put it all together. Conversely, I have spent almost my whole career studying how climate change impacts species ranges but never really published a paper on that topic (I’m close though). I call this my big research question that is so big it won’t get solved in my life time. But I have fun puttering away at it.
I’m skipping the first one because I don’t have much to add to the above. My answer to the second question isn’t something that I haven’t worked on at all, but it’s something that I didn’t work on for many, many years and that we’re still really just kind of starting on: virulence evolution. I love virulence evolution theory and the potential to work on this is part of why I started working on parasites. But, in studies I did as a grad student, I ended up not being able to find any quantifiable variation in virulence in the parasite I was working on. (Even ~14 years later, we still haven’t found much variation in that parasite.) And you can’t look at evolution if there’s no variation in the first place! The ability to work on questions related to virulence evolution is part of why my lab members and I have invested quite a bit of time over the years in setting up additional parasites in the lab.