Ask us anything, and we’ll answer! (UPDATE: this post is now closed)

Time for our annual summer doldrums tradition: ask us anything! Have a question for Meghan*, Brian, and I about ecology, academia, or anything else we blog about? Ask away in the comments, or tweet to @DynamicEcology! We’ll compile the questions and answer them in future posts.

Note that we won’t answer homework questions. And if it’s a question we’ve addressed in an old post, we might answer by just linking to the old post.

Submit as many questions as you like. You have one week to submit questions.

*In the past, Meghan hasn’t answered many AUAs, so this year she promises to make up for it by dancing her answers and posting the videos.**

**Yes, really.***

***No, not really. But now that I’ve suggested it, maybe we can talk her into it. Here’s some inspiration Meghan!

UPDATE: This AUA is now closed. Thank you to everyone who submitted questions; we will answer in future posts.

33 thoughts on “Ask us anything, and we’ll answer! (UPDATE: this post is now closed)

  1. Nice!

    Question 1: Considering that an ever growing part of ecological studies currenly use GLM, AIC, mixed models and other “advanced” stats; but that teaching often still focuses on summary statistics, t-test, chi-square and ANOVA; how can we bridge this gap, thinking of grad and undergrad courses? Adding more courses probably isn’t an option. So should we switch from classical stats to more recent ones, or should we present everything in a quicker way, or keep things as they are and let students learn for themselves?

    Question 2: Do you think biologists and ecologists should have courses on computer programming (notions of algorithms, and learning some programming language)*?

    *I’ve been teaching a grad course on Monte Carlo stats and programming in R, for ecologists. I think it’s been giving good results, and it’s nice when someone tells me that s/he learned to create loops in my course. But i’m probably biased.

  2. The main question I have in mind nowadays is regard motivation in Academia. What’s the principal motivation for people do another new research, paper, blog a post, and so on. We live in a society of copiers? ( What our thinking’s change in the world as a whole? Mostly of our innovations are limited to the academics and there are a lot of new research and researchers that need to give up in the way (concerns as depression in academia, deficits of hiring around the world, very limited resources to do the research and a crowd of persons being graduated). I guess our motivations are not money, status, and competitive superiority. So, what are the real felling that affect us and make us to move on?

    Thanks Jeremy, Meghan, Brian and all the collaborators of this blog.

  3. Thanks for this wonderful idea!

    I would like to know about the experiences from ecologists changed -dramatically- their study area or study system (personal, academic reasons), for example a movement from a job in a tropical forest to the Artic! How is the process of academic adaptation? How do they become familiar with the new species, the characteristics of the new system?

    Best to all the team!

  4. Let’s say that you had to pick a canonical ecological study/pattern and replicate it (obviously empirical results only). If it replicates, you win. If not, you are killed and fed to ravenous graduate students at a department event. What is the least trivial/most profound study you are willing to attempt to replicate (i.e. which do you have most confidence in being legit, but is not used in first year ecology labs)? For extra points give answers for different systems (Aquatic/Marine Plants, Aquatic/Marine Animals, Terrestrial Plants, Terrestrial Animals).

    • Well, if death is on the line I’m only picking something trivial like “there is at least one living organism somewhere on the planet”. Or maybe something that’s already been replicated a bunch, if I’m feeling brave (e.g., “larger areas typically contain more species than smaller areas”). So we might have to reframe this question slightly if you want a non-boring answer…

      • Wow, those are the LEAST trivial you’d be willing to stand behind? Ecology is either in a bad, bad way, or you are extremely risk averse. 🙂 . Let’s add another condition. You’ll also lose if your answer is judged to be too trivial (i.e. something that somebody who is not an ecologist could easily come up with.)

      • Dude, the stakes aren’t “stand behind” The stakes are “lose and you die, win and you…don’t die”! With those stakes, the only rational bet to make is the least risky bet available. If you want us to go out on a limb, there needs to be some sort of reward if the limb doesn’t break, and/or less penalty if it does. How about “lose and one of your pinkies gets cut off, win and you get an NSF grant”? 🙂

        Also, if you think lots of non-ecologists could “easily” come up with “the species-area curve” as an example of an extremely well-established ecological pattern, the non-ecologists you know must be a *very* non-random sample of all non-ecologists. 🙂

        Silly framing aside, I take it what you’re really asking is “in what not already-well-established ecological pattern are you most confident, and are you really confident in it in an absolute sense?” Which is an interesting question I’m happy to answer without putting my life at risk. 🙂

  5. I wonder a bit, why only Meghan should dance her answers, though. I’m a strong supporter of expressive dancing and would admittedly be rather curious on Jeremy’s and Brian’s performances as well 😛

  6. What do you think the concepts ecologists’ now talk about’ will still be part of the discipline in 50 yrs? broaden concepts to include methods , key questions, approaches to theory making.

  7. Do you think that sparial autocorrelation plays a major role on succession sensu Cristensen (2014)*? In simple terms, do we have any strong data clearly supporting that “what appears in the early succesion stages is a consequence of what is around it”? Can you indicate any major studies providing information on this?
    There are many studies indirectly referring to this (eg Meinners & al 2015*: “….propagule supply quantifies specias availability to a location ….”) but I could not find any direct references

    *succession: the process of vegetation change, Cristensen NL (2014):

    * Meiners SJ & al (2015):

    • I’m not an expert on this, and I’m not going to be able to search for relevant papers any better than you or anyone else could.

      My first instinct is that it’s hard to see how spatial autocorrelation could possibly *not* matter. Most dispersing propagules don’t go far (there are tons of papers showing that). So of course the propagules that arrive at some early-succession site are mostly going to come from nearby locations.

      • Thank you for the comment. As you say there are tons of papers indicating the significance of the propagule bank but apparently there seems to be no direct reference to sparial autocorrelation …no actual measurments. Occasionally succession is linked to all kinds of not-so-common phenomena from erosion to wind dispersal and zoochory but the apparent(?) which derives from Tobler’s* 1st Law of Geography (!!) is considered trivial and …keeps being ignored.
        I have a request to assess the status of recovery in a construction site and my repy is that if vegetation data there are spatially correlated to vegetation data next to the construction site then we can accept that recovery is taking place as anticipated. I can think of no other practical yet scientifically appropriate way to assess recovery.

        *Tobler’s 1st Law of Geography

  8. In about 10 years of ecology fieldwork, my friends and I have experienced or personally seen stitches, broken bones and dislocations, chemical exposure (to the face!), back injuries, hypothermia, heat exhaustion/dehydration, encounters with drug traffickers, hostile landowners (well beyond ‘get off my yard’), and multiple near-drownings. We even have scholarships in honor of students who have died during fieldwork. I know many of us work outside and accidents happen, but many of the above accidents were preventable. These stories come from 4 different universities, 3 established field stations, and many dispersed field sites, some in remote/wilderness areas, so I suspect this is not a localized issue. Aside from students working for federal agencies, no grad student I know of has had any more risk management or safety training than maybe a basic (not even wilderness) first aid course and a recommendation to ‘use common sense.’ So my question is why do we apparently take lab safety more seriously than field safety, when one often poses much greater risks? What does it take to improve safety during fieldwork, on both a personal AND institutional level?

  9. Collaboration Agreements. Whilst there are many examples of legalese-dense CAs for high level, institution – corporate collaborations, that are aimed at protecting exploitable intellectual property, readily available, does the DE team and contributors have advice for the formality / or otherwise one should expect / require in broaching collaborations for ecology research. I’d like to hear not only on within U.S. academia collaborations, but also internationally, with ngos, independent scholars and the like, to the extent that there is information available. Thanks.

  10. Sorry I am late: for undergraduate researchers, what is enough of a contribution to merit co-authorship versus acknowledgements? I think some cases are clear-cut, e.g. REU students get first or co-authorships. But what about positions where the student was doing an easily-replaceable job that did not require much individual interpretation, like following strict protocols outlined by supervisors to collect data? I remember as an UG watching behavior videos and collecting data from them as directed; there were many of us doing the same job, and we all ended up in the Acknowledgements. Now I am supervising a similar team of undergrads. However, if I (a PhD student) were to do similar activity for a project I would probably be a co-author, maybe because I was designing protocols, because I would contribute to interpreting the results, or seemingly just because my time is “worth more” (not that I agree with that position, it just seems I end up on more papers with smaller input as I advance in my career). I value the contributions of undergrads, but I also don’t want to give someone a co-authorship if they put in bare-minimum effort for one semester. Thoughts?

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