Book review: The Theory of Ecological Communities by Mark Vellend

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Earlier this fall I read Mark Vellend’s The Theory of Ecological Communities. I read it on my own, and also read it in a reading group with several ecology grad students. Here’s my review.*

tl;dr: It’s a very good book that fills a real pedagogical need. Whether it will also shape the direction of future research in community ecology is an open question, I think. Below the fold you’ll find me engaging with the book, which I think and hope Mark will welcome.

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Recommendations of popular science books that scientists would enjoy? (UPDATEDx2)

I like to read about science and scientists. I like books that get me thinking about science and how to do it. But I find it difficult to identify popular science and history of science books that I will enjoy. The problem is that I’m a scientist. Many popular science books are too basic/slow-moving for me, too familiar, or else too wildly speculative.*

That’s where you come in. In the comments, please share your recommendations for your favorite popular science and history of science books. Specifically, ones that you think that scientists would especially enjoy.

To kick things off, here are some of my favorite popular science books, books that I think readers of this blog would really like as well. I also threw in a book you’d probably think I would’ve liked, but I didn’t.

(UPDATE #2: You have GOT to read the comments as well. Our commenters came through big time, as they always do. I love our commenters!)

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I’m going to be speaking on blogging at a fisheries meeting. Tell me what to say!

So, I’m going to be speaking in a symposium on social media at the American Fisheries Society meeting in August. I’m talking about blogging, obviously, but I deliberately kept my abstract pretty broad so that I could decide later what exactly to talk about. So, if you were attending this meeting–or if you are!–what would you like me to talk about? If you were in my shoes, what would you talk about? Here are a few scattered but hopefully interesting ideas I’ve had:

(attention conservation notice: short post ahead)

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What makes for a great departmental seminar series? And how do you fix one that’s not great?

Note from Jeremy: this is a guest post by Peter Adler.

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Is it important to have a well-attended, stimulating department seminar series? And if an existing seminar isn’t working well, can it be saved?

Here’s a totally, completely, absolutely hypothetical scenario: A large state university has a cross-campus ecology program with a great seminar series run by graduate students. That seminar series brings in a nationally-recognized speaker each month to give a pair of talks, accompanied by a reception, meetings with students, and organized discussions or workshops. The same university also has a College of Natural Resources (NR) that runs its own seminar series during the other three weeks of each month. The NR series isn’t so great: it does not have a big budget to bring in speakers from across the continent, the quality of the talks is inconsistent, and attendance by both faculty and graduate students is poor.

Should a hypothetical NR professor try to do anything to improve this seminar series?

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Using our posts as course material? Please tell us just so we know.

A request: if you’re using our posts as course material, please let us know in the comments (what post, what college or university, what course). Not because you need our permission (you don’t), but just for our information. It helps us make the case to our employers and funding agencies that our blogging is worthwhile. Thanks!

If you’ve let us know about this in the past, you don’t need to tell us again.

Can anyone help Jeremy specify an asymmetrical “distance” matrix for a partial redundancy analysis?

Trying something new for me: using the blog to get help with a technical issue.

Briefly, I did an microcosm metacommunity experiment in which inter-patch dispersal was experimentally controlled. So I know the rates at which species dispersed from any given patch (microcosm) to any other patch. Some of those rates were zero–not all pairs of patches were connected by dispersal. And dispersal was asymmetrical–the rate of dispersal from patch A to B wasn’t the same as the rate from B to A.

I’d like to code up up the dispersal rates in the form of a “distance” matrix. But the problem is, it wouldn’t be a metric distance matrix since it’d be asymmetrical. It’d just play the same role as a metric distance matrix in the analysis I have in mind. That analysis being a partial redundancy analysis, partitioning the variance in species abundances attributable to environmental variation from that attributable to “space” (here, dispersal). Basically, I want to do the same analysis as in Cottenie 2005 EcoLetts (and many subsequent papers by various authors), the difference being that the “distance” between any two of my patches isn’t determined by their geographic coordinates (since they don’t have any), it’s determined by the experimentally-imposed dispersal rates.

But I can’t figure out how to code up my asymmetrical “distance” matrix  in a form that works with the rda function in the vegan package in R. Note that I’m pretty sure partial redundancy analysis can be done with a non-metric distance matrix (right?), so I think my question here is just a matter of how to get R to do what I want it to do. But I’ve never done any sort of ordination besides PCA, and I only started reading up on redundancy analysis yesterday, and so maybe the problem is that I’m trying to do the impossible. Googling and searching Stack Overflow hasn’t helped, hence my resort to this post.

There’s a beer at the ESA* in it for you if you can help me out, whether in the comments or via email (jefox@ucalgary.ca). Thanks!

*Or equivalent reward