Category Archives: University

Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate pact

Trump retweets support for his insanity

Fascinated to learn today that US leaders think American companies and American workers don’t live on the same planet as the rest of us – they can’t do if they are “hurt” by the prevention of its destruction, can they? My brother’s favourite alien conspiracy theories are sounding more plausible by the second!

Of course if you subscribe to the Global Warming is a Chinese Conspiracy conspiracy it all makes sense.

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive - Donald Trump, November 2012

TDWG 2016

I had the privilege of being sent to the Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) group annual conference a few weeks ago, in December 2016, held in Costa Rica. The event was hosted by what must be the most friendly and kind group of people in the country (either that or all Costa Ricans are incredibly kind), at the Tecnologico de Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica was as amazing as when I last visited, although La Fortuna (nearby which the conference was held) was extremely rainy. I’m talking pretty much constant rain; the whole week we were there I think I saw the sun perhaps twice? The conference included a really cool field trip into the rainforest, where my colleague and I got absolutely soaked (no surprise there!) but we did see an awesome tarantula in its hole and a beautiful waterfall.

The conference itself was one of the best experiences I’ve had of conservation biology since I completed my CB course at the Fitzpatrick Institute. Everyone I met was intelligent, knowledgeable, turned on, engaged and curious about the field.  It felt like a very meaningful conference: biodiversity data might not be the sexiest subject ever (and “Biodiversity Information Standards” sounds downright boring), but it’s absolutely crucial for solving our modern environmental problems and that’s something which was at the forefront of everyone’s minds.  Continue reading

Three months of adventure, penguins, tinned food and no showers on the incredible Nightingale Island

Late last year I had the privilege of collecting field data for my Conservation Biology MSc thesis on Nightingale Island. I kind of shot myself in the foot a bit with that because it meant I had 3 months less time to write up than all of my classmates. I have little to no experience writing up scientific papers, and although I have good writing skills in general I’ve learned that scientific writing is a peculiar beast which requires weeks of sweat, blood and tears (oh, so many tears!) to wrestle into submission for those who have not encountered it before. I’ve had to get an extension for my write-up – I am very lucky that my supervisors are so kind, supportive and helpful – but living on Nightingale and working with the penguins was worth all of the trouble a thousand times over.

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Marine Biology : Criteria to Define Extinction Risk in Marine Fishes by J. A. Musick in 1999

The marine module we’re doing at the moment in the CB class is one of the most stimulating and well taught modules we’ve had yet. Our lecturer set us up by getting us thinking about the differences between marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and we’re currently looking at how inappropriate it is to use IUCN red listed criteria to work out conservation priorities for marine fish. This is a summary of the paper written by Musick in 1999 on Criteria to Define Extinction Risk in Marine Fishes.

  • The World Conservation Union (IUCN) = Species extinction = vulnerable  (20% decline in 10 years or 3 generations or whichever is longer), endangered (50%), critically endangered (80%)
  • U.S. Endangered Species Act = Distinct Population Segment (DPS) or Evolutionarily significant Unit (ESU) = a population or a group of populations that (1) is substantially reproductively isolated from other conspecific units and (2) represents an important component in the evolutionary legacy of the species.
  • 1996: IUCN workshop to find new criteria to assess extinction risk, based on: A. population reduction; B. small distribution and decline; C. small population size and decline; D. very small or restricted population size; E. quantitative population analysis (Population Viability Analysis or other), most fish falling under A
  • BUT, a 50% reduction usually leads to maximum sustainable yield (MSY) in many fisheries, and most fishery management plans call for an 80% reduction in biomass in order to maximise yield
  • Critical questions: How much decline can happen ‘sustainably’ (i.e., with uncertain/difficult recovery)? What is the minimum viable population size and how do we work this out (biological reference points)?
  • Problems: lack of knowledge about critical minimum population size and depensation is the most vexing problem in assessing extinction risk in marine fishes, then assessing uncertainty (variability) in estimating vital rates and other population parameters is the second most vexing problem.
  • late-maturing, long-lived animals have low intrinsic rates of increase => low resilience to extraordinary mortality
  • Fishery maintenance based on compensation: higher rates of population growth at lower abundance because of reduced intraspecific competition. But there is also Depensation, Allee effect, i.e., rate of recovery is slower for things that are more greatly reduced.

American Fisheries Society will use the following criteria to evaluate the risk of extinction among marine fishes taking into account the context of the biology of the DPS under consideration: Rarity, Specialization in Habitat Requirements,
Endemicity or Small Range, and Population Decline (which is evaluated according to the productivity or resilience of the Distinct Population Segment). Productivity is worked out by taking into account 1) the intrinsic rate of increase, r, (expressed as an instantaneous or annual percentage); the von Bertalanffy growth coefficient, k; fecundity, (Fec); age at maturity, (Tmat); and maximum age(Tmax).

Note that reef fish need a different approach altogether (Marine Protected Areas / no-take zones)

Google scholar & citation history search engines

Oh my god. You know at school, when you read stuff in a textbook and just accept it as gospel? That’s what I was doing with all the academic papers I’d been given to read at university. BUT! I’ve recently discovered it’s possible to see what other people have said about them and how they’ve used their work, and on PLOS it’s even possible to see short comments on different papers. I’m a total citation history addict now, it feels like the newly discovered universe of academic learning has just opened up further and is even more vast and fascinating than I first imagined! Woo!