Our brains naturally compartmentalise things. Germans call this ‘Schubladendenken’ which translates as ‘drawer thinking’. We have drawers for different species, different people and different scientific disciplines. This may help us understand separate drawers and their differences, but it can also mean we lose the whole picture of how the drawers are connected and are being influenced by one another and other drivers.
By Tom Bradfer-Lawrence @_EcologyTom
The heat haze is intense. Not only is the sun burning in the sky, but an incessant desert wind is blowing straight out of the Gobi. And, if the sun and wind weren’t already enough, the radiator in our aged minibus is packing up. The only way to avoid the engine overheating is to have the fans on at full blast. Even then, every few miles we have to turn the van into the wind and open all of the doors in an attempt to reduce the engine temperature from incandescent to merely roasting. There isn’t a sign of another human. Every five minutes or so we pull up next to a barrel on top of a pole and I look inside. Between the heat, the emptiness, and the repetitive task, I feel like I’ve entered another world. Read More
In 1984 Jarod Diamond synthesised the threats facing biodiversity and famously came up with his “four horsemen of the ecological apocalypse” – 1. Over-exploitation, 2. Introduced species, 3. Habitat destruction and 4. Chains of linked extinctions – with the recent addition of a fifth, 5. Climate change. While these threats are not independent of each other, it can be useful to identify which are the most urgent in order to prioritise conservation actions.
At October’s Conservation Conversation here at Stirling I asked researchers, “What is the top threat to biodiversity?” Most attending the discussion said “habitat loss” or “habitat degradation”. I was surprised that not one person said “climate change”. I grew up in the 1990s as an environmentally aware kid and was inundated with campaigns from my favourite NGOs about the imminent threats of deforestation and large-scale land-use change across the world. However it appears the environmental agenda has moved on, and in the 2010s talk of deforestation and land-use change has been replaced with climate change. Clive Hambler, in a provocative article for ECOS in 2013, argues, “… some NGOs have lost perspective and now obsess with preventing climate changes…” In anticipation of the COP21 climate talks in Paris this November, I set out to understand this a bit more and explore the relationship between habitat loss and climate change as threats to biodiversity.
By Tom Mason.
I have recently returned from a conference in the foothills of the Austrian Alps where one presentation in particular resonated with me. It concerned the fate of the Bargy population of Alpine ibex living in the Haute-Savoie region of the France. In this population there is a high prevalence of brucellosis; a bacteria-borne disease which – unfortunately for ibex – can be transmitted to humans and livestock. The Haute-Savoie region is famed for its production of the cheese Reblochon, which contributes substantially to the area’s economy. Reblochon is a raw-milk cheese central to dishes such as fondue and tartiflette, but here it is the final ingredient in the recipe for conflict between conservation and human livelihoods (apologies, that was incredibly cheesy). Read More
These last two weeks I have been lucky enough to be at two workshops that could not have been more different. One was surrounded by the high mountains of the French and Swiss Alps and the other one close to the flat muds of the Wadden Sea at the Danish-German border. Both landscapes are equally inspiring and I was massively looking forward to broadening my horizon and being inspired by two workshops in such great settings.
You might think that having the ability to fly makes bats highly mobile animals, but this is not necessarily the case. The shape of their wings is often a telling feature on this matter: species with long narrow wings are usually well adapted to fly fast across open spaces (like Noctule bats); other species with shorter and wider wings are not that well designed for fast flight over long distances, but rather for good maneuverability (like Brown long-eared bats), which comes in very handy when getting hold of your dinner depends on your ability to glean invertebrates off the vegetation in a cluttered woodland or even catch them while they fly. Roosting preferences are important too, and while some species are quite fussy about their requirements and only roost in trees, others have adapted to life in the city and quite happily use human-made structures (e.g. houses and bridges) as their homes. These differences in wing morphology, feeding and roosting ecology are linked to how species perceive their landscape and how sensitive they are to changes in their environments.
The British Ecological Society has a special interest Tropical Ecology Group (BES-TEG), there for all us “tropicologists” to get together, whether it’s via social media or through the annual BES-TEG meeting for early career researchers. This annual meeting is generally organised by PhD students and hosted at their university. A fellow PhD student – Rebekah Mayhew – and I organised this year’s BES-TEG meeting at the University of Stirling, 3-4th September 2015. Read More
Remember Attenborough’s soothing voice on a Sunday night? For many watching nature on TV at an early age kick-started a passion for wildlife and future careers in the fields of conservation and biology. In June’s Conservation Conversation we discussed nature documentaries and science: what we think is good about them now in terms of science communication, and where we think they could go in the future to contribute more. Nature documentaries and their presenters have a huge following; tapping into that following would be invaluable for communicating science to a broad spectrum of people. Read More
We all know that access to sufficient clean water is vital for sustaining life. For us humans, the ideal scenario is that everyone can go to a tap in their house, turn it on, and an endless supply of clean water pours out. But currently more than 700 million people worldwide do not have ready access to an improved water source, and instead rely on other water sources including lakes, streams, and unprotected hand dug wells. While access to piped water is on the highest rung of the “water ladder”, these other sources are of more variable quality. I’ve recently been working on a project which looks at the role that shallow hand dug wells play in water supply in urban settlements in western Kenya.
Whether you’re delighted or horrified by the UK general election result, the new government represents the collective will of everyone who put a cross on a piece of paper on May 7th. Apart from voting at elections and sending the odd campaign letter to my local MP I do little to involve myself with how government makes decisions. In fact I didn’t know there was much more I could do. Turns out, the government wants to know what we think, they even take time to ask us through policy consultations. Read More
I’m sitting down to write this shortly after the UK General Election result, which has surprised many. Your surprise may be positive or negative but if you’re Nick Clegg you may well be pondering if your five years of cooperation with David Cameron’s Conservatives turned out so well after all. I don’t think the electorate thought so.
Come and join us during the next 2 days for an exciting programme of PhD student talks and invited speakers from the Universities of Durham, Glasgow, Newcastle, St Andrews and Stirling, together with the British Geological Survey and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology,
IAPETUS Doctoral Training Partnership Conference & Workshop
Stirling Court Hotel
20th to 21st April 2015
Download the IAPETUS conference programme