Part of the post-2020 GBF includes explicit targets for what we hope to achieve in the next decade. Devising these targets is an arduous process, where every word is chosen carefully after hours of negotiation. Using the word ‘and’ instead of ‘or’ could cost millions of dollars in government budgets. Even worse, the wrong word could potentially lead to the permanent extinction of species that have been around for millions of years.
It makes sense that at least one of the targets for the post-2020 GBF should focus on ecosystems. After all, no plant or animal can exist in isolation. Now, while I won’t be so brash to propose my own ecosystem targets, I would like to point out three pitfalls that should be avoided once government negotiators come together at the next COP meeting.
The most recent Living Planet Report was released last year, which showed that vertebrate populations around the world have declined by 68% on average. At the time, Brian McGill wrote a post at Dynamic Ecology expressing his scepticism over these large declines. His doubts stemmed from severalrelatedpapers, which all showed that vertebrate populations tended to be quite stable on average. While some populations have declined, most have remained stable and others have actually increased.
My understanding of Brian’s message (and the messages of the publishedpapers supporting him) was that while humans do affect vertebrate populations, these effects are not consistently negative. Instead, some species benefit from human actions, so human’s ultimate legacy will be rearranging relative population structure, rather than causing wholesale declines.
While I agree with this interpretation, I worry that it is causing unwarranted mistrust of the Living Planet Index. I was reminded of this last week by a passing comment by Mark Vellend:
“If biodiversity seems intractable, then just think about recent discussions of the Living Planet Index, which is based on pretty simple underlying data.”
I don’t believe the Living Planet Index exaggerates population declines. However, I also recognise that populations are stable on average. This probably seems contradictory, so I’ll use the rest of this post to explain why it isn’t.
Aspiring scientists quickly learn that where they publish their hard earned data is important for career progression. A paper in a prestigious journal pushes them up the professional ladder faster than the same paper in an obscure one.
This has led to an obsession with quantifying the prestige of a journal using impact metrics. Over at Conservation Bytes, Corey Bradshaw presents a RShiny App to rank ecology and conservation journals using a composite of different citation metrics. His app is based on a published paper, so you can be sure that it technically sound. It is not my intention to criticise these efforts; if you want to rank jounals, then this composite approach is definitely the way to go.
However, I don’t think there is much to gain from ranking journals based on their impact metrics. Moreover, scientists – especially early-career scientists – would be better off judging journals based on whether is will ensure that their paper reaches the right audience.
I originally started writing this post two years ago, back when Donald Trump had just been elected as President of the USA. I didn’t finished writing it then because I assumed that the topic was just a passing fad, something none of us actually took seriously. Fast-forward to today, the US government has been shut down for more than three weeks as Trump tries to hold the country hostage over his border wall with Mexico. I suppose now is a as good a time to finally publish this post, even though a paper was published on the topic in BioScience last year.
As one of the most absurd campaign promises in recent history, Donald Trump’s commitment to building a wall between the United State and Mexico has attracted many critics. Many scoffed at his claims that such a structure will keep out the make-believe mob of bad hombres chomping at the bit to sell drugs to innocent Americans. Others giggled at Trump’s conviction that those very same bad hombres would pay for his trademark erection.
Multidisciplinary knowledge focuses on traditional academic disciplines, like ecology, law, economics, governance, ethics and sociology. It emphasises T-shaped knowledge, where a deep understanding of a narrower sub-discipline (the vertical line of the T) is married to a more general appreciation of a wider range of topics (the horizontal line of the T).
Practical skills refer to the ability to actually get things done. This includes skills like effective communication, risk assessment, conflict resolution or project management.
Finally, personal aptitudes are those – often intangible – personality traits that make people good to work with. These aptitudes include things like patience, humility, trustworthiness, leadership, punctuality, reliability etc. Continue reading →
The world is facing a wave of populism and hyperbole, where honest discourse is less important than winning. In this post-truth world, the end justifies the means. If biodiversity conservation is a mission-driven discipline aimed at stopping the loss of species and ecosystems, should it also embrace questionable tactics?
The easiest way for an aspiring naturalist to explore wildlife is by stepping out into their own backyard. Try it yourself. As I write this, I can look through my window at a Karoo Thrush hopping about my garden. But this post is not about the tiny garden surrounding my current apartment, but rather about my childhood home. I was tremendously fortunate to grow up on a 60 hectare farm, where first discovered my love for nature.
Between wrapping up my PhD and starting my current lecturing position, I spent a few months of unemployment back in the house I grew up in. During that time, I discovered the thrill of recording unobtrusive nocturnal critters using a camera trap. Every afternoon, I set up the camera trap and eagerly explored the footage the following morning. It was so much fun.
After enough time, even I was amazed by the variety of species that lived on this relatively small farm. Perhaps, I should rephrase that last sentence. You see, calling it a farm is not accurate because it hasn’t been used for agricultural in more than ten years. The last cows were removed back in 2004 and since then the land was left dormant and only managed to minimise the risk of wild fire.
Still, I captured footage of 18 different mammal species, which is remarkably high for such a small area. Moreover, the camera trap is unlikely to capture any footage of bats and small rodents, so the total mammal diversity is probably even higher. I decided to write up these observations and the results have just been published online in the African Journal of Ecology. Continue reading →
Over the weekend, Joern Fischer wrote a criticism of transdisciplinary research. I was very eager to read it because it is something I have been wondering about over the last few months too. I began commenting on his blog, but, as my comment grew longer, I thought it is perhaps a better idea to flesh out my thoughts into a full post. Overall, I agree with Joern’s misgivings, but I would go even further to suggest that he was perhaps too forgiving towards transdisciplinary research.
Please note: I discontinued the project Startup of Nature, so I have removed all the live links from this blog post. If you are interested in brainstorming ideas about the interplay between conservation and entrepreneurship, please reach out to me via this site’s contact page, or my professional website.
What follows in the original blog post from 2015 (links removed):
I’m excited to announce the launch of my latest pet-project, Startup for Nature, a website aimed at promoting entrepreneurial approaches to conserving nature.
Regular readers know that I believe we need more entrepreneurship in conservation. That’s why I set up a website devoted to answering some common questions about conservation entrepreneurship and showcasing some of the most innovative conservation startups.
If Startup for Nature encourages just one aspiring entrepreneur to launch their own conservation venture, then I’ll consider it successful. But to do this, it must first reach the right audience with the most engaging content.
Here’s the part where I ask for your help.
You can help Startup for Nature create a sub-culture of entrepreneurship amongst conservationists. Here’s how:
Click through to Startup for Nature. Browse around and let me know if there is anything you’d like to see more (or less) of.
If you like what you see, please share it with everyone in your social network (using the sharing buttons on the website). By reaching a broader audience, we increase the chances of finding that one inspired person who might launch the next big conservation venture.
If you know of anyone who has launched their own conservation venture, or you have launched one yourself, please let me know so that I can add it to the site. Celebrating the most innovation startups will hopefully increase the uptake of entrepreneurship in conservation.
I meant to post this much earlier, but I just haven’t found the time. You see, I started a new job a few months ago– my first full-time academic position – and I been struggling to keep my head above water ever since.
The last year has been a whirlwind for me. Within a few months, I finished my PhD, moved back to South Africa from Belgium, spent two months of unemployment living in my childhood home before taking on the position I have now. Needless to say, I embarked on this new career path in a unprepared and frazzled state.