Migration of bustards latest to be harmed by power lines

A recent paper published in the journal Conservation Biology suggests that power lines not only cause direct mortality of migrating bustards, but more crucially the very strategy of migration. Check out a summary I wrote of this paper on the most recent issue of Current Conservation magazine.

Scientists are suggesting that the phenomenon of migration might itself be endangered! Harris and others, in an article published in 2009, list several ways in which a lack of migration would affect humans, some more directly than others. They describe this almost cascading effect with repercussions throughout the community that includes us.

“Some issues are ecological, as mass migrants have positive feedback effects on grassland forage and indirect effects on ecosystem processes (e.g. increasing grassland production and raising nitrogen mineralization)… and therefore losing migrations may result in ecosystem collapse. Economics also plays a part. For example, were there no wildebeest migration in the SME (Serengeti-Mara Ecosystem), herbivore populations would almost certainly decline, carnivore populations would follow, and Serengeti would lose tourism dollars. Without financing, resource protection would slacken and the natural ecosystem would disintegrate, as livestock, agriculture and other developments replaced it. Ethical issues are also involved. Eradicating migrations and relegating migrants to zoos or fenced parks represents one of the worst examples of destructive human impact. Their senseless destruction by a shortsighted few causes long-term losses in the natural spectacles for many.”

Do you know of studies like this on other species, where there is a negative impact on a particular life history strategy?

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Information alone is not enough.

I think I make the mistake this article talks about all too often. I unconsciously expect people around me, parents, friends, random strangers, to take information from science and perhaps question it, be curious, learn more and then make decisions. I know this is pretty extreme and unreasonable of me and so I often don’t translate my thoughts to voice and tell myself to back off. Each to his own and all that. I believe though that information HAS to be shared and available, no matter what people do with that information. I mean, what an 8th grader does with knowing the gestation period of an elephant, or a 95-year old lady does with climate change, doesn’t really matter. Each to his own, again.

Credit: Pixabay

At the same time, I also understand the lack of effort into making scientific jargon truly available to non-scientists (I also believe everyone is a scientist, like everyone is an artist and can sing, but that’s a different story.). That’s why I used to write “Research in Translation” pieces for Current Conservation magazine, and it’s why I write this blog.

It’s perhaps no coincidence that my research is about information transfer in animals, the hows and whys of it, but of course, I deal with subjects less complex than humans.

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Trade-off 1: Story vs. data

There are many things I don’t like about this article on research papers becoming too complex. Its stumpy paragraphs feel like bullet-pointed summaries without a connecting thread, one must never start with a declaration “Science is hard”, and the last line is well, cheesy.

Who is it too complex for? Other researchers? Probably not. My grandmother? Absolutely. But she can look up a ton of fantastic websites/blogs/magazines that break down all that complexity to more tangible stuff. The purpose of scientific journal articles is to communicate research, indeed often complex, in a way that’s comprehensive and robust. Yes, papers seem longer now than before but maybe that’s an illusion created by a caffeine-induced brain that reads papers all day every day. And given how fast technology is developing, of course there’s going to be more data and more papers and still more. Pat and I often talk about the struggle of catching up with existing literature, and envy Bill’s (our advisor) generation because they had fewer papers to read. And then we go spend hours in another treasure hunt for that one paper we really really need. It’s a never-ending cycle that I’ve grown used to, and perhaps I’m biased then for not agreeing with the article.

The article mentions “Matters – the next generation science journal”, something I hadn’t heard of before. *Minimise R window, google Matters, spend 20 mins* It looks like Matters publishes single observations, and only that. Their aim is to get “standard data, orphan data, negative data, confirmatory data and contradictory data” published, and this I like. I’ve already written about the lack of support for publishing “negative” data, and I understand the motivation to publish single observations, and the idea of linking multiple ones to build a narration is novel. But I’m not endeared to their slogan “Stories can wait. Science can’t”. I like stories, I like the stories that bigger papers tell, stories that are more complete. In fact, their product ‘Matters Narratives’ does just that – publishes a group of single observations “in a novel format”. So perhaps their heart is in the right place and they just need better execution. There are debates about the impact Matters might have on the dubious scientific publishing industry; their own advisory board member agrees there is currently “too much salami-slicing of publications into least publishable units on which scientists can claim authorship on seemingly more and more papers.” Nevertheless, the idea is appealing (in parts), the venture is new, let’s wait to see what happens next.

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“Snark week”

Yes, you read that right. This is not the infamous “Shark Week” by Discovery Channel that spurred cries of foul play and fake programs over the last few years. To catch up on that storm coaster, check out these links;

How Shark Week screws scientists – The Verge

A Shark Scientist Bites Back – Pacific Standard

…and many more

But this year, I found a new kind of protest that’s snarky, sarcastic and full of fun fiction-like facts  – Snark Week brought to you by The Last Word On Nothing.

Brighten up your week with this on your daily feed instead of tuning in to that dumb ol’ television set!

Happy Snarking!

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No results

Something we hear more often than we should, something that manipulates the field of science across the world more than it should, is sadly the thing we don’t talk about or fight for enough. Here’s an article that carries no recent finding, but still holds value as a reminder that if you find “no results”, they still need insightful interpretation.

“Science says the first word on everything, and the last word on nothing” – Victor Hugo

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An interesting proposition

And one that surprisingly hasn’t been proposed before. Statistical editors for ecology publications, and why they are needed now more than ever.

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Crying “wolf!” seems to work for this little bird

Scientists in Australia have found that a brown thornbill uses vocal mimicry to create predator alarm calls that deter pied currawongs. Check it out here!

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