Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Biosecurity research efforts will be well funded in Australia

News just out - the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) has won its rebid, second time lucky!  Here is a link to the previous, related, CRC for National Plant Biosecurity for whom I spent 2 years working as a post-doc.  Alongside CSIRO's new Biosecurity Flagship, funding support for research into Biosecurity in Australia has never been stronger, exciting times.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A meta-analysis of the impacts of alien plants

Our latest review is of a meta-analysis that examines a wide range of studies from across the globe (including invasive animals, as well as plants) to try and identify some general impacts invasive species have on species, communities and ecosystems.

Vilà, M., Espinar, J. L., Hejda, M., Hulme, P. E., Jarošík, V., Maron, J. L., Pergl, J., Schaffner, U., Sun, Y. and Pyšek, P. (2011), Ecological impacts of invasive alien plants: a meta-analysis of their effects on species, communities and ecosystems. Ecology Letters, 14: 702–708. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2011.01628.x

Our Review: Parry H, Lonsdale M: 2011. F1000.com/13365971

This comprehensive meta-analysis of over 500 articles illuminates some key future research directions for the ecology of alien plant introductions. The authors draw some conclusions on the general relative impacts of alien plants on ecosystems. These impacts range from species, through community, up to ecosystem-level, including changes in nutrient levels and cycling.

Monday, 7 November 2011

What is this blog about?

Well, I created a word cloud using Wordle to tell you!
(if you click the picture below you will see it more clearly)

A global experiment in biogeography

I am continuing to assist Dr Lonsdale and review for F1000 after all!  The last few months there seems to have been an absolute flurry of decent articles on invasion ecology, so we have carefully waded through to try and pick out some gems.  This review is really a review of a special issue rather than a single article, with an entire issue of Diversity and Distributions dedicated to that global wanderer, the Acacia.  This showcases a diverse range of excellent studies on the acacia from across the globe.

Human-mediated introductions of Australian acacias – a global experiment in biogeography.  
Richardson, D. M., Carruthers, J., Hui, C., Impson, F. A. C., Miller, J. T., Robertson, M. P., Rouget, M., Le Roux, J. J. and Wilson, J. R. U. (2011) Diversity and Distributions, 17: 771–787.
DOI: 10.1111/j.1472-4642.2011.00824.x

Our review: Parry H, Lonsdale M: 2011. F1000.com/13357278

This is the leading article for a special issue of ‘Diversity and Distributions’ that focuses on the global movement of Australian acacia species and their invasiveness. The paper is important in establishing the case that acacias are a powerful model for testing some fundamental ideas in invasion ecology, which subsequent articles in the issue go on to do. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Post-docs ahoy!

I received this advert for some post-doc positions that have come up in New Zealand that may be of interest:

Three Post Doctoral fellowships are now available in the Bio-Protection Research Centre (www.bioprotection.org.nz) working with Profs. Phil Hulme and Richard Duncan. The Post Doctoral fellows will join an active research group focused on the ecology of plant invasions, which has strong international linkages and a focus on high quality scientific publications. The Post Doctoral fellow will undertake independent research as well as contributing to wider research through interactions with staff and postgraduate students in the plant invasions group.  Funding commences 1 February 2012. 

The three fellowships available are:

Monday, 26 September 2011

A round-up of the last month or so

After taking some time out to visit the UK to see my folks I'm back in action!  There seems to have been quite a lot of interesting publications in the invasion ecology space over the last couple of months, so as I am trawling through to select for our next F1000 review I thought I would share my shortlist with you!

-       Biological invasions in rapidly urbanizing areas: a case study of Beijing, China (Biodiversity and Conservation): this is interesting as it seems pretty novel to give a baseline of invasives for a city like Beijing and is well executed – implications for many other cities in the ‘developing’ world and simply highlights the research needs following such a comprehensive baseline study quite well ((i) estimates of species frequency in each district; (ii) identification of the historical process of invasions within the municipality; (iii) identification of the most aggressive invaders; and (iv) estimates of the economic and environmental impacts of the introduced species. http://www.springerlink.com/content/vq847t82k48u28j6/

-          Diversity and Distributions Special Issue: Human-mediated introductions of Australian acacias - a global experiment in biogeography I've not gone through this too thoroughly yet, but interesting it has got so much attention to warrant a special issue - http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ddi.2011.17.issue-5/issuetoc  one of the papers is Trees and shrubs as invasive alien species – a global review

-          Strong response of an invasive plant species (Centaurea solstitialis L.) to global environmental changes  (Ecological Applications) – simply a nice study as it looks at multiple and combined environmental changes (temperatures, CO2, fire etc) and their impacts on  an invasive, whereas most studies only look at one aspect of future climates.  http://www.esajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1890/11-0111.1

-          Remote analysis of biological invasion and the impact of enemy release (Ecological Applications) – as summarized at the end of the abstract, this is interesting because: These findings demonstrate that enemy release from generalist herbivores can facilitate exotic success and suggest a plausible mechanism by which invasion occurred. They also show how novel remote-sensing technology can be integrated with conservation and management to help address exotic plant invasions. http://www.esajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1890/10-0859.1

-          Propagule pressure hypothesis not supported by an 80-year experiment on woody species invasion (Oikos) – one of those long term data rich studies that also challenges a theory about invasion ecology.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0706.2011.19504.x/abstract

-          Invasive plants do not display greater phenotypic plasticity than their native or non-invasive counterparts: a meta-analysis (Oikos) – the magic word ‘meta-analysis’ and like above also challenges a theory (though we have looked at studies challenging this theory before and it often depends how its looked at...) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0706.2010.19114.x/abstract

-          Invasives: Sea of Data Still to Come (Science) This is a v short letter but it highlights some issues surrounding marine invasives and the lack of knowledge about dispersal ecology.  The other letter on the page is also about invasives on this page just relates to the ongoing controversial debate about ‘embracing invasives’… http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6045/937.3.full.pdf

Analyzing the Social Factors That Influence Willingness to Pay for Invasive Alien Species Management Under Two Different Strategies: Eradication and Prevention (Environmental Management) – an article that is a bit obscure but interesting topic – not often is the social context of invasives well addressed but its very important determinant on how they are managed. http://www.springerlink.com/content/m70762l8541p5166/

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Get informed on the climate debate

Want to put up a good debate next time you are faced with a Climate Change denier, like this Australian example in blog-land?  Get informed on the scientific facts by leading scientists at CSIRO's informative workshop coming up on Saturday 20th August.
A Warming earth: What is the cost of doing nothing?

Saturday 20 August 9am – 5.30pm
CSIRO Discovery Centre, Canberra

Are you confused by the global warming debate? What is the actual scientific evidence behind global warming? What are the implications and challenges? Can we afford to do nothing? These questions and more will be explored and discussed in this interactive one-day workshop hosted by the ACT branch of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (AMOS) and CSIRO Discovery Centre.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Species relocation under climate change - a hot topic!

A flurry of recent publications indicate to me that the idea of assisted colonization is a hot topic.  Another contribution in this area is from a CSIRO collaboration with UQ and Melbourne Uni, in the new journal 'Nature Climate Change':

Optimal timing for managed relocation of species faced with climate change
Eve McDonald-Madden, Michael C. Runge, Hugh P. Possingham and Tara G. Martin (2011) Nature Climate Change 1 261–265

 This new journal is likely to be highly influential and perhaps also this paper.  It provides a decision framework to enable relocation of species in a timely and proactive fashion under the threat of climate change (or perhaps more likely, human population pressure).  The approach is largely based on theoretical carrying capacities for the source and new region and projections on how they will change over time, with relocation aiming to optimise population size.  The authors try to incorporate uncertainty into their decisions, making the observation that ' There are two key components of climate change that are particularly challenging: management in the face of system changes; and management in the face of uncertainty surrounding these changes.'  It is a very 'theoretical' paper - I would like to see the approach they advocate applied to a practical example.  Maybe that will be a follow-up publication!

  Figure 1: Carrying capacities in the source (KS) and destination (KD) are shown with thick solid and dashed lines respectively; the population size, N, is shown with a thin solid line. The population size represents the state of the system by which decisions are specified. Note, N can decline with KS or increase towards KS, depending on the starting population size. The premise of managed relocation is that the suitability of the source habitat will decline with climate change and a destination habitat will become suitable. cS and cD represent the times at which half the suitable habitat in the source and destination populations are expected to be lost. The demographic cost of moving a population is expressed as the relocation survival rate, ϕ. The thin dashed line represents population change after relocation based on ϕ.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Assisted colonization

Our latest review for F1000!  It is perhaps my last, as I am soon to take up a post at CSIRO in Brisbane, so I won't be able to work closely with Mark Lonsdale on this anymore, but we shall see.  It has been very interesting searching the literature each month for worthy papers to review for F1000.  Now I am in the habitat I will certainly continue writing this blog!

Loss SR, Terwilliger LA, Peterson AC 2011 Biol Conservation 144: 92-100  
DOI 10.1016/j.biocon.2010.11.016

As global change accelerates and with it species extinctions, it seems that new measures may be needed in conservation practice. One such measure -- a controversial one -- is that of ‘assisted colonization’. Loss et al. review the potential means to implement such an approach. They feel that there may be some scope for careful use of assisted colonization in conjunction with other landscape-scale conservation measures.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Climate change - so what?

An interesting collection of papers has recently been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society A (London) answering the questions of will the world get over 4 degrees C warmer and so what if it does... 

Four degrees and beyond: the potential for a global temperature increase of four degrees and its implications

It is based around papers given at a conference in 2009 that asked '(i) how probable a warming of four degrees or higher might be, (ii) what the consequences of such a warming might be for ecosystems and society, (iii) how to adapt to such large changes, and (iv) how to keep the risk of high-end climate change as low as possible.'

Here are some views from a group of Aussie climate scientists!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Science at the Shine Dome

A couple of weeks ago I was really honored to be nominated for sponsorship to attend Science at the Shine Dome, as an Early Career Researcher.  Science at the Shine Dome is the annual meeting of the Australian Academy of Sciences (the Australian equivalent of the Royal Academy in the UK).  Hearing fellows of the academy and awardees give fantastic talks about their research was very inspiring and their enthusiasm for science was infectious.

Here is a photo of me (in a very obvious green jumper!) - Firstly with the other 'travel awardees' and then with all the Early Career researchers in front of the Shine Dome.  Photo credit and copyright to Mark Graham photography. 

The symposium on Population Challenges to Sustainability was a very interesting one, as there are of course many angles on that complex debate.  The programme for the day was really well thought out and was not all ‘doom’ at all, although there were quite a few sobering statistics.  There was a thought provoking talk on urban design for higher density living as a viable way to cope with increasing populations in Australia and to make our cities more ‘efficient’, although this would obviously imply a lifestyle change for many Australians.    There were also many suggestions on how we might measure impacts and manage population increase in Australia, including Tim Flannery’s suggestion to set up an advisory board to evaluate potential impacts against various criteria to set population ‘limits’.  A number of talks also questioned the emphasis on justifying population increase to increase total GDP, when GDP per capita and other indices may be a better measure of ‘wealth’ – and there appears to be little influence of population increase on GDP per capita.  The question was also raised as to whether economists can’t begin to think about how a contracting economy may be viable rather than always focusing on increasing GDP.    Issues of health and education were also covered, including a talk by Marie Stopes charity which appears to have been successful in some developing countries to reduce population increase through giving women greater access to contraceptives and thus freedom of choice.

CSIRO was well represented at the symposium with talks on population pressure on water resources and agriculture (food security), highlighting the challenges of climate change as well as increasing populations.  I was also pleased to meet Professor Michael Barber at the dinner, who is a fellow of the academy and former CSIRO executive. 

Here I am (on the right) dressed up for the wonderful black-tie dinner at the Museum of Australia (photo copyright: Mark Graham Photography). The speaker at the dinner was Professor Robert, Lord May of Oxford, who was very entertaining but also made some profound comments in relation to the theme of sustainability and population increase. 

May review for F1000

At last, a paper about cane toads!  Well, not quite, but this study on amphibians is an interesting one, as the literature on establishment success is somewhat swamped by plant studies.  Therefore, this study, which uses a meta-analysis of amphibian populations across the globe to examine Darwin's Naturalization hypothesis, is interesting and refreshing.

R Tingley, BL Phillips, R Shine Am Nat 2011 Mar 177 3:382-8 DOI 10.1086/658342

When it comes to testing ecological theories of invasion processes, plants have often been the organism of choice. So, to see amphibians being used to test Darwin’s naturalization hypothesis, as in this paper, is exciting. 

Monday, 9 May 2011

A popular review

I was really pleased to be told by F1000 that our April review has proved very popular on their site, it was in the top 5% in terms of user accesses for 2 weeks following its publication.  This highlights the importance to the scientific community of the research question 'What are the determinants of success in invasive species?'

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Mapping threatened ecosystems in Australia

This is an interesting map, recently published as part of the Bioscience article 'The Spatial Distribution of Threats to Species in Australia', Evans et al., BioScience, 61(4):281-289. 2011.

Figure 3: The distribution of the predominant threats to biodiversity across Australia. The “predominant threat” is the threat affecting the greatest number of species in each subcatchment. Where two or more threats affect an equivalent number of species, we consider there to be no predominant threat occurring in these subcatchments, displayed here in shades of gray.
Darker colors indicate a larger overall number of threats occurring in the subcatchment. White indicates areas where no threatened species occur.
 This is quite a novel way to highlight the range of threats to Australian ecosystems, putting them in a spatial context.  The article argues that the use of such a spatial and visual analysis will aid mitigation efforts and help identify location-specific threats.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Mother Nature's Melting Pot?!

The latest 'pro-invasive' article I've come across was from reading this post on my colleague Shuang's blog, linking to an article in the New York Times "Mother Nature's Melting Pot".  This article makes a pretty outrageous link (imho) between alien plant and animal species and human immigrants.  Hang on, Homo sapiens are a single species last time I checked, so perhaps its not too surprising we can live happily alongside one another - though then again, perhaps we could take a few lessons from ecology in that respect!

While the vanguard of the anti-immigrant crusade is found among the likes of the Minutemen and the Tea Party, the native species movement is led by environmentalists, conservationists and gardeners. Despite cultural and political differences, both are motivated — in Margaret Thatcher’s infamous phrase — by the fear of being swamped by aliens.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

April review for F1000

This month we have found some good papers.  We decided to first review a paper that is very much in Mark's field of interest - what factors determine species invasion success.  This paper provides some evidence as to whether greater phenotypic plasticity of invasives is important. 

 AM Davidson, M Jennions, AB Nicotra (2011) Do invasive species show higher phenotypic plasticity than native species and, if so, is it adaptive? A meta-analysis. Ecol Lett 2011 Apr 14 4:419-31
DOI 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2011.01596.x

Our Review: Parry H, Lonsdale M: 2011. F1000.com/9268957 
Another review of this paper is also available at the above link, by Hao Wang and Mark Lewis of the University of Alberta, Canada. 

What are the determinants of success in invasive species? Tonnes of wood pulp have been expended in proposing predictors of invasion success, such as morphology, taxonomic relatedness and propagule pressure, which might help us to screen out dangerous species before it is too late.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

March Review for F1000

 This month we found something addressing the ongoing debate about the relationship between invasibility and diversity of native species; however, this study takes a new angle and looks at the relationship through time rather than across space.  Our biggest disappointment with this paper was that it makes a large assumption that abundance of a single species = diversity, which is not necessarily the case.  Therefore to really prove the conclusions of this study about this general hypothesis, the authors need to either test this assumption thoroughly or undertake a study focusing directly on invasive species diversity in relation to native diversity. 

Our Review:
Parry H, Lonsdale M: 2011. F1000.com/9274956 

This is the first study of note that attempts to examine the relationship between invasibility and native species diversity across temporal scales. The diversity-invasibility relationship has intrigued researchers interested in invasion ecology because a paradox has arisen, as the relationship appears to flip at different spatial scales.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Embracing Invasives

Embracing Invasives is the title of a recent article in Science.  So, it seems the pro-invasive band-wagon is growing!  In this article, Science take the case of the Galapagos - viewed by many as the world's most pristine environment - and highlight that scientists trying to eradicate invasives on these islands are now admitting defeat, ready to 'embrace' the presence of alien species.  Given the damage invasives such as Guava and Blackberries are known to do to this environment, I do wonder what the real reasons might be for giving up the fight? I think there is more to this story than given in this article.  Maybe I am cynical, but I would suspect budget cuts from struggling world economies that support such initiatives are to blame, rather than a scientific turnaround, which they are now trying to justify.  I'm afraid I am yet to be convinced that unquestioningly 'embracing invasives' is a well thought-out strategy, in the Galapagos or anywhere.  Not enough research has been done to really understand what the implications of allowing non-natives free-reign might be and until that is the case in a region then it would seem best to err on the side of caution.  However, I am getting an increasing feeling that there is a growing movement that suggests we err the other way - to allow non-natives free-reign until proven guilty.  I tend to think this is driven by economics and the needs of growing human populations, rather than science.  Without doubt, there is mounting and explosive controversy as general philosophy and practice in this area is undergoing dramatic changes at this time.

 Blackberries: Overwhelming ecosystems in the Galapagos.  Also a big problem in Australia.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

New commission to address threats to food security from Climate Change

A New commission to address threats to food security from Climate Change has been set up in the UK, to look at Global food security issues.  "Chaired by the United Kingdom's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, the Commission will in the next ten months seek to build international consensus on a clear set of policy actions to help global agriculture adapt to climate change, achieve food security and reduce poverty and greenhouse gas emissions."

Monday, 7 March 2011

Looking on the bright side

There seems to be a recent trend in articles looking on the bright side of introduced species.  In my previous post I linked to the controversial New Scientist article 'Aliens to the rescue', which puts forward the case that there are "Friendly Invaders" and "Alien Species Save Ecosystems".  Another article along similar lines, although without the tabloid phrasing, has now appeared in Conservation Biology:

SCHLAEPFER, M. A., SAX, D. F. and OLDEN, J. D. , The Potential Conservation Value of Non-Native Species. Conservation Biology, EARLY VIEW doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2010.01646.x

Such papers seem to me to be putting forward the 'pros' of introduced species as if the idea that non-natives have benefits is a new thing - but haven't we been growing 'non-native' wheat across the world for thousands of years, introducing bees for pollination etc etc?  This article frustrated me as the way it was conducted reviewed mainly only the positive effects of non-native species, not balancing their examples with negatives.  They do point this out, justifying it by saying such negative cases have been presented elsewhere, but really perhaps they should have put their examples  into context with some balance rather than simply leaning so far to the 'pro-non-native' camp that seems to be emerging.   Perhaps these articles are simply looking for citations, to say 'there are some good things about non-natives, quote...', or maybe academics are setting themselves up a Straw Man - making themselves an easier target to shoot down, by taking the pro- non-native argument to extremes. 

Friday, 25 February 2011

A mediocre month

Well, the last couple of months have been a bit of a disappointment really, I've not come across anything to get excited about in the literature.  Thats not to say Ive not come across anything, but what Ive found hasn't exactly knocked my socks off or has left me very disappointed.  Some articles I have picked up thinking they are full of promise, only to find that the data they use is really quite shaky on closer examination, or their findings are not really too far beyond common sense.  These are some that I considered...

Friday, 14 January 2011

Introduced plant species and rapid evolution

Sometimes I come across interesting reviews by other people on F1000 that are about Biosecurity and Invasive Species.  This month Mark Vellend of the University of British Columbia, Canada has found a very interesting paper on a study of herbarium records collected over the past 100+ years that tells us that environmental adaptation to dry conditions in Australia may take precedence over competitive drivers (such as decreasing vs increasing leaf size) in rapid evolution of introduced plant species in the region. Mark Vellend's full evaluation can be read here:

The summary paragraph of the review:
An ingenious use of herbarium specimens across 23 exotic plant species in Australia has revealed that phenotypic changes following introduction are both very common, and in different directions than predicted by conventional wisdom.
 Details of the paper:
Buswell JM, Moles AT, Hartley S
J Ecol. 2011; 99:214-224

Friday, 7 January 2011

December review for F1000

 This month's paper that we have reviewed for F1000 is a combined effort by a number of authors, including an old colleague at the University of Leeds - Dr Koos Biesmeijer, whom I worked with on a couple of proposals before I left the UK. It is a very interesting read and raises many important questions by taking an unusually holistic perspective of examining the combined impacts of climate change and alien species on pollination.    

Multiple stressors on biotic interactions: how climate change and alien species interact to affect pollination
Schweiger, O; Biesmeijer, J. C.; Bommarco, R.; Hickler, T.; Hulme, P.; Klotz, S.; Kühn, I.; Moora, M.; Nielsen, A.; Ohlemüller, R.; Petanidou, T.; Potts, S. G.; Pyšek, P.; Stout, J. C.; Sykes, M.T.; Tscheulin, T.; Vilà, M.; Walther, G-R.; Westphal, C.; Winter, M.; Zobel, M.; Settele, J. Biological Reviews, 2010 Nov, 85(4): 777-795
DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2010.00125.x

Our Review:
Faculty of 1000: 2011. F1000.com/7338958

This paper provides a rich and novel overview of hypotheses on the combined impacts of climate change and alien species on a key ecosystem service: pollination.  It provides a very good summary of the state of research, as well as a plethora of pointers to future study.

The paper takes a holistic view of potential changes to plant-pollinator systems under the impacts of climate change combined with introduced species, about which little is known. The paper examines evidence for both direct and indirect impacts, as well as complex, multi-trophic effects.