From the top of the mountain to the top of the world: vegetation change in the tundra

Join us for our roundtable discussion on March 4th with Dr. Anne Bjorkman from he German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv).

Abstract: Identifying large-scale patterns in functional traits has become a hot topic in community ecology over the past decade, as understanding current biogeographical patterns can help us predict future shifts under climate warming. In the Arctic, where temperatures are warming faster than anywhere else on the planet, shifts in vegetation and associated functional traits can have direct consequences for ecosystem function. For example, increases in shrub cover could affect summer and winter soil temperatures and thus influence the depth of permafrost thaw, while specific leaf area (SLA) and leaf nitrogen concentration can influence decomposition rates, relative growth rates, photosynthetic rates, and carbon fixation, all of which in turn influence carbon cycling and net primary productivity (NPP).

As part of an international synthesis effort based at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (“iDiv” – the German equivalent of NCEAS, or at least we like to think so), we are investigating patterns of functional traits across climate space and over time by combining a circumpolar vegetation database with a large and growing tundra plant trait database. This is very much a work in progress, so I will present some of our work so far and would love to have your feedback!

Anne at her study site

Anne at her study site

A roundtable on roundtables

We have had a few informal discussions here at NCEAS on round-tables and the form/structure that they could take in order to be both engaging and useful. There is a dichotomy apparent, between ‘talks’ and ‘discussions.’

The more one-way, information providing ‘talks’ are a very useful way for researchers in different fields to explain and learn about on-going work, though time constraints generally mean that this leaves less room for questions and discussion.

On the other hand, more participative ‘discussions’ that address a broad topic, and have a loose structure to help keep them moving are a very good way for all of us to brainstorm about common ideas and concepts and hopefully leave us with more ideas (and questions!) than we started with!

The question then is – how do we strike a good balance? On Wednesday, February 18th, we will have a round-table session on…round-tables(!) to get ideas and brainstorm and discuss this.

As very good food for thought in preparation, here are some tips from Chris Lortie on how to provoke thought and and manage discussions:


The secret lives of mountain lions in the Santa Cruz Mountains

As human developments continue to permeate previously open spaces, large carnivores are often the first species to feel the impact of these changes. The Santa Cruz Puma Project examined the behavioral responses of an apex predator, the mountain lion, to an increasingly human dominated landscape. During my presentation, I discussed our use of accelerometer technology as a new way to gain deeper insights into mountain lion behavior, movement and physiology, recent findings on mountain lion behavioral adaptations to living close to humans, and conservation outcomes that have resulted from our work.

I welcome comments with suggestions on how new technologies and behavioral ecology can help illuminate the conservation and management of large predators living close to humans. Please check out a recent video from NSF on our work with accelerometers!

What are the grand challenges for restoration ecology?

I want to become a restoration ecologist. Here is my post for the roundtable I did two weeks ago.



Here is the slide deck too:

Following the discussion, I came across several really useful papers on the topic.

These three in particular were really transformative.

Moore, K. D. and Moore, J. W. 2013. Ecological restoration and enabling behavior: a new metaphorical lens? — Conservation Letters 6: 1-5.

Hilderbrand, R. H. et al. 2005. The myths of restoration ecology. . — Ecology and Society 10: 19.
Temperton, V. M. 2007. The Recent Double Paradigm Shift in Restoration Ecology. — Restoration Ecology 15: 344-347.


General questions
1. How well does conservation biology and restoration ecology support and enable one another?
2. Does fundamental ecological theory significantly contribute to restoration ecology or does most restoration begin with a ‘problem’ that needs a solution?
3. Is most restoration ecology manipulative? How are mensurative experiments and observation leveraged in restoration ecology?
4. How inter-related are management and restoration in their alignment of needs and research agendas?
5. Are there syntheses of the local-versus-regional drivers that influence the outcome restoration efforts?
6. How commonly are the human factors included in restoration efforts or in experiments?
7. Does social science regularly contribute and support restoration efforts?
8. Does socioeconomic research support restoration? When it does, how it is used?
9. Is an effective restoration plan similar to a conservation blueprint?
10. What are main primary research topics that restoration ecologists examine?  Are there taxa and/or ecosystem specific biases and how general are the lessons?
11. What is the most common scale of restoration?
12. Are there themes that transcend restoration and speak to a wider audience?
13. Is restoration ecology increasing collaborative similar to other disciplines?
14. Are restoration ecology experiments often interdisciplinary?
15. What are the main challenges that most restoration ecologists would list in either doing research or in implementing a restoration effort?

Discussion: Obstacles faced by researchers who reuse, share and manage data, and strategies for overcoming them

Roundtable discussion for Wednesday, 17 Sept 2014
All too often it's an uphill battle for researchers who want to do the right thing. Photo Credit: Steve Garvie from Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland (Uphill struggle!) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Steve Garvie from Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland (Uphill struggle!) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

All too often it’s an uphill battle for researchers who want to do the right thing.




Why is it often harder than it should be to do the right thing when it comes to data management, sharing and reuse? I will introduce seven common sources of conflict that present obstacles to researchers who work with data. These seven sources of conflict were identified through qualitative analysis of transcripts for interviews and focus groups involving more than 35 researchers.


Following a brief introduction of these sources of conflict and resulting obstacles, we will discuss potential strategies for minimizing or overcoming these obstacles. Our conversation will focus around the following guiding questions:
  • For each source of conflict, what should be done to make it easier for researchers to do the right thing?
  • What can research centers like NCEAS do to prepare researchers and/or to improve the status quo?
  • What can I, as an individual researcher, do to avoid and/or prepare for potential obstacles, and to improve the status quo?

You may also be interested in checking out short stories based on some of the interviews:

I look forward to discussing ideas with you on Wednesday!


Using virtual collaboration to replace or supplement carbon-intensive research travel: barriers, best practices, and opportunities for innovation

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Discussion led by Drs. Mary Hunsicker and Stacy Rebich Hespanha

On Friday, February 28 from 12:15 to 1:30, we’ll be extending our earlier discussion of the environmental ethics of research travel to taking a closer look at virtual meetings and collaboration.

In preparation for the meeting, please check out the following (short) readings:

Please also come prepared to discuss your perceptions of the obstacles faced by would-be virtual collaborators and your ideas for how some of these barriers could be overcome. We have alloted time for each person to share his/her idea(s) on innovative ways to overcome barriers (2 minutes per idea). We encourage you to prepare 1 powerpoint for each idea and send them to Mary prior to the Roundtable.

For some virtual meeting-related chuckles, check these out:

Environmental ethics of research travel (discussion)

Image Credit: Ignotus the Mage CC BY-NC-SA via flickr

Image Credit: Ignotus the Mage CC BY-NC-SA via flickr

I’ll be leading a Roundtable discussion on Wednesday 8 January 2014 on the environmental ethics of traveling for environmental research. If you would like to prepare for the discussion by reading, I’ve found a few things that you might be interested in. If you know of any other good readings on the topic, please suggest in the comments section below!

Criticisms of air travel for environmental research

  • An article by Rupert Read on the morality of flying to environmental conferences. If you only have time to read a couple of things before the discussion on Wednesday, this should be one: (find in NCEAS Lounge folder Roundtable/20130108/ as described here.
  • A nice summary by Dominic Roser of some criticisms of air travel to conferences. If you only have time to read a couple of things before the discussion on Wednesday, this should be one:
  • A 1974 essay by Daniel Kozlovsky on the paradox of “using the destructive process to destroy the results of the destructive process” that advocates “thinking and living as simply and nondestructively” as possible: (find in NCEAS Lounge folder Roundtable/20130108/ as described here.

Quantifying the environmental impact of air travel

  • ‘Why do we fly? Ecologists’ sins of emission’, which appeared in Frontiers in 2009 and is authored by some of our own. Reports results of survey (n=13) of research ecologists focused on carbon footprints and reasons for travel. Proposes ‘well-justified’ and ‘poorly-justified’ reasons for travel and suggests institutional solutions that could minimize poorly-justified travel: (find in NCEAS Lounge folder Roundtable/20130108/ as described here.
  • Focused on ‘love miles’ rather than ‘research miles’, but the parallels are inescapable. Definitely check out the graphic illustrating the carbon emissions associated with various activities:
  • A look at the levels of carbon emissions associated with air travel, and how the US and Europe are making (or resisting) efforts to offset emissions associated with air transport. Another good graphic illustrating how flights relate to other activities in terms of emissions:

Possible justifications of travel for environmental research

Possible technical or market solutions?

Deeper background reading on environmental ethics

Collecting ‘real-life’ success stories and cautionary tales for data management engagement and education

image by pennstatelive CC BY-NC

image by pennstatelive CC BY-NC

We are excited to announce that the Roundtable discussion on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:00 p.m. will double as the first focus group for our study titled “Collecting ‘real-life’ success stories and cautionary tales for data management engagement and education.”

The purpose of this study is to collect stories that illustrate concepts and best practices for scientific data management. From these stories, as part of our effort to facilitate dialog about data management and sharing, we will prepare a collection of narratives that can be woven into the data management education and outreach products created by DataONE and published as blog posts on the DataONE Coffee House blog. Here is a link to the topics and questions we would like to discuss during the Roundtable.

Please take some time to look them over and hopefully you all have some stories to share!

We want to emphasize that if you attend the Roundtable, you are not automatically a participant in our study. You should in no way feel obligated to participate as a research subject, and you will have the opportunity to let us know whether or not you wish to be involved in the research by signing or not signing a consent form. (If you decline to sign the consent form, we will not transcribe anything you say during the conversation, and all audio recordings will be permanently deleted once the transcriptions have been made.) That being said, however, we would greatly appreciate your participation and it would be very beneficial for the success of our project. If you decide that you wish to be an official participant and allow us to use your story(ies) for our study, you will be asked to sign a consent form (20130209Consent Form.NCEAS) before the start of the Roundtable.

Thank you and see you on Friday!

Creating a More Inclusive Academic Culture

February 8th’s Roundtable will be an informal discussion on how we can foster greater inclusivity in academia. Stacy and I have compiled a list of possible reading materials below (this is a condensed version of our original list, trust me). Most of them are pretty light, and we don’t expect everyone to read everything; just pick one or two that look interesting. We are particularly interested in talking about solutions to the issues that the materials below raise, so keep that in mind when you’re reading and come ready to discuss! After the Roundtable we’ll continue the conversation over drinks at happy hour (location TBA).

Image by chrisjfry

Image by chrisjfry

On work-life balance and parenting:

 “Perspective: Embrace flexible work arrangements” – This article discusses flexible work arrangements and affordable child care, making the argument that if institutions are more flexible and child care is more affordable fewer women will leave STEM, the investment of public funds into training graduate students will yield higher returns, and productivity will increase overall.

UC family friendly policies – Relevant information for UC employees who are parents.

 On diversity in STEM:

Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students – This study examines gender bias in hiring in academia. When given application materials for a hypothetical lab manager position, faculty members rated male applicants as more competent than female applicants (though the application materials were identical). Male applicants were also offered a higher starting salary and more mentoring than female applicants. Faculty gender did not affect the level of bias against female applicants. There are also a few blog responses to the study: “Study shows gender bias in science is real. Here’s why it matters.” And “Why bias holds women back”

“A field guide to privilege in marine science: some reasons why we lack diversity” – In this recent blog post (which applies to disciplines beyond marine science), the author describes barriers to success in research that some people, particularly those from low socioeconomic backgrounds, face. She points out that research, especially at early stages, often demands a level of financial flexibility that is unreasonable for many, and that by being unable to afford to participate in things like REUs, people who are talented and smart find themselves at a disadvantage. The comments here are worth a read, as is this response: “A Dream Deferred: How access to STEM is denied to many students before they get in the door good”.

“Emails ignored, meetings denied: bias at the search stage limits diversity” – Researchers sent emails to professors at 258 US universities (in 89 disciplines) from fictional prospective students whose names were “randomly varied to indicate whether the sender was a man or a woman, or if he or she was white, black, Hispanic, Indian, or Chinese”. The professors were less likely to respond to email from, or grant meetings to, women and minority applicants.

“Nature’s sexism” – Nature reflects on gender imbalance in its authorship and encourages editors to ask themselves “Who are five women I could ask?” when thinking about whom to commission for articles.

“Gay in the academy” – ln this piece a professor describes his experiences and offers some words of wisdom as a gay man in academia.

Update: “Where are all the disabled scientists?” – People with disabilities are extremely underrepresented in STEM. The author of this piece interviewed various academics and researchers with disabilities to shed light on the challenges they faced.

 And finally:

“The End of Men” – A longread and not specific to academia, this Atlantic piece eventually turned into a book that was published recently. Hanna Rosin writes “Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences”. The recent release of Rosin’s book sparked a response from Stephanie Coontz, followed by a rebuttal from Rosin, and an interview with them both.

If, like us, you can’t get enough of this stuff, there are a few more links below. Feel free to add your own in the comments if there’s a topic you think hasn’t been covered well here. We’re currently lacking materials on disability [Update: see above] and on transgenderism, so those would be particularly welcome.

“Race, ethnicity, and NIH awards” and “Black applicants less likely to win NIH grants”.

“Does gender matter?”

“The self-promotion stakes”

“How stereotypes can drive women to quit science”

“Thin ice: Stereotype threat and black college students”