May 24 – Better science in less time: How the Ocean Health Index is transforming marine science for management

For the past four years, we have dramatically improved how we work with the Ocean Health Index by embracing open data science practices and tools. We now work in a way that is more reproducible, transparent, collaborative, and open, with more emphasis on communication. Our work is more reproducible and streamlined, and more than 20 countries around the world are building off our science and our code to assess ocean health in their own jurisdictions.

We’re sharing our story because at the time we thought this transformation was intimidating, but we are living proof that it’s possible. By describing specific tools and how we incrementally began using them for the Ocean Health Index project, we hope to encourage others in the scientific community to do the same — so we can all produce better science in less time.

Speaker: Julie Stewart Lowndes

Julie is a marine biologist working to bridge science and resource management. In her role as project scientist for the Ocean Health Index, Julie facilitates the adaptation of the OHI+ assessment framework to smaller spatial scales relevant to marine policy. She leads trainings internationally and provides conceptual and technical support for independent OHI assessments.

Prior to joining the Index team, Julie completed her Ph.D dissertation at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, researching potential effects of the Humboldt squid in the California Current System on coastal fisheries in a changing climate.

May 17: Red fish, blue fish, where are you, fish?

Species distribution data provide the foundation for a wide range of ecological research studies and conservation management decisions. Two major efforts to provide marine species distributions at a global scale are the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which provides expert-generated range maps that outline the complete extent of a species’ distribution; and AquaMaps, which provides model-generated species distribution maps that predict areas occupied by the species. Together these databases represent 24,586 species (93.1% within AquaMaps, 16.4% within IUCN), with only 2,330 shared species. Differences in intent and methodology can result in very different predictions of species distributions, which bear important implications for scientists and decision makers who rely upon these datasets when conducting research or informing conservation policy and management actions. We illustrate the scientific and management implications of these tradeoffs by repeating a global analysis of gaps in coverage of marine protected areas, and find significantly different results depending on how the two datasets are used. By highlighting tradeoffs between the two datasets, we hope to encourage increased collaboration between taxa experts and large scale species distribution modeling efforts to further improve these foundational datasets, helping to better inform science and policy recommendations around understanding, managing, and protecting marine biodiversity.

You can explore an interactive web app of our results here:

Speaker: Casey O’Hara

Casey is a Researcher at NCEAS with the Ocean Health Index project as well as an educator, environmentalist, engineer, and musician. He studied climate change adaptation and mitigation, coastal marine resources, and environmental communication at UCSB’s Bren School and received his Master’s degree in 2014.  Long prior to Bren, he earned a B.S. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford in 1994.

May 10: The geography of spatial synchrony

Spatial synchrony, defined as correlated temporal fluctuations among populations, is a fundamental feature of population dynamics, but many aspects of synchrony remain poorly understood. Few studies have examined detailed geographical patterns of synchrony; instead most focus on how synchrony declines with increasing linear distance between locations, making the simplifying assumption that distance-decay is isotropic. By synthesizing and extending prior work, we show how geography of synchrony, a term which we use to refer to detailed spatial variation in patterns of synchrony, can be leveraged to understand ecological processes including identification of drivers of synchrony, a longstanding challenge. We focus on three main objectives: 1) showing conceptually and theoretically four mechanisms that can generate geographies of synchrony; 2) documenting complex and pronounced geographies of synchrony in two important study systems; and 3) demonstrating a variety of methods capable of revealing the geography of synchrony and, through it, underlying ecology. By documenting the importance of geographies of synchrony, advancing conceptual frameworks, and demonstrating powerful methods, we aim to help elevate the geography of synchrony into a mainstream area of study and application.

Speaker: Jon Walter

Jon Walter is an ecologist who uses long-term observations, theoretical and data-driven models, and experiments to examine spatiotemporal dynamics of populations and communities. He is currently a postdoctoral researcher affiliated with Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Kansas, where he is working on projects related to spatial synchrony and insect outbreaks. He obtained his PhD from the University of Virginia in 2014, where his dissertation research focused on spatiotemporal patterns in the gypsy moth invasion.