The Day After: Bird Conservation in [Insert President-elect’s name]’s America! [Wed. Nov. 9th]

Come take your mind off the aftermath of the 2016 election by talking about birds, citizen science, and habitat restoration instead. I will present on the work done by the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory (SFBBO), which is a nonprofit that works on bird conservation science and educational outreach projects. Although we work on many projects, I will primarily discuss our work with the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, a new urban biodiversity project with Google, burrowing owls conservation, and our citizen science projects. SFBBO and many of its partners are always looking for collaborators and new projects so I look forward to any ideas for partnerships and gaps in knowledge.


I welcome discussion during roundtable and the following are some of my thoughts, although I welcome other ideas!
  • How to promote more linkages among academics and non-profits (i.e., applied ecology and conservation research!)
  • Working with citizen science derived data and how to get our data into the hands of more people
  • Ways to reach more diverse audiences with indoor and outdoor activities
  • Increasing corporate participation in urban ecology as well as the conservation value of urban greening and restoration


Dr. Yiwei Wang
Executive Director
San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory


Species interactions as biotic filters of global change [Wed. Oct. 12]

The study of species interactions has greatly improved our appreciation of the importance of network structure for ecological community stability, sensitivity to invasion, and extinction. Because species interactions reflect past evolutionary constraints and niche partitioning within a particular local context, they constitute the underlying fabric of ecosystem dynamics, driving biomass and body size distributions, and ecosystem level processes. Here I propose that beyond being a simple witness of global change, species interactions can actually mediate their effects on population and ecosystem dynamics either locally via bottom-up or top-down mechanisms or regionally via spatial cascade processes. I will present case studies for each scenario and conclude with a discussion of future perspectives and challenges for the use of ecological networks in conservation biology.



Eric Harvey, PhD
Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
University of Zurich
Zurich, Switzerland

Discussion on credit and collaboration in science today [Wed. Oct 5]

This week’s Roundtable will be a community discussion on credit and collaboration in science today, motivated by this recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Here are a few questions we’ll use to structure the discussion:

Do you agree with the author’s assertion that the drive to apportion credit is hurting the spirit of collaboration in science?

Even if you disagree with the author’s argument, can you see any ways in which more precise accounting for credit in scientific collaboration might impact the spirit of collaboration?

What approaches could be used to help someone on the other side of this issue see and appreciate your point of view?

Please read the article and come to discuss evidence and experience you might have on this interesting and very relevant topic.  Hope you can join us!


NCEAS Community Discussion on career pathways [Wed. Sept. 28]

NOTE: This discussion may be most relevant to NCEAS residents, but others are still welcome to attend.

In the Early Career Researcher (ECR) discussion group, we’ve been talking about paths, directions, and reasons for considering doctoral programs (among other choices). Within the NCEAS community, there are lots of people who are thinking about their next steps. We know that there are many folks with sage advice, comments, and insights—and so we’re opening the discussion up on Wednesday, September 28th. Please join us during the usual NCEAS roundtable time at 12:15 in the lounge to offer your thoughts, and hear those of others!

The community discussion will be generally framed by these questions:

-What are some of the affordances that you believe the PhD has given you, or gives to others, generally?

-For you, what were some of the opportunity costs of going for the PhD?

-What are the top one or two pieces of advice that you would share with someone who wants a career in science/research/data, but doesn’t necessarily know if they want to pursue the PhD?

Hope you can join the open discussion Wednesday!



This, That, and The Other: Three Remarks on the Sociology of Creativity [Wed. July 20]

This talk will review some of my current research on creativity in science and art:

1. Sociometric sensors promise to measure social interactions quantitatively, precisely, and unobtrusively. I’ll discuss a few findings from a pilot study of small group collaborations at two synthesis centers.

2. Path-breaking groups of artists and scientists that launch major artistic and intellectual movements share much in common, but also differ markedly along some social dimensions due to key differences between the fields of art and science. I’ll discuss some of these similarities and differences in relation to the specific character of these fields.

3. How theory groups die: I’ll discuss the social forces that cause the small groups that create new scientific paradigms to disintegrate, socially and creatively.


Dr. John N. Parker
Barrett, The Honors College
Arizona State University
john.parker at

Catering for wildlife in fire-prone Australian mallee habitats: it’s not rocket science, it’s more complex than that! [Wed. July 6]

Inappropriate fire regimes are recognized as a key threatening process to bird conservation globally, but particularly in Australia. Fire management often aims to maintain a “mosaic” of patches of differing fire history (pyrodiversity); assuming this will cater for the greatest variety of species. We tested this assumption across a 104,000 km2 area of the Murray Mallee region of southern Australia. We compared avian diversity in 28 ‘whole’ landscapes, representing different fire-driven mosaics.

Using a novel technique to age and map vegetation we demonstrated that fire influences mallee vegetation for over a century, particularly key habitat resources (e.g. tree hollows). We found little evidence that bird diversity was related to the diversity of fire age classes in a landscape. Similarly, there was little evidence of the importance of pyrodiversity for individual species. Instead, a key driver for all groups was the spatial extent of ecologically important fire age classes; in particular, the spatial extent of long-unburned mallee vegetation.

We used models of species distributions to evaluate the consequences for threatened bird species of alternative management scenarios for fire for the next twenty years. We evaluated the likely effect of planned burning programs that burnt 1%, 3% or 5% of public land annually. The outcomes of this work have provided an assessment of the relative risk of extinction for these species. This research has transformed understanding of how fire affects these threatened species in the region and has been embraced by fire managers and contributed to significant change in fire management policy.

Prof. Mike Clarke
Department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution
La Trobe University, Australia

Ecological drought in the 21st century [Wed. June 29]

Drought is often defined in meteorological, agricultural, hydrological, and socioeconomic terms, but recent hot, dry conditions worldwide and associated impacts to ecosystems, call for expanded consideration and a clear definition of ecological drought. The need to define ecological drought and include it in drought planning and mitigation efforts is a pressing concern because hotter ‘global change-type droughts’, multi-decadal ‘mega-droughts’, and human alterations of climatological, hydrological, and ecological processes increase ecosystem vulnerabilities and threaten human communities that depend on healthy, functioning ecosystems for critical services. Our working group is attempting to establish this much needed definition of ecological drought offer a “call to action” to operationalize ecological drought in the 21st century.
Shelley Crausbay
Post-doctoral Researcher, SNAPP Ecological Drought Working Group
North Central Climate Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
Fort Collins, CO
Aaron Ramirez
Post-doctoral Researcher, SNAPP Ecological Drought Working Group
Northwest Climate Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
Corvallis, OR

Model-based assessment to inform ecology education & communication [Wed. June 8]

As children, we often make sense of nature and the world around us by relying on naive mental models, and all too often, these naive mental models are never corrected, exhibiting themselves as persistent scientific misconceptions: animals adapt to their surroundings so they can survive; plants get their food from the soil; removing a species from a food web affects only the species immediately above and below it in the web; humans have caused the majority of extinctions on Earth.

Science educators who recognize student misconceptions about fundamental scientific concepts can lead students to greater educational gains; science communicators who understand public misconceptions can lead their audience to deeper understanding of scientific issues.  Physics education research has long leveraged the Force Concept Inventory (FCI), a model-based assessment of student understanding of classical Newtonian mechanics.  The FCI has become a valuable tool for physics education, providing researchers with data to improve physics pedagogy and curricula.  Since the development of the FCI two decades ago, other concept inventories have been designed to inform chemistry, physical science, and biology curricula as well.

In this talk, I propose the development of a Ecosystem Concept Inventory to examine how students, and the general public, understand fundamental models of ecology.  I will make an argument for model-centered ecology education and how an Ecosystem Concept Inventory is a critical first step.  I will lay out a series of simple models that I believe provide the fundamental structure for a scientifically literate understanding of ecology, and ask the audience for input and insights into developing a model-based assessment to inform ecology education and communication.


Casey O’Hara
Project Scientist, Ocean Health Index
National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis
735 State Street, Suite 300, Santa Barbara  CA  93101

Enhancing Conservation Outcomes and Improving Rangeland Monitoring Efficiency with RDMapper [Wed. June 1]

RDMapper is a web-based application that allows rangeland forage production to be tracked bi-weekly using remotely sensed MODIS vegetation indices. Combining these data with monthly precipitation data and annual on-the-ground monitoring records, RDMapper provides statistical and graphical information and context that supports predictions of end-of-season residual dry matter (RDM). RDM is a landscape-scale metric that has been shown to be a good predictor of rangeland productivity and overall rangeland condition, and is used by grazing managers to monitor grazing impacts, and by land trusts and agencies for conservation easement compliance monitoring. RDMapper can help reduce grazing-related compliance issues and potential conflict between landowners and easement holders, strengthening the overall relationship with cooperating landowners and leading to greater protection of biodiversity values. We developed RDMapper using software written in the R programming language, including the Shiny package. In 2015, we predicted compliance with RDM objectives across approximately 44,000 hectares of conservation easement lands held by The Nature Conservancy in California. We based predictions on past RDM compliance and our interpretation of statistics and graphics that demonstrate differences in vegetation indices and precipitation characteristics for years that were in versus out of compliance with RDM objectives. We tested a framework for adding efficiency to field-based RDM monitoring in future years by evaluating pastures that we had a high confidence would be in RDM compliance in 2015. For these pastures, our prediction of ‘in compliance with high confidence’ was correct on 109 of 110 pastures. We propose that in future years, pastures we are confident will be in compliance can be monitored with a simple visual estimate of RDM, instead of more expensive field methods. We are currently testing RDMapper at additional properties and have transitioned it to a more powerful data processing framework based on MODIS and PRISM web services and Google’s Earth Engine. 

Scott Butterfield
Senior Scientist
The Nature Conservancy


Challenges of scale when examining plant-interactions in arid ecosystems: micro, local, & regional [Wed. May 18]

In high stress environments, such as deserts, positive interactions among plants maintain biodiversity and productivity.  However, the role and mechanism of these positive interactions changes depending on the context of spatial scale.
I will discuss how positive plant-interactions in deserts change at the micro, local, and regional scale.  I also discuss the challenges associated with examining plant interactions at different spatial scales as a researcher, such as sampling techniques, community structure, and interacting factors.
Typically studies examining positive plant-interactions focus on local gradients, thereby neglecting micro or regional scales.  All spatial scales share similarities in that each have gradients that modifies the mechanism, magnitude, and direction of plant interactions.  Drawing parallels among different spatial scales and considering all three simultaneously as a response surface can provide a better understanding of positive interactions.  This can assist conservation biologist and restoration ecologists make better informed decisions when managing desert ecosystems in support of global biodiversity.

Alex Filazzola
PhD Student
York University
Toronto, Canada