Secret Vatican archives, xenophobia, de-extinction, parasitism and hoovers were just a few of the many topics on the menu at the 2017 School of Natural Sciences Lightning Talks. This annual event brought together 24 PhD students and Professors from across the Botany, Geography, Geology and Zoology disciplines to present their research and battle it out to win the respect of their colleagues (and bragging rights). The catch? Presentations were limited to 120 seconds, a difficult feat considering how much scientists like to talk about their own work!
The Zoology department was out in full force, with seven presentations and four prizes. For her work on parasites in freshwater systems, Maureen Williams was awarded the third prize. For telling us if invasive fish have parasites and which parasites those are, Paula Tierney was awarded the Nature+ prize. For bringing us on a biogeographical journey through speciation, Fionn Ó Marcaigh was given an honourable mention. Finally, for my own research looking at how to prioritise species for cryogenic storage in ‘frozen zoos,’ I was awarded the first prize on the night.
Frozen zoos are large reservoirs of cryogenically frozen and stored genetic material from numerous species. The largest frozen zoo in the world is kept within San Diego Zoo and houses more than 10,000 cell cultures, representing more than 1,000 species and subspecies. Although this is a substantial resource and many rare (and even extinct!) species are present in the collection, the way in which samples have been collected to date has been opportunistic and lacking a comprehensive plan or goal. As a result, we are likely missing key opportunities to collect samples from species which are on the brink of extinction or have already gone extinct. Continue reading “Lightning Strikes at TCD”
“A recent study led by myself and Dr. Nick Friedman asks whether we can accurately measure how diverse different ecosystems are on the island of Okinawa, Japan. We set up 24 monitoring sites across the island in different locations – in forests, grassland, mangroves, near the beach and in the city – to monitor all the sounds that are produced near each site. We found that we can detect individual species and relate these sounds to natural patterns including the ‘dawn chorus,’ and we could identify sites with heavy human activity. All without having to look for any species.
The rise of bioacoustics
Technology is advancing worldwide. Everything from phones to microwaves is getting more advanced. Instruments for ecological research are no different. Our satellite tracking tags are improving; they’re getting lighter, cheaper and can store more data than ever before. We can use complex chemical techniques to understand who eats whom in a food web, and drones now allow us to image even remote habitats with relative ease. With these advances comes the rise of acoustic monitoring techniques for biological signals (bioacoustics for short)…”
Sam Ross is a PhD student in Ian Donohue’s research group in the Department of Zoology, Trinity College Dublin. His research focuses on the effects of global change on ecological stability. Find out more about his research here:
EcoEvo@TCD is getting a new look – one focused around the work we do here in the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. To get a broad picture of what goes on here at Trinity, we’ve put together some photos that represent a range of research and teaching activities from across the school. Check out the full gallery below:
View from the Swiss Alps near the Swiss-French border around Lake Geneva. This photo looks out of the valley from the town of L’Etivaz, where we were staying during fieldwork in June 2017.
Alain Finn is a research assistant in Yvonne Buckley’s research group. Find out more about his work on Twitter | @finchyIrl
A bird is released on Kabaena Island, Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia, after having its measurements taken as part of a biogeographical study of the region. Photo credit: Emma Shalvey.
Fionn Ó Marcaigh is a PhD student in Nicola Marples’ research group. Find out more about his work here.
Prof. Yvonne Buckley botanizing in the Burren (alliteration intentional). Photo by Dr. Laura Russo.
My name’s Sam Ross and I’ll be taking over as editor of the EcoEvo@TCD blog. I thought I should quickly introduce myself before we get the ball rolling and continue to share the cutting-edge ecology and evolution research going on at Trinity College Dublin.
Why Zoology at TCD?
In short, Twitter. I saw a tweet advertising a PhD position with Ian Donohue in the department of Zoology at Trinity. The title – “Global change and the stability of ecological systems” – seemed like a perfect match with my research interests, so I decided to apply. After a Skype meeting with Ian in September of last year, he agreed to take me on as a PhD student starting in September 2017. As promised, here I am nearly 2 months into my PhD, and so far, I’ve loved every minute of it! I’m really excited to develop our research ideas over the next 3-4 years and can’t wait to share them with anyone who will listen (or read).
A bit about my background
I’m originally from Nottingham in the U.K. but did my Undergraduate and Master’s degrees in Ecology and Environmental Biology at the University of Leeds. My Master’s research focused on the impacts of selective logging on birds in Malaysian Borneo – we developed a method to consider differences between individuals of the same species when measuring ‘functional diversity,’ a popular way of measuring biodiversity. You can read more about that work here. After my Master’s, I moved to Okinawa in Japan, where I worked as a research intern at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST for short) for six months. I worked with Evan Economo, mainly researching the natural forests of Okinawa using acoustic recording techniques. I’ll be writing more about this work very soon, so watch this space! I then returned to Leeds for a few months before starting my PhD here at Trinity. Continue reading “An EcoEvo Editorial”
Using genetics to understand ecology is fascinating. The data reveal things that often cannot be found by observation alone, such as patterns of cryptic diversity, migration pathways and the source of colonising populations.
But life in ecological genetics research is peculiar because we sit on a border between two fairly different fields of science. In an ecological crowd we’re called the ‘genetics person’ while among geneticists we’re seen to have only a rudimentary knowledge of ‘real’ genetics and our comments on ecological theory are sometimes met with funny looks. So spending time in an ecological genetics crowd is refreshing and, last week, about 30 members of the British Ecological Society did exactly that.
The BES Ecological Genetics Special Interest Group (affectionately known as EGG) meet every year and 2017 was their first meeting in Ireland. It was a strategic move from the organising team headed by Dr Gemma Beatty (Aberystwyth University) to expand their Irish membership. The conference took place in the picturesque National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Continue reading “EGG heads talk ecological genetics in Dublin”
Approaching established scientists is nerve wracking when you are just starting out in your own scientific career. It terrified me, but having done so successfully, it is now not so such an intimidating prospect.
When I first went to science conferences as a new PhD student, my fellow early stage researchers and I used to award each other mingling points for having the confidence to break out of our trusted established circle and speak to people we had not met before. Knowing networking was a vital part of attending scientific meetings, we needed motivation to do more than catch up and share free wine. I am glad we pushed each other to do so. I have just returned from a 3 week research visit to Southern France, which would not have taken place, had I not plucked up the courage to approach a now collaborator after her keynote talk a few years ago. Now back in a chilly post-Christmas Dublin it seems like a good time to time to reflect on how my path to approaching new scientists has changed:
Having a question I want answered
After giving a talk it is great to hear somebody enjoyed it and finds your research interesting, but this may not lead to much further conversation than ‘thanks very much’. If you have a research question you would like to explore with someone they are far more likely to be interested. Scientists become leaders in their field in areas that excite them. Approaching scientists with a hypothesis that needs testing and an innovative way of doing should lead to a stimulating conversation.
More generally, the topic should be broad enough to allow every person to look for anecdotes (did you know there was once a ‘scavenging bat called *Necromantis*?’ and to bring these together in an interesting, more generalised framework. Continue reading “A recipe for collaboration”
Last month, the Zoology Department’s Dr. David Kelly launched his first book of Japanese short form poetry, Hammerscale from the Thrush’s Anvil. At the launch of the book, David invited us in the audience to try our hand at writing our own haikus.
Taking him up on his challenge, and taking inspiration from his book, a few of us in the School of Natural Sciences have penned our own poems based on our areas of study. We even have a contribution from David Kelly himself!
Trying not to sacrifice coherency at the alter of syllable number was a rather new struggle for most of us, but we managed and, I’d like to think, emerged with a greater appreciation for the poets in our midst. Read on for our science-y foray into the arts!
In the years to come, 140 ecologists working in Ireland will look back with fond memories of being part of the inaugural meeting of the Irish Ecological Association (24th-26th November). We will remember hard-hitting plenaries, compelling oral presentations, data-rich posters, influential workshops and the formation of the IEA’s first committee. The lively social events might be harder for some of us to remember…
There could not have been a more fitting way to open the conference than the plenary seminar from Professor Ian Montgomery (QUB) on Thursday night. Within the hour, he managed to given an incredibly detailed summary of the natural history of Ireland, showing how Ireland had been an island for 16,000 years and presenting evidence that human occupation dated back 13,000 years. Ian stepped us through successive mammal invasions, classifying them as true ‘natives’ and more recent ‘invasives’. His seminar was open to the public and the audience included local farmers with strong concerns about the impacts of invasive mammals on their stock.
We were welcomed the following morning with an energetic plenary from Professor Jane Memmott (U Bristol), covering her strikingly diverse career. She took us on a journey from life as a medical entomologist, to tropical ecologist living in a Costa Rican jungle tent, to invasion biologist in the land of invasives – New Zealand, to her more recent work on biodiversity in urban and farmland systems. Quantitative food webs were the central theme. Using both simple and complex food webs, based on enormous data sets, Jane clearly showed that we only see the full story about ecosystem dynamics by examining links between trophic levels. Continue reading “Ecology & Science in Ireland: the inaugural meeting of the Irish Ecological Association”
There are a lot of how-tos on the internet (Thanks Buzzfeed!). You can life-hack yourself into an efficient machine, but before my first day at TCD I couldn’t seem to find a good article to put my nerves at ease. Once you’ve applied and been accepted to grad school it seems like it should all be a bit relaxed, but the night before I started I was a bundle of nerves. There are a few articles that are helpful, like this one from Next Scientist, but most articles I found are pretty vague. Though this is not comprehensive or exhaustive, a list of tips from my first few months are included below.
Show up. The first two months I think just being around the office has helped me more than anything. When you’re present, people come to you with ideas and you get used to how the lab thinks. Plus, if you want to snag some time with your supervisor, it’s easier when you see them often.
Read every single paper you can find, even some that don’t seem relevant. I keep finding relevant information in papers that seem at first glance unrelated to my topic.
Start as soon as possible. My advisor pushed me to start fieldwork within the first two weeks I was in the lab and I am so glad. It really helped me get a handle on what’s feasible and when to do certain tasks. It also helps organize your thinking on the project.
Be the nicest you. This should go without saying but it’s easy to get overwhelmed and stressed. Being pleasant can go a long way in winning you allies.
Appreciate your office mates. They probably know much more about the department and school than you do. They’re the ones to go to for proofing help, help with forms and what to do when, and just general inquiries on how to make things happen. Plus, they’re probably a lot of fun.
Set meetings and deadlines. Regular meetings keep you honest and make sure you’re focused throughout. For someone with dual advisors, meetings with both become invaluable, and a standing meeting can make sure you don’t go too far off.
Get a blanket. It is a truth universally acknowledged that every scientific laboratory and office environment will be about 2°C cooler than is comfortable.
Do paperwork as soon as you get it. It’s easy to let stuff slide but the sooner you get paperwork sorted, the better everything goes.
Set up backups. Put your data somewhere that automatically syncs to the internet. Avoid the dread, terror, and horror of disappearing data.
Become BFFs with your secretary. Most departments will have a secretary and the secretary can be your biggest ally. They know the ropes, they know who to contact, and they can often make things that seem impossible happen in seconds. They’re also usually fantastic and interesting people in their own right.