24th July 2017 – Cat Hobaiter, University of St Andrews & Kirsty Graham, University of York

Hi Biotweeps!

Catherine Hobatier.pngCat (@nakedprimate)

I’ve been a field primatologist with the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews for the past 12-years. Much of that time has been spent living and working with the chimpanzees at the Budongo Conservation Field Station in Uganda, but I’ve also worked with baboons and gorillas, and at other sites across Africa.

These days I’m a full time lecturer, but I still get to spend around 5-months a year in the field. My main area of research is ape communication – in particular gestures; but I moonlight on other topics including social learning, tool use, and life history. Much of my work takes a comparative perspective on cognition – looking at the behaviour of modern species of apes (including us) for areas of similarity and distinction that might give us clues about its evolutionary origins.

Around 6-years ago I started the habituation of a new chimpanzee community in Budongo – the Waibira group – with over 30 independent males (10-15 being typical) it’s a whole new world of fun/data collection chaos! This summer I’m piloting a gesture project with the mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, which is where I’ll be tweeting from during our Biotweeps week (apologies in advance for some *very* excited tweets/unnecessarily frequent pictures of infant gorilla floof).

Outside of my day job I’m the VP for Communications for the International Primatological Society and if I’m really not working you can usually find me trying to climb up something (mountains, rocks, trees), or with a nice cup of tea and the world service on the radio.

Kirsty Graham.jpgKirsty (@kirstyegraham)

I’m basically a younger, taller version of Cat (we both have bizarre multinational accents and love rock climbing) who does the same research but with bonobos, the chimpanzee’s sexy cousin. I just finished my PhD at the University of St Andrews looking at how bonobos use gestures, what the gestures mean, and how their gestures compare to those used by chimpanzees.

At the beginning of this month, I started a postdoc at the University of York, UK. So while Cat will be tweeting from the field (note to Cat: NEVER apologise about pictures of infant gorilla floof), I will be tweeting from my office plotting my next fieldwork at Tangkoko, Indonesia, in January. From bonobos to Sulawesi crested macaques!

Last week, we launched an online experiment testing human understanding of great ape gestures. Cat and I found that bonobos and chimpanzees share most of their gestures and gesture meanings, and we want to know whether untrained humans give the same responses to the gestures as a bonobo or chimpanzee would.

So that’s us! We’re really looking forward to a Biotweeps week full of primate facts, fieldwork stories, online experiments, and gorilla floof!

3rd July 2017 – Lauren Diepenbrock, North Carolina State University, Entomological Society of America

Lauren DiepenbrockI am an insect ecologist working in integrated pest management as a postdoctoral research scholar at North Carolina State University. This basically means that I study the ecology of insect pests and incorporate that into management programs to help growers produce healthy crops. At NC State, I study a challenging invasive vinegar fly, spotted wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii), a nearly worldwide pest that impacts small fruit crops (cherry, blueberry, blackberry, raspberry, strawberry, etc.). I also manage a multi-institutional Specialty Crops Research Initiative grant working with researchers all over the United States on coordinated research addressing the management of spotted wing drosophila.

Prior to my postdoc position, I did a Master’s at Florida State University where I studied the seasonal natural history of trap-jaw ants (Odontomachus brunneus) in North Florida with Dr. Walter Tschinkel. I consider myself very fortunate for this opportunity to observe these organisms and learn about their unique behaviors. The observational skills that I learned during this work have been helpful both in my PhD and postdoctoral research.

I did my doctoral research with Dr. Deborah Finke at the University of Missouri. For my dissertation, I looked at the impacts of resources, historical land use, and invasive species on native lady beetle communities in tallgrass habitats in Missouri. Tallgrass prairie was once the predominant land cover for much of this region and has, over time, been converted to agricultural land. I wanted to understand how changes in land use and the restoration of some lands to tallgrass prairie impacted insect communities, and I chose to focus on lady beetles because of recent studies documenting negative impacts of invasive lady beetles (e.g. Harmonia axyridis, Coccinella septempunctata) on native species. One of our major findings is that grasslands (native or agricultural) are really important for promoting the persistence of native lady beetles.

During my week on BioTweeps, I’ll talk about natural history, insect ecology, beneficial and pest insects, integrated pest management, and ongoing research.  There will likely be random cat pictures, discussion of experiences from grad school and beyond, how to make the most out of interesting opportunities along the way, the hunt for a faculty position… and anything else that is of interest at the time. I’m happy to answer whatever insect questions that I can and refer those that I cannot answer to people who can.

12th June 2017 – Angela Watkins, Welsh Government

Angela WatkinsHi Biotweeps!

I’m currently a civil servant with the Welsh Government, working as Biodiversity Policy Officer in our Land, Nature and Forestry team. I’ve been a civil servant for the last nearly 3 years after having completed my PhD at the University of Southampton in 2014. My role mainly involves developing and delivering biodiversity and nature policy and evidence across Wales and supporting others to do the same.  I’ll hopefully be able to share a bit of insight into what this means during my week ‘(wo)manning’ the Biotweeps account.

A bit of background about me: My PhD was in the field of computational ecology, but I actually completed an integrated PhD as part of the Institute of Complex Systems Simulation, so I don’t have an easy answer when people ask me what my PhD is in! Normally depending on the questioner I’ll either say ecology, or complexity and ecology. In a nutshell, my research involved using complex systems theory to develop a model(s) that could test questions about the relationship between landscape ecology (i.e. connectivity) and species persistence and movement in that landscape. To make this sound cooler, I essentially studied the way that jaguars moved around a fragmented habitat in central Belize. I’ll explain a bit more about this too if you are interested!

My main research interests lie in landscape ecology and resilience, (but will broaden to agent-based modelling, conservation, population ecology) but I am keen to link this with real, direct, on the ground policy decisions and implementation. How can we use our theoretical knowledge to deliver real change in terms of conserving and enhancing our biodiversity?

I’m also a wife and mother of two young girls aged (almost) 5 and 15 months, a passionate feminist and promoter of #womeninscience, naturally. Normally I can be found on twitter @ecologywatkins.

24th April 2017 – Danielle Gilroy, Operation Wallacea

Danielle GilroyI am a terrestrial research and operations officer at Operation Wallacea, based in the UK with offices worldwide, and carrying out conservation research in 15 different countries. I oversee of all the forest-based research and am also the Senior Scientist for our largest forest site, Cusuco National Park in Honduras. My main research interests are centred in evolutionary biology and using a combination of molecular and ecological tools to investigate how evolution shapes diversity in populations. I have always strived to carry out research with real conservation applications and I am helping Operation Wallacea’s sister charity, the Operation Wallacea Trust, to make use of our large spatial and temporal datasets from sites around the world to lever funds to best establish conservation practice and work towards protecting particularly vulnerable and highly biodiverse ecosystems.

My PhD at the University of East Anglia focussed on a particular conservation success story, the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis). This endemic island passerine was once down to just 25 individuals on a single island in the Seychelles archipelago in the 1980s, but has since recovered due to a combination of science research integrated with effective island management. There are now over 3000 birds across five islands, 115 times what it was over three decades ago and importantly, we have learnt a lot by using this species as a model of evolutionary study. My thesis looked at the causes and consequences of functional variation within the bottlenecked source population of Seychelles warbler. I investigated how variation at genes critical in innate immune defence could influence individual fitness and a bird’s ability to fight disease, mainly avian malaria, and considered the long-term viability of the species by assessing its genetic health and predicting future changes under natural selection.

During my week, I will focus on our work at Operation Wallacea and present to you our ongoing conservation research across our many terrestrial and marine sites. I will also talk about the importance of molecular ecology as a relatively new and quickly-growing field and as an ornithologist, will no doubt mention birds at every opportunity I can. On a similar note, I will no doubt mention my rescue staffy dog Tia who often accompanies me on my birding adventures.

16th January 2017 – Patrick Hennessey, Queen Mary University

patrick-hennesseyMy name is Patrick Hennessey; I am a young zoologist from Essex, England. For as long as I can remember I have been interested in animals, but my real passion for animals began when I was ten, when I was first introduced to snakes. Since then all I have wanted to do is be a herpetologist.

My summer of 2016 consisted of both science and travel – two things that go very well together. I spent time in three different countries over the space of two months. Two of the trips were for university modules, and the third was to undertake research for my university dissertation project. For my project I had the privilege of travelling to Cusuco National Park, Honduras. The cloud forests of Cusuco are home to many amazing animals such as endemic amphibians, amazing birds, and most importantly some incredible snakes. During my six weeks I was collecting data on the thermal niche characteristics of two species of pit viper. This is incredibly important because cloud forests are one of the habitats globally that are at risk of being lost due to climate change. Therefore, it is important that environments like this continue to be monitored to show any changes that may occur.

The two snakes that I looked at specifically were the Honduran palm pit viper (Bothriechis marchi) and the Honduran montane pit viper (Cerrophidion wilsoni). Both are pit vipers and both live at higher elevations than most other snakes, meaning their thermal requirements are unique. I am currently in the process of analysing my data and writing up my dissertation, although it isn’t as fun as the field work!

I am currently studying Zoology at Queen Marys University London, where I am halfway through my final year. During my degree I have been privileged to gain knowledge from people whom are experts of many different fields, opening my eyes to different areas of science. One thing that has been made very clear to me is the importance of genetics in conservation, and this has led me to want to integrate this into my future career.

My other interests apart from science are collecting skulls (I don’t have many…yet), reading, and running.

I look forward to talking to everyone over the next week!

14th November 2016 – Indicators and Assessments Research Unit, Institute of Zoology (ZSL)

zslUnderstanding how biodiversity responds to ecosystem change is critical for effective conservation. From the behaviour and dynamics of individuals and populations to the global distribution and extinction risk of species, our research focuses on the challenges of monitoring biodiversity across these different scales.
zsl_davidMonday 14th November DAVID JACOBY @DJacoby_Marine

My research seeks to use electronic tracking devices and network analyses of animal movements to understand connectivity and grouping behaviour in ecological communities. I’m interested in how aggregation, collective movement and social interactions can fundamentally impact the persistence and vulnerability of a species, helping us to mitigate against threats. Most of my research is within the marine environment where I study the dynamics and drivers of social networks in apex marine predators such as sharks. I also have a soft spot for freshwater eels.
zsl_lpiTuesday 15th November THE LIVING PLANET INDEX @LPI_Science

The Living Planet Index (LPI) is a measure of the state of global biodiversity based on population trends of vertebrates from around the world. The Living Planet Database (LPD ) currently holds over 18,000 population time-series for more than 3,600 mammal, bird, fish, reptile and amphibian species. A small team of four is currently working on the upkeep and updates of the database and on all related analyses. The latest Living Planet Report was released at the end of October with new LPI results showing there has been an average decline of 58% in vertebrate populations between 1970 and 2012. Follow our Biotweeps takeover for an in-depth look at the report and updates on the rest of our work.
zsl_robinWednesday 16th November ROBIN FREEMAN @Robin_Freeman

I’m the Head of the Indicators and Assessments Unit. My research spans many disciplines from understanding the status and trends of global biodiversity, the creation of new kinds of technology for monitoring and tracking animals in the wild, to remote fieldwork utilising those technologies and new methods for analysing and interpreting the data we are now able to collect.
zsl_nrlThursday 17th November NATIONAL RED LIST @NationalRedList

The National Red List Project collates the conservation status of species across a large number of taxonomic groups, much like the internationally recognised IUCN Red List, but on a regional or national scale. This means that the red lists can be readily incorporated into national biodiversity strategies and action plans and can inform local or national conservation, development and planning processes. Here in Indicators & Assessments, 220,411 species assessments from 161 countries and regions worldwide have been uploaded to our database. We recently received a huge influx of red lists to be processed, which will keep our team of four quite busy for a while!
zsl_monikaFriday 18th November MONIKA BOHM @MonniKaboom

I am primarily researching how we can use extinction risk as an indicator of species’ status and trends over time – which means I get to work with the IUCN Red List and on a large number of different species groups. My personal favourites: reptiles, freshwater molluscs, butterflies and dung beetles! I am also interested in climate change vulnerability of species, biodiversity monitoring in general, capacity building for conservation and science communication & public outreach. Expect a mixture of all of the above during my Biotweeps takeover!
zsl_pieroSaturday 19th November PIERO VISCONTI @pvisconbio

My research focus is in predicting future distribution, population trends and extinction risk of terrestrial vertebrates under future global change scenarios. I am also interested in understanding early warning signals of changes in ecosystem function. Expect lots of tweets talking about the future!