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!

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10th July 2017 – Robyn Womack, University of Glasgow

Robyn WomackHi BioTweeps! My name is Robyn and I am a twenty-something pint-sized zoology fanatic from the Isle of Wight, UK.

Currently, I am in my second year as a PhD student at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, investigating biological rhythms of wild birds (or otherwise, how birds “tick”). I spend a good portion of my time during the spring field season out in the wild forests near Loch Lomond working within a nest box system, and the other half in the lab doing genetic analyses. My research questions span a wide range of topics, from disease ecology and avian health to urban ecology and chronobiology (clock biology) – with the overarching theme of environmental factors influencing clocks in the wild.

Although my research focus is on birds, I have a broad interest in all things zoology. Back in 2014, I finished my BSc Zoology at Aberystwyth University in Wales, and since then I have experienced a variety of zoological roles such as research field assistant positions, zoo-keeping and volunteering in conservation. I’ve also experienced some non-zoological roles, such as working in cell culture and being part of an Athena SWAN self-assessment team promoting women in STEM subjects – something I feel passionate about!

I am super excited to be taking on BioTweeps this month as I am a strong believer that science, particularly biology, is awesome. And as biologists, we definitely ought to shout about it some more.

You can find more about me on my personal website http://www.robynwomack.com , or over on Twitter @robynjwomack .

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.

30th January 2017 – Naima Montacer Hill, EnviroAdventures.com

naima-jeannetteNaima Jeannette is a passionate conservationist at heart. She currently teaches Environmental Biology at a community college in Dallas, Texas and freelance writes for various newspapers, magazines and online outlets. Naima has a Master of Science degree in Biology, with a focus on Wildlife, and completed a research thesis project on ringtails in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, located in the panhandle of Texas. Throughout her career she has been in the field as a scientist and environmental educator, and now focuses on being the communicative bridge between scientists and the general public. 

Here’s the real deal:

I grew up with a sense of wonder for the outdoors, so much so my first word was, “outside.” I never lost my enthusiasm for wildlife and wild spaces and grew my career following my passion. I’ve worked as a zookeeper, wildlife field research leader, teacher naturalist, environmental educator and in all of these roles I wanted to increase my knowledge and help others understand our connection to the natural world. It wasn’t until I started a blog that I found an outlet where I could reach people through written words. This inspired me to look toward science communication as an outlet to educate people about science and encourage everyone to practice conservation in their every day lives. My writing gives me the opportunity to meet and discuss conservation issues with scientists, private land owners, government employees, elected officials, and various community members. It is exciting to discover knew knowledge and translate often complicated science into easy to understand content every one can understand. 

I love everything outdoors from kayaking to hiking and am always up for a travel adventure with my two pups and husband. Let’s chat on Twitter, follow me @naimajeannette

11th July 2016 – Dan Sankey, Swansea University

Daniel SankeySo I applied to take over the @Biotweeps twitter feed and they said yes! I’m completely stoked, so I’ve been getting inspired about some new ideas for a direction to take the feed in… Here is the biog I gave them:

As a keen early career researcher, fascinated by consensus decision making in animal groups, I thought it appropriate (and good fun) to create polls on the BIG questions in the Biosciences: a consensus from the experts! To rally enthusiasm, and to get a killer set of questions prepared, I have started sending out question requests to my followers, and this goes for you now too J. I am requesting questions of general interest and importance, to encourage discussion about critical topics in the biosciences.

For example, would the poll for the question: “How should money be distributed on conservation resources?” reflect the actual proportions in place? What can or should be done differently? I look forward to some healthy debate while I’m in the hot-seat.

To keep this side of my time on @Biotweeps relatively profound, I think one BIG question per day (with authors handle attached) should suffice, and hopefully get people thinking about their own core values, ethics and good science!

For the rest (95%) of my time I should be out in Chamois; France, tagging cattle to help @Richwithtea on his research project (in the name of movement ecology), and paying tribute to the cows too (by eating their tasty cheese! ). So expect loads of lush mountain views, and posts about interesting new science in behavioural ecology and beyond!

9th May 2016 – The Wytham Tit Project, University of Oxford

Wytham titsThe Wytham Tit Project is a long-term population study of great tits (Parus major) and blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) based at Wytham Woods near Oxford, UK, and is run by the Edward Grey Institute in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford. The project was set up in 1947 by John Gibb and David Lack, inspired by pioneering work by Kluijver in the Netherlands, in order to study the breeding biology of the great tit. Tits make excellent study species for ecological research as they readily take to artificial nest boxes, breed at high densities and cope well with being monitored. Lack initially put up 100 nest boxes in one section of Wytham Woods; the study was later expanded around 1960 to cover the entire 385-hectare woodland using over 1000 fixed location nest boxes. Over the last 57 years, we have monitored all the breeding attempts in these boxes and individually-marked all parents and offspring (spanning up to 40 generations), making this one of the longest running ecological studies of marked wild individual animals in the world.

Over these decades, scores of researchers, PhD students and undergraduates have used the Wytham tit system to explore a broad range of ecological questions, resulting in over 300 peer-reviewed publications. Some major themes of this work are (1) life-history biology, (2) response to climate change and the ecology of phenology (3) ecology and epidemiology of disease, (3) optimal foraging, (4) predator-prey interactions, (5) social behavior and spread of information through social networks, (6) the causes and consequences of individual variation in personality, and (7) quantitative and molecular genetics.

The 2016 breeding season is now well underway in Wytham Woods. Over 400 female tits have begun laying in our nest boxes and we expect another couple of hundred to start in the coming weeks. We already have our first hatchlings, which, over the next fortnight, will grow to c. 18 times their hatching weight before leaving the nest! Throughout the week we’ll be tweeting news and pictures from the woods (mainly tit-related but also other woodland activity) as well as facts, findings and videos about tit research. Tweeting will mainly be done by Dr Ella Cole (@EllaFCole, Research Fellow and tit project coordinator) and Prof Ben Sheldon (@Ben_Sheldon_EGI, Head of the Wytham Tit Project).

18th April 2016 -Jen McDonald, Western University

Jen McDonaldI started my MSc at Western University (back when it was the University of Western Ontario!) in September 2007. In 2009, I rolled up to a PhD, and graduated in August 2015. When I finished my undergrad degree at McMaster University, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life (I still wonder if I know what I want to do with the rest of my life…) so I applied to both teacher’s college and graduate school. I was rejected at every teacher’s college I applied to, but accepted to grad school…so I guess that made that decision easy! I chose my supervisor, Dr. Greg Thorn, based on how cool is previous grad students’ projects sounded: many of them did work in Costa Rica, and it was my dream to travel somewhere exotic for field work! Joke’s on me; I still have never been to Costa Rica, and my field work was all done in Ontario. For my PhD thesis I studied the systematics of an obscure group of fungi, comparing morphologial and molecular methods of identifying species. I found out that, while morphology may be informative for some species, there’s an enormous amount of morphological variation in other species. Geography and host or substrate might also be informative for some species (some are highly host- and location-specific), while others are generalists that are truly cosmopolitan (one species occurs on five continents across temperate and tropical forest ecosystems) or have been collected on twenty different species. I managed to describe a few (OK, to toot my own horn: 18) new species from herbarium collections, fresh collections from my field work, fresh collections mailed to me from around the world, and culture collections.

During my degree I rekindled my passion for teaching and became heavily involved in curriculum mapping, course development, and teaching pedagogy. I now have a contract in partnership between Nelson Publishing and Western U to implement new teaching and learning technologies into our massive first year biology course (about 1800 students across 2 different courses).

While in grad school I also taught myself how to knit, and I work part-time in a yarn store. So Twitter beware: I’ll probably be tweeting about my knitting!