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.
So 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!
The 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).
I 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!
I am a senior lecturer at Cardiff University, and co-director of Eco-explore (www.eco-explore.co.uk); a scientific research and engagement enterprise. My research interests in zoology, ecology and conservation stem from my origins as a birdwatcher in mid-Wales. My research group studies animal behaviour in changing environments, investigating the effects of climate on individuals, populations and ecological processes – particularly how such effects may be mediated by the behaviour of individual animals. The environmental changes that we study range from habitat destruction, long-term climate changes, through seasonal and daily changes, to the sudden appearance of a potential predator or an unfamiliar type of food. This work falls under four main headings, though there is plenty of overlap between these topics.
Climate change biology
Focusing on several major study systems that use migratory birds as sensitive bio-indicators of climate-driven changes in trophic relationships.
- The European Storm Petrel –the smallest Atlantic seabird
- The Northern Wheatear –which has the most extreme trans-oceanic migration of any songbird
- Reed-bed warblers (Reed Warblers and Sedge Warblers) –a pair of congeneric migrants with contrasting migration strategies
- Pied Flycatchers and Barn Swallows –two model species in the study of climate impacts on migratory birds.
Sensory constraints on behaviour
- Eye design in birds and visual constraints on behaviour
- Impacts of light and noise pollution on wildlife
Dietary wariness and foraging ecology
- Novel-food wariness in birds and fish, and its evolutionary consequences
- Strategic regulation of energy reserves in wild birds
Impacts of human activities on wild animals
- Impacts of capture and handling on birds and other animals
- Practical conservation of populations, habitats and biodiversity hotspots in a changing world
- Ecological impacts of eco-tourism
Scientific engagement work
My role in Eco-explore involves a range of scientific engagement work with schools, universities and NGOs. One of my special interests is the teaching of data analysis in a non-intimidating way, to empower amateur and professional researchers to explore the full potential of the data that they collect. I also run regular citizen-science expeditions and field courses in Portugal, Senegal and in the UK.
To find out more about my work at Cardiff University and Eco-explore, follow these links:
I am a behavioural ecologist, currently seeking a postdoc or steady employment in a difficult time! I studied mosquito physiology and aging for my Masters at University of Florida, and then predation and nesting behaviour of Red-throated Caracaras at Simon Fraser University. I am an avid photographer, and often use photography and videography in my research and teaching. Since my PhD I have been looking for postdoctoral positions, as well as working on invasive ants and biodiversity inventories. If you follow me this week, be prepared for lots of natural history, photography and speculation about careers!