Taking the graveyard shift for science

Posted by Tynan Burkhardt @TynanBurkhardt

Bias is a thorn in the side of any researcher, whose goal it is to discern general effects and phenomena in the environment. The most commonly quoted of these biases is the hemispheric bias, in that there is a lot more research occurring in the northern hemisphere, where 88% of the worldly population resides. Another bias, which I have encountered in my research, is the diurnal to nocturnal bias. My research considers the patterns of nocturnal transpiration (night-time water loss) between seasons and between drought and non-drought years. By choosing to study nocturnal transpiration I have effectively taken the graveyard shift, taking leaf-scale measurements all through the night on multiple occasions and depriving myself (and others… for which I thank my volunteers greatly!) of sleep. Apparently, and I have no idea why, other researchers choose to study processes which can be measured at normal working hours, meaning day-time ecology is more frequently documented.

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Me sleeping on the job, while volunteer Helen does all the hard work.

Studying a topic at night-time and in the southern hemisphere got me thinking… how will biases such as these change in future with technological and socio-economic advancements? For example, remote regions are very much understudied due to inaccessibility. Perhaps in time, when flying cars are common place or sampling robots like the curiosity rover are more affordable, this bias could be completely rectified… at least on a global scale. Likewise, a large contributor to the hemispheric research bias is that the largest populations of the southern hemisphere are within Southern Africa, Indonesia and South America. These regions contain a disproportionate amount of the world’s poverty-stricken people who do not have the resources to contribute to scientific research as readily as the populations of North America and Europe. Fortunately, living conditions worldwide are improving and young people throughout the aforementioned regions are increasingly becoming the first of their lineage to acquire a university degree. So long as this trend continues, which we should all hope it will for reasons other than scientific utility, the southern to northern hemisphere literature gap will surely be reduced.

Biases will always be a part of science as they arise from circumstance, but an important role for the scientific community is to identify the drivers of these biases, whether they be socio-economic, technological or geographic. Scientists already account for bias when making models and statements about the natural world, but nothing can replace an increased sample size!

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Tynan is a Masters student at the University of Auckland’s Ecology Ngatahi lab group. He is studying Nocturnal Transpiration in kauri trees and is supervised by Cate Macinnis-Ng.
email: 
tbur187@aucklanduni.ac.nz

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You think writing a thesis is hard? Try writing one in another language!

Posted by Carolina Lara Mendoza @carislaris

Doing a PhD is hard. Writing a thesis in English when English is not your first language is harder. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2015, more than four million students were enrolled in higher education programs outside their home countries. Since 2005, international PhD students at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, have contributed to 45% of all PhD students. This means that from the period 2014-2016, approximately 2,552 students have enrolled in the doctoral program at Auckland Uni. That’s great! And it illustrates the good work that the University and the government have done to reduce fees and make more scholarships available. At the end of the day, we live in an era of globalisation and English is its language.

Before enrolling in a doctoral program overseas, every PhD student must prove they are proficient in English. This is measured through either a TOEFL test, an IELTS test or by an internal English examination. But does passing those tests mean we are ready to write a dissertation in English? From my experience, I must say that is not enough. Furthermore, PhD students who are non-native English speakers are expected to complete the degree with all the struggles while still learning advanced English (academic English). I’m not discounting the efforts of the University of Auckland, because we’re provided with workshops aiming to improve PhD student’s academic English, but think it shouldn’t just be up to the institution and the student. Supervisors of students for whom English is not their first language also play an important role in providing adequate and constructive written feedback, and need to be aware this will likely take time and patience. Raul Pacheco-Vega recently tweeted something of great importance “For those of you who supervise doctoral dissertations in English to be written by non-native English speakers; particularly those of you whose first language IS English: please remember and check your privilege: you get to write in your own language. They may lack the background”.

Write-consistently

In the meantime, here are some tips that have helped me to write my thesis in English:

  • Be proud of yourself and celebrate small achievements. Sounds hard while doing a PhD but it is important. Remember you’re doing something great by writing a thesis in a second language! You wrote a whole section? Celebrate. You wrote two sentences? Celebrate. Everything is a success!
  • Embrace feedback from supervisors. After 3.5 years of doing a PhD I still find this challenging. Getting feedback on a manuscript makes me feel anxious and quite often I feel like I’ve failed. It cannot be further from the truth. Feedback is the only way we can improve our written academic English!
  • Practice writing as much as you can. And don’t leave it until you start writing your thesis. For me writing grant applications at the early stages of my PhD (some of them have been successful!) was very useful, as was writing blog entries throughout, which was good for learning how to target my writing to different audiences.
  • Have a friend in your field proof-read your writing. Getting feedback from someone other than your supervisors is a good idea and helps you gain practice (and confidence).
  • Use the available tools. Either at your institution, books or even online. I’ve found that thesaurus.com is incredibly useful when I can’t think of a synonym or when looking for a word’s meaning.
  • Don’t give up. If you’re consistent and patient, you’ll get there. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

 

CalisCarolina Lara M. is a PhD Candidate within the Centre for Biodiversity and Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. Her research interests focus on seed dispersal networks within fragmented landscapes. She is supervised by Margaret StanleyJason Tylianakis, Karine David, and Anna Santure.

The ants are coming

Posted by Darren Ward @nzhymenoptera

Ants are among the most invasive animals on the planet. Over 240 species have been recorded as being transported by humans to new geographic locations, and 19 of those are considered invasive.

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Caption. The Argentine ant, a globally invasive species. Photo by Philip Herbst. Image available from Ant Web.

But not all invasions occur as the result of direct transport. Some species have managed to invade one place, survive, and then migrate to another—a process known as the “bridgehead effect”. In a new paper, just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we investigated these secondary invasions, and show bridgehead effects are a major driver of new invasions.

We looked at interception data, that is, records of what ant species have been intercepted at the border. Two large and long-term datasets were examined, one from the USA covering the years 1914 to 1984 and containing 51 ant species, and the second from New Zealand covering the years 1955 to 2013 with 45 ant species.

The most surprising result was that most of the interceptions did not originate from species’ native ranges but instead came from already invaded areas. In the United States, 75.7% of the interceptions came from a country where the intercepted ant species had been previously introduced. In New Zealand, this value was even higher, at 87.8%.

Interceptions also increased when they came from countries that were physically closer (Latin America for species intercepted in the United States and Oceania for species intercepted in New Zealand). Additionally, ant species that travelled the most tended to be more successful in invading a secondary location. This created a positive feedback loop between the introduction and establishment stages of the invasion process, in which initial establishments promote secondary introductions.

Overall, these results reveal that secondary introductions act as a critical driver of increasing global rates of invasions. Consequently, it is not enough simply to account for the original location of an invasive species. To better understand pathways of invasive species, we also need to follow the dynamics of spread throughout their entire range.

 

Cleo Bertelsmeier, Sébastien Ollier, Andrew M. Liebhold, Eckehard G. Brockerhoff, Darren Ward, and Laurent Keller. Recurrent bridgehead effects accelerate global alien ant spread. PNAS (2018). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1801990115

 

and if you really like ants, then another really great related paper is

Cleo Bertelsmeier, Sébastien Ollier, Andrew Liebhold & Laurent Keller. Recent human history governs global ant invasion dynamics. Nature Ecology & Evolution (2017). doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0184

 

Darren Ward is an entomologist, Head Curator at the New Zealand Arthropod Collection at Landcare Research, and a senior lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland.

Social Wasp Invasion on New Zealand’s Offshore Islands

     Watch my vlog on social wasp invasion on New Zealand’s offshore islands
– some of the last refuges for endangered species – below:

 

Julia Schmack is a PhD student at the Centre for Biodiversity & Biosecurity, School of Biological Scinyences, University of Auckland. She is researching the ecology and control of social wasps, supervised by Jacqueline Beggs, Darren Ward and Mandy Barron (Landcare Research). Her PhD is funded by the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge. Download the Highlights 2017 report by the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge here.

twitter_pixabay.com @julia_schmack

email_commons.wikipedia.org j.schmack@auckland.ac.nz

 

The other side of the world

Posted by Noor Rooding @noorrooding 

I left the Netherlands as winter was finally coming to an end.  Arriving in Auckland I have been able to experience the final glimpse of summer, before it heads into the depths of winter.  Coming from the Netherlands I thought I understood rain… Sadly, Auckland has taught me that there is more to rain than I had realised.

In the Netherlands I study Applied Biology at the HAS University of Applied Science in Venlo. This is a four-year bachelor’s programme and I am currently in my third year. This year I had the opportunity to go on an internship abroad. I contacted Cate Macinnis-Ng and she was happy to get some help with some ongoing projects. This is how I ended up on the other side of the world

I have done some traveling in the past but only in Europe, so going to the other side of the world was a big step. I have been in New Zealand for two months now.  One of the first things that I noticed is the average size of the New Zealander is a little bit smaller than in the Netherlands. But after all Dutch people are just tall, so it shouldn’t be a surprise. Of course, there are more obvious differences like the time difference, climate and nature. One of the major differences that has struck me is how much native bush I see, even when I am in the middle of the city.

I have also enjoyed seeing other parts of New Zealand.  The Netherlands is very flat and does not have amazing things like volcanoes. I had a great experience doing the Tongariro alpine crossing and met some awesome people there. Everyone is so friendly and willing to help you. Someone even took me on a road trip the day after the walk.

As well as having lots of fun checking out your beautiful country I have also been doing some work.  I am working on the litterfall project, which is an ongoing project involving many people. For this I am collecting litterfall material and sorting them into different categories such as species, branches and reproductive material. My main focus is looking at the reproductive cycle of the kauri.  This involves looking at the data to date and seeing if drought has any effect on the reproductive cycle.  I am expecting to see that drought conditions lead to more loss of reproductive material, such as seeds.

Coming to New Zealand has been an amazing experience that I will never forget.  One of my favourite parts of my internship has been getting involved in several other projects. I was lucky to be help with the 24-hour project climbing kauri trees. It gave me the chance to climb these amazing trees and see them up close and personal.

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Climbing the trees for the 24-hour project

I am here to learn and enjoy my stay in the country and experience as much as possible. If anyone needs help with anything, please feel free to contact me.

noor

Noor is an intern visiting from The Netherlands, working with Cate Macinnis-Ng on ‘The Litterfall Project’.  Contact details: noorrooding@hotmail.com