The 2018 Round-up

Is two years in a row too soon to call it a tradition? That’s right; It’s time for this year’s round-up. Cue the theme tune for my ‘yearly highlights of the year’. So here’s my favourite science, achievements, moments and even music from 2018. Let’s start with my favourite 2018 papers.

The stand out science

Right off the bat, I’m cheating, because this first entry is not one, but two papers by Michel Loreau and colleagues. Though both papers are pretty mathematical—in fact, the maths goes a little over my head—the concept is really what places these papers in my top 5 (well, 6) for 2018; I am a concepts guy, after all. The idea is simple. Food chains are not independent of the emergent properties of systems. In other words, functioning and stability result from population dynamics, species responses to disturbance etc. but food chains and species interactions modify these properties. So it’s pretty intuitive that food chains should influence functioning and stability, and a particularly exciting idea that I’m keen to think more about is that stability can experience trophic cascades the same way population size (or some other measure of persistence) does.

Shanafelt DW, Loreau M. (2018). Stability trophic cascades in food chains. Royal Society Open Science.
Barbier M, Loreau M. (2018). Pyramids and cascades: a synthesis of food chain functioning and stability. Ecology Letters.

Read the full Royal Society Open Science paper here.
Read the full Ecology Letters paper here.

Next up, is a paper I discovered after one of the most entertaining talks I’ve heard in quite a while. I caught Brandon Barton’s talk at ESA in New Orleans in August, where he described a novel test of the AC/DC hypothesis. AC/DC famously hypothesised that ‘Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’. But Barton and colleagues prove them wrong. In a novel experiment, they blasted various sounds and genres of music at model ecosystems containing soybeans, soybean aphids and ladybirds. They found that certain sounds (especially AC/DC) could actually induce a trophic cascade in their model food chains, by reducing the efficacy of ladybird predation. This is a nice piece of experimental evidence for the far-reaching impacts of anthropogenic noise; and certainly some of the first evidence that sound can have indirect effects in ecosystems.

Barton BT, Hodge ME, Speights CJ, Autrey AM, Lashley MA, Klink VP. (2018). Testing the AC/DC hypothesis: Rock and roll is noise pollution and weakens a trophic cascade. Ecology and evolution 8, 7649-7656.

Read the full paper here.

This piece by Sebastian Seibold et al. has a simple message. The message is that we need to consider multiple trophic levels simultaneously to fully understand ecosystems and their responses to change. It may seem obvious, but the authors highlight that most work to-date still focuses on either a single trophic level or single trophic links (i.e. two trophic levels). They call for a shift towards more multitrophic research in ecology, highlight areas where multitrophic work is likely to give new insight, and suggest approaches to make multitrophic studies more tractable. There’s not more to say about this paper other than it’s something all ecologists should think about regardless of whether they work across trophic levels or not.

Seibold S, Cadotte MW, MacIvor JS, Thorn S, Müller J. (2018). The Necessity of Multitropic Approaches in Community Ecology. Trends in ecology & evolution.

Read the full paper here.

This next paper is an important and deep exploration of the biodiversity-stability relationship. Frank Pennekamp and colleagues studied communities of aquatic ciliates and generated biodiversity-stability relationships across multiple stability dimensions. They integrate their findings with the ecosystem multifunctionality concept nicely to reveal that biodiversity can increase overall ecosystem stability at low levels of diversity and decrease it at high levels, or vice versa. They suggest that one of the underpinning reasons for inconsistencies and a lack of general emergence of a clear biodiversity-stability relationship more broadly may be response diversity; a concept I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.

Pennekamp F, Pontarp M, Tabi A, Altermatt F, Alther R, Choffat Y, Fronhofer EA, et al. (2018). Biodiversity increases and decreases ecosystem stability. Nature 563, 109-112.

Read the full paper here.

Finally, and perhaps my favourite paper of the year, is this article by Ruth Oliver et al. in Science Advances. This paper is an excellent use of acoustic monitoring and machine learning, and clearly demonstrates the value of these approaches in asking ecological questions. Oliver and colleagues used acoustic monitoring approaches to accurately detect the arrival of songbird communities at their arctic breeding grounds. They also tested for environmental conditions on the performance of models and the phenology of their bird communities, finding that snow-free days most strongly predicted vocal activity, especially strongly before egg laying. They accompanied the acoustic monitoring with traditional surveys to further justify the utility of their automatic detection approach. For me, this paper really pushes the frontiers of acoustic monitoring in ecological research and is an excellent contribution to the literature. The authors use their acoustic data to get at real ecological phenomena which ultimately are likely being influenced by global change. While acknowledging my bias, I genuinely believe that studies like this have the opportunity to ask and answer important ecological questions in coming years.

Oliver RY, Ellis DP, Chmura HE, Krause JS, Pérez JH, Sweet SK, Gough L, et al. (2018). Eavesdropping on the Arctic: Automated bioacoustics reveal dynamics in songbird breeding phenology. Science Advances 4, p.eaaq1084.

Read the full paper here.

The projects and progress
2018 has been another good year for me. I published 2 papers (technically 3 if you count our Ecological Research paper sliding into the January issue), our soundscape paper from the previous year became the 3rd most read/downloaded article in the journal’s history, and I was cited for the first time…and it wasn’t even a self-citation! But here are my main research outputs of 2018:

Our Online Learning article finally made an appearance this summer. This article resulted from my work with Veronica Volz and the University of Leeds FBS Blended Learning team. I worked for several months to conduct a full inventory and audit of the digital learning resources used across the Faculty, and we wondered whether anyone had conducted such an audit before. We thought not, so decided to publish our method with the hope that others may one day find it a helpful approach for planning and implementing their own audits of digital or blended learning resources.

Ross SRP-J, Volz V, Lancaster MK, Divan A. (2018). A generalizable framework for multi-scale auditing of digital learning provision in higher education. Online Learning 22, 249-269.

Read a blog post based on this article here.
Read the full paper here.

Also this year, our Biotropica paper on the impacts of selective logging on ants in Kenya made an appearance. This paper was a lesson in persistence for me, after it underwent five gruelling rounds of review with the same journal. It was interesting to see the review process like this, and I led the writing of this paper with more autonomy than previous papers of mine. The work had been ongoing for >1.5 years when final acceptance came, and was the publication of fieldwork data first gathered by Paco and Georg about 8 years ago. Paco was particularly pleased to get this paper from his PhD finalised and out in the world, and I learnt a lot about transparency and the research process through this project.

Ross SRP-J, Hita Garcia F, Fischer G, Peters MK. (2018). Selective logging intensity in an East African rain forest predicts reductions in ant diversity. Biotropica 50, 768-778.

Read a blog post based on this article here.
Read the full paper here.

Personal highlights

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My 2018 has been overwhelmingly positive. I met people who I know will be friends for life. I attended three international conferences, made connections and had a lot of fun! I travelled to the U.S.A., Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam and Portugal for the first time, enjoyed 8 beautiful months in Okinawa with my friends and colleagues, and showed my PhD advisor around Japan. I even got 2 grants this year: one extends my PhD to 4 years, and the other allows fieldwork in Hokkaido next summer. However, my mental and physical health has been up and down a bit. One overshadowing memory is spending ~40 minutes sitting on the bathroom floor at work, feeling trapped and without purpose. I spent a lot of the year questioning the decisions I’ve made and the direction I’ve started toward. But I don’t regret any of it. That’s been perhaps the biggest realisation for me. Everything I’m doing is leading me where I want to go. So my goal for 2019 is to keep at it while maintaining a healthier and happier personal life.

The music that got me through
This year has been an important one for my other main interest, music. I kept track of new music as it came out, DJ-ed the OIST graduation ball, went to Corona Sunset festival on an Okinawan beach and shared music with friends from all corners of the globe. The top 10 was a tough choice this year, but to me, these tracks are uplifting and innovative. If you do one thing at the start of 2019, set aside 9 minutes to listen to the full version of Sasha’s fabric2099 mix of Amae. You won’t regret it. So, without further ado, here are the top 10 tracks that defined the sound of my year:

10. Culture Shock – There For You
9. Claptone (feat. Ben Duffy) – In The Night
8. DJ Koze – Pick Up
7. Fatboy Slim – Right Here, Right Now (CamelPhat Remix)
6. Tobtok & Adrian Lux (feat. Charlee) – As I Sleep
5. Wilkinson – Decompression
4. Denis Sulta – D.K.Y (But I Do)
3. KC Lights (feat. Nicole Dash Jones) – Change The World
2. Sasha (feat. BAILE) – Amae (Sasha fabric2099 Mix)
1. Friction (feat. JP Cooper) – Dancing

Looking for more? Check out my full Top 100 list on spotify here.

Here’s to 2019
My plans for 2019 are to push hard with my PhD. The year has felt slow for in terms of PhD progress (despite the fruition of several side projects that have been ongoing for a while), so I’m keen to get over the next few hurdles of my PhD. I’ll be presenting at a conference in Galway in January, running and speaking in a symposium in Kobe in March, conducting fieldwork in Hokkaido during summer, and who knows how my research projects will turn out?! I’m going to work more on my mental health and my work:life balance next year and am excited to see what 2019 will bring both professionally and personally. So here’s to 2019, wherever it may take us.

See you on the other side,

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