Paper: Monitoring the influx of new species through citizen science: the first introduced ant in Denmark

One of my biggest hopes for the future is that citizen science, and perhaps especially participatory monitoring becomes an integrated part of every community. With a little help from scientists, I believe that anyone can help monitor the status of biodiversity and the introduction of new species. By actively becoming involved, I hope this will also result in an increased appreciation of nature and biodiversity.

When school children discovered a new species of ant for Denmark while participating in the citizen science project the Ant Hunt (DK: Myrejagten) I was delighted. Building on this discovery, we turned the experience into a scientific paper which was recently published in PeerJ.

Tetramorium Immigrans from Julie Sheard on Vimeo.

The species Tetramorium immigrans was found in the Botanical Garden of the Natural History Museum of Denmark. Based on this find and data from across Denmark and Europe we compared the ecological niche of T. immigrans with its’ sister species T. caespitum finding T. immigrans to prefer warmer temperatures and to be more prevalent in cities.

The study is a neat little example illustrating that even children can help monitor biodiversity and the introduction of exotic species. Especially because new introductions are likely to happen in areas of high human population densities.

Below is a small film by a former intern Birk (at the time an 8th grader/~14 years old). The film is a little story of setting up the Ant Hunt in an urban area. Birk spent a week with me doing field- and labwork. I think his film nicely captures how even going to a city park can be an exciting research expedition which might lead to new and exciting discoveries.

Myrejagt from Julie Sheard on Vimeo.

Book review: The Invention of Nature

Book cover

I’ve decided to write up small reviews of the books I read, that a I believe are of possible interest to ecologists. Maybe one day it will turn into a list of 10 must read books for ecologists. To celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Alexander von Humboldt, I, like so many others, read Andrea Wulf’s The Invention of Nature. Despite being in the final stages of finishing my PhD, I have to admit I devoured this book. It may be because I also had a broken foot for five weeks, and couldn’t do much except sit around and read. But it was captivating.

Andrea Wulf’s description of Alexander von Humboldt and the many famous people he interacted with, is sure to have you wishing to be transported back in time where the world was still largely unexplored, where salons appear to have been a daily occurrence and the line between science and art was practically nonexistent. Of course you tend to forget about the dysentery, the inapropriate clothing for scaling mountains and the lack of modern comforts, such as flushing toilets. These could perhaps easily be tolerated for the opportunity to be in the company of famous personas like Simón Bolívar, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles Darwin, Henry David Thoreau, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron and Edgar Allan Poe, who all read and were influenced by Humboldt.

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) acchieved many things in his life, the least of which was living to age 90. He has multiple geographic places (including mountains, towns, counties, lakes and rivers) and species (including the humboldt penguin and the humboldt squid) named after him. It probably also isn’t far fetched to call him the founder of what we today call macroecology. Through his many travels he noticed similarities between continents, predicted the devastating effects that humans have on nature. The following quote is from a book review published on goodreads by William2, which I think captures mostly everything about the book:

“But his insight into the unplumbed market for science writing is secondary to his real achievement. Humboldt’s revolutionary act was to view nature as a unified force dependent upon myriad interactions and mutual reciprocities, not reduced to mind-numbing categories as taxonomists and other systematists were then doing. Humboldt saw the full ecological impact of forests; therefore, he was the first to warn about deforestation. He saw how greedy cash crops (monoculture), cleared needed forest, leeched the ground of minerals and emptied aquifers, thus touching the fates of countless animal species, including humans. Moreover, he saw the importance of expressing one’s personal emotional responses to nature and he wrote with a passion that repelled some cold men of science, but enlisted scores of readers from all walks of life.”

William2 on Goodreads

Most importantly in this quote, is the realisation that, although many say science should be free of emotion, reporting only the facts, scientists may capture scores of new readers (and nature lovers) by expressing their own personal emotional responses to nature. If you need motivation to fall in love with nature (again), read this book. If you are a PhD student in ecology and you’re starting to wonder why you’re doing what you’re doing, read this book.

Hetch Hetchy Side Canyon, I by William Keith. Uploaded to fineartamerica on January 25th, 2016.

Opportunities in STEM

During December 2015 and January 2016 I participated in an outreach program between Brown University and Lincoln School for girls, which paired female scientific graduate students with AP biology students from Lincoln School. The project was intended to connect the students with young women in the field of scientific research in order to expand their horizons on the many opportunities within STEM.

The students were to conduct personal interviews with their grad students and then create a poster, which was presented to their classmates and all the graduate students during a poster session held at Brown University.

While the project was of course aimed to benefit the Lincoln School students, I felt it a tremendous benefit to myself as well. During the interview I not only got to communicate my scientific interests, but also reflected on the path that had led me to choosing biology as my career when I first applied to college, the various successes and challenges I had encountered and where I thought I would end up in the future.

Reading habits

It’s the Christmas holidays and I’m trying to catch up on the stack of papers on my computer and desk labelled “To read”, among which is a few papers on how to develope good reading habits. One has ten simple rules for developing good reading habits, including trying to avoid a pile up of “to read” papers. From Méndez (2018):

  1. Develop the habit of reading on a daily basis. Alot time for reading.
  2. Read thoroughly to build a sound background understanding of your topic
  3. Do not ignore the pillars of your discipline; read the classics
  4. If you have to get familiar with a new topic, consider reading in chronological order
  5. Avoid narrow-mindedness by reading beyond your discipline
  6. Create a list of relevant journals (I immediately signed up for alerts for a lot of journals, though far from the 20+ suggested)
  7. Not all interesting stuff will appear in articles; read books (Yes! I love books, but often end up reading 5 at once, which gets confusing)
  8. Use a reference manager to keep track of your literature (I use Mendeley)
  9. Keep a long-term review for your own use as a way to remember what you read (This is actually a really good idea, hadn’t thought of that. Could be a spreadsheet for each topic and it might turn into a published review)
  10. Build your own library to make yourself independent and inspire others (Definitely working on this, I love books)