Thursday, 1 October 2015

Why does a beehive represent the ‘anthropocene’?

I was inspired by the forthcoming event at UQ's GCI 'Anthropocene Slam' and got thinking about what object I would choose to represent the anthropocene.... a beehive!

Bee hives have only really been in mass use since the industrial revolution in the mid-19th century.  Its no coincidence that the intensification/industrialization of honey production occurred at this time, along with many other things!  A beehive represents humans controlling a natural ecological system, intensifying it, and exploiting it. 

Honey production is just one aspect of honey beekeeping.  The other is crop pollination.  For our mass global intensive agricultural systems that have developed over the past century we are now dependent on honey bees: e.g. Honey bees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America according to the White House.  Some crops, such as almonds, are almost exclusively pollinated by honey bees, and many crops rely on honey bees for more than 90% of their pollination. 

However, like many of our natural systems and ecosystem services that are being stretched to the max by intensive human use, honey bees are under serious threat.  Diseases such as colony collapse disorder and the pest varroa mite threaten to wipe out vast numbers across the globe. The causes of the losses of bee colonies are multiple – like many of our ‘anthropocene’ wicked problems, but most can be traced back to human resource (over)exploitation.  Loss of forage habitat, loss of genetic diversity, exposure to pesticides…
There are also spillover effects of the problems in the human-managed bee populations, such as the pests and viruses of honeybees also affecting native pollinators.  

Overall, beehives have allowed us to manipulate a natural ecosystem service to intensify our agriculture.  However, this has left our food production system very vulnerable now that beehives and honeybees are experiencing serious problems at a massive scale, posing a threat to our global food security.  I think this is a reflection of so many other ways in which humans have exploited a single natural resource to enable our population to expand, but have now taken it to a point where our ability to continue to expand our population to 9 bn and counting by 2050 is threatened by our very singular reliance on that exploitation and the effect it has … (cf. coal mining, deforestation…) 

but don't stop keeping bees!  On the contrary, we need to continue to support and improve conditions for both managed and wild pollinators, making sure we have diversity and resilience in our pollination systems both locally (in our gardens) and at an industrial scale.   

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Invasion Hotspots

The latest review for F1000 by Mark Lonsdale and myself, on F1000 here
(yes, I am still doing those!!  But I rarely get time to post on the blog!)

Review of:

Modelling Hotspots for Invasive Alien Plants in India. by D Adhikari, R Tiwary and SK Barik
PLoS ONE 2015; 10(7):e0134665

Risk assessment for invasive species in the past has tended to focus mainly on species’ attributes, rather than the role of the invaded ecosystem. This paper explores the concept of invasion hotspots - regions that are potentially vulnerable to invasion - using a large set of open access species distribution datasets available from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). A novel aspect of their approach is that they don’t simply take into account the climatic niche, they also consider human ‘influences’ known to facilitate invasion processes by delineating ‘anthropogenic biomes’. Where climatic suitability combines with vulnerable ecoregions and anthropogenic biomes, this is considered a ‘hotspot’. The authors find that biodiversity hotspots in India are especially vulnerable as invasion hotspots, an important finding - especially so, as the regional status of invasive species in India has been comparatively little studied. It also illustrates the value for ecological science of mining open access biodiversity data. It would, however, have been useful to see scale factors explored a little more; for example, many invasion hotspots the authors identify are actually in protected areas, though these are presumably within anthropogenic biomes.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Exciting job opportunity for a post-doc to work with me in Brisbane, please apply!

 CSIRO Agriculture currently have an exciting opportunity for a highly motivated Postdoctoral Fellow to join the "Pest Suppressive Landscapes" team based in Brisbane, Queensland. The team seeks to address the broad question: why does landscape context matter for the control of pests and diseases? By combining empirical ecological studies with mathematical modelling, the team aims to gain knowledge that will help address the global challenges of food security and health crises at the landscape scale. In this role you will be specifically focused on the spatial simulation modelling of fruit fly in agricultural landscapes, in order to estimate release rates of factory-produced sterile insects for effective area-wide pest management.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Bees have a chip on their shoulder

Exciting developments in micro tracking devices now allows CSIRO scientists to put tracking devices on bees.  A lot of 'buzz' has surrounded this news story, and its easy to see why - the potential for this sort of technology in understanding movement and behaviour of a wide range of arthropods is very exciting, no other methods currently come close.  They will continue to shrink the devices down, so who knows - maybe we will put some on aphids sooner or later!!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Cereal aphid movement: general principles and simulation modelling

Cereal aphid movement: general principles and simulation modelling Parry HR. Movement Ecology 2013, 1:14

I'm really going in for the open access thing, this is my second publication in that format!  As aphids are widely studied and modelled, I hope that having open access to this review article will help people navigate the literature much more easily. There is an enormous amount of study out there on both the biology and ecology of aphid flight as well as many examples of models that address the different phases of movement. So, I put together a review of principles, parameters and methodologies to construct mechanistic simulation models of cereal aphid flight: including uplift, transportation, deposition and subsequent spread.  I've chosen to publish in the new journal 'Movement Ecology' as I think it will be an important scientific journal in a rapidly growing field going into the future, and I'm truly honoured to be one of the first papers published there. 

Many thanks to Andy Jensen, Eagle, Idaho, U.S.A. for the image of an alate R. padi shown above, that has been used as the thumbnail for the paper on the journal homepage.  Andy takes great aphid photos and kindly allowed me to use this image, thank you. 

A new year - time to catch-up on last year's F1000 reviews!

I've had a very busy few months trying to get more of my own work out there in the scientific literature that I've had little time for much else.  However, I have continued to write reviews for F1000, but haven't found time until now to update this blog.  So, please read on for the reviews we did in the second half of 2013!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Practical guidelines for modelling post-entry spread in invasion ecology

My first open-access journal article has just been published!  It is part of a special issue in the new journal 'Neobiota':

Parry HR, Sadler RJ, Kriticos DJ (2013) Practical guidelines for modelling post-entry spread in invasion ecology. In: Kriticos DJ, Venette RC (Eds) Advancing risk assessment models to address climate change, economics and uncertainty. NeoBiota 18: 41–66. doi: 10.3897/neobiota.18.4305

If you follow the link above it takes you to the paper on the journal's website, and from there you can download the pdf.  This paper has evolved over the past couple of years out of discussion with the co-authors and other members of the International Pest Risk Mapping Workgroup, so quite a bit of discussion and thought went into it over time.  We try to give something of a 'roadmap' for modellers faced with a wide range of pest risk management questions relating to post-entry spread in invasion ecology, taking into account considerations such as spatial and temporal scales but also constraints such as, inevitably, time and money.  In the end I hope we have come up with something that is useful!

The following diagram (figure 4 in the paper) is a good summary of some of the paper's concepts, but requires a fair bit of explanation that can be found in the paper, along with a lot more exciting stuff, like dealing with uncertainty!

Flow diagram to illustrate the modelling process with concepts from the paper (please click on image to enlarge).