Liberation Ecology: From Basic Plant Ecology to Paulo Freire

Ecological Inspirations from Associate Editor Julieta Rosell 

julietaJulieta is based in the Instituto de Ecología at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México – one of the largest Universities in Latin America. Julieta’s research focuses on plant ecology and evolution. She has worked on the functional ecology of woody stems, including mechanics, storage, and structure of bark and wood, along with the evolution of life forms in diverse clades in the wet and dry tropics. She has recently started work on the functional ecology of maize and bean races, plant-soil relationships in agroecosystems, and ecological issues in forest management and conservation. 


I am a lucky Mexican woman. I have been able to pursue a career in science in a country where just finishing school, let alone getting into university, is not an option for many, and especially women. Becoming an ecologist in a country with these social challenges, but also in one of the world’s greatest hotspots of both cultural and biological diversity, has been motivating and inspiring. And although the environmental and social challenges might differ between countries, the discoveries of ecology are as relevant to human well-being in Mexico as they are worldwide. In my research, I focus on how and why plants allocate their hard-won carbon to different structures and functions. For example, by trying to understand why a plant allocates more or less carbon to produce a thick or a thin bark, my research underscores the fact that fire is not the only environmental driver of bark thickness. Factors such as water storage, photosynthate translocation, bark photosynthesis, and mechanical support also drive variation in this trait, especially in the many virtually fire-free forests of the world. Basic bark functional ecology can thus help to improve our management plans through a better understanding of how plants might respond to changes in precipitation or fire regimes that are predicted to occur in many areas. Likewise, this knowledge can help improve carbon flux models by understanding how the amount of carbon stored in bark changes across environments. How to successfully deliver these fruits of ecological research to society and how to achieve the richest possible science-society dialogue is one of the great challenges close to the heart of scientists everywhere.

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Phylogeny, phenotype and plant–soil feedbacks

Connor Fitzpatrick is a graduate student based at the University of Toronto Mississauga. The article below gives us a background into his work and recent Journal of Ecology paper; Phylogenetic relatedness, phenotypic similarity and plant–soil feedbacks.


This project started from the simple idea that closely related organisms will interact more strongly due to their similarity in traits that determine ecological function. A lot of people are excited about this idea because it provides an evolutionary context for the sometimes unpredictable universe of ecology. Explaining contemporary interactions between species and the resultant community and ecosystem processes with evolution is an inspiring goal and is what propelled our project.

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Connor and co-author Laura Gehant

Plant-soil feedbacks have a rich, but somewhat recent, history in ecology. Traditionally, ecologists thought that plant distributions were shaped by soil properties and climate; relatively unchanging features of the abiotic environment. But in the last 30 years, ecologists found that plants can actually alter the properties of their surrounding soil and that these alterations can affect the growth of plants in future generations. Interestingly, humans have known for hundreds of years that soil conditioning by a given plant can affect the growth of another, for example, farmers using crop rotation or different combinations of crops to provide long-term soil and plant health. Continue reading

Press release: Wheat virus crosses over, harms native grasses

Michigan State University Press Release

Once upon a time, it was thought that crop diseases affected only crops. New research shows, however, that a common wheat virus can spread and harm perennial native grasses.

In their Journal of Ecology paper, researchers from Michigan State University, Kansas University and Virginia University show that farmers and scientists need to think about how best to protect native plants from diseases emanating from crops.

“Crop fields were once considered tiny islands in a sea of wild vegetation, so farmers and scientists focused on protecting crops from wild pathogens,” said Carolyn Malmstrom, MSU plant biologist and co-lead author of the study. “Now, around the world, the situation has reversed, and diseases from agricultural fields affect not only crops, but also substantially harm native plants, such as switchgrass.”

Carolyn Malmstrom, associate professor of plant biology, poses in front of a growth chamber on Monday February 11, 2013.

Carolyn Malmstrom, Associate Professor of Plant Biology, MSU

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The Journal of Ecology Blog: 2016 Success and 2017 New Challenges

Happy New Year to all our readers!

I started working for the Blog a bit more than a year ago (I really enjoy it!) with the help of the great Editorial Blog Team including Executive Editor David Gibson, Assistant Editor James Ross and Managing Editors Emilie Aimé and Andrea Baier. Together we are committed to promote easy access to scientific knowledge and make ecology available to scientists of all discipline, stakeholders and the general public.

We also aim to promote the work of ecologists, particularly young scientists and women, who both have their dedicated category in the blog (see Early-Career Scientist and Women in Science). This year we also introduced the video podcasts in the blog to give early-career scientists the opportunity to talk about their research – All videos (with subtitles) are available in the video category and in our YouTube Channel.

In 2016, we have had 13473 visitors of the blog with more than 21000 page views – a record since its creation in 2012. We are grateful for your support and want to thank you for your interest in our blog posts and the many shares on social medias. Continue reading

2016 Reprise, and 2017 Preview

A Happy New Year to all our readers, authors, and reviewers from the Journal of Ecology Editorial Team! In many ways 2016 was an eventful year (we promise not to talk about politics here), including for the Journal. In brief, we were pleased to receive well over 800 original manuscript submissions, 54% of which were sent out for review, and 23% went on to be published. We also continued to refer papers which didn’t quite make it in Journal of Ecology to our sister journal Ecology & Evolution. As always a massive thanks to our Associate Editors and all our reviewers; we greatly appreciate the time and expertise that you provide to maintain the high standards of the Journal.

We continue to be a truly international journal with submissions in 2016 from 59 different countries, with the United States and China leading the way, followed by Germany, Spain, Australia, France, and the United Kingdom. We also have a diverse Editorial Board, with a 42:58 % female: male gender split and Associate Editors (AEs) coming from 21 countries located on every continent except Africa and Antarctica (volunteers?); we recently welcomed Mahesh Sankaran as our first AE from the Indian subcontinent. In addition, we expanded the expertise and geographic spread of our AE board with the appointment of Kathy Van Alstyne, Duncan Cameron, Jane Catford, Han Chen, Giselda Durigan, Emily Farrer, Randal Hughes, Etienne Laliberté, Natalia Norden, Julieta Rosell, Gail Wilson, and the aforementioned Mahesh Sankaran. Walter Carson, Will Cornwell, and Michelle Leishman have stepped down from the board and we thank them greatly for their valuable service. Continue reading

The RainDrop Project at the BES Annual Meeting 2016: a Focus on Long-Term Drought Experiments

It was a pleasant surprise to see some real plants at the BES Annual Meeting in Liverpool. The Ecological Continuity Trust (ECT), a charity supporting long-term ecosystem experiments, had model calcareous grassland communities on display at their stand, along with two different phenotypes of Festuca ovina. These plants were used in a comparative study with those from the climate change experiment at Buxton Climate Change Impact Laboratory, a site which the ECT helps support. Raj Whitlock of Liverpool University developed the display which featured plants used to investigate evolutionary responses to simulated climate change treatments at Buxton and natural environmental gradients at Öland (Sweden).

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Grassland communities on display on the ECT stand at the BES Annual Meeting 2016. Picture from @ECT_UK.

The ECT is also promoting the establishment of a new long-term experimental project at Oxford University’s Wytham estate. The RainDrop project (rainfall and drought platform) is part of the new International Drought Experiment (IDE) coordinated by the Drought-Net consortium. The International Drought Experiment implements a standardized protocol, manipulating ambient rainfall levels at multiple sites in a range of terrestrial ecosystem types across the globe. Continue reading

Editor’s Choice 105.1 – Elephants trump fire in the Kruger

External disturbances are powerful drivers of community and ecosystem reorganization over most of the Earth’s terrestrial surface. As such, they cause losses of plant biomass, reset succession, modify stocks and fluxes of nutrients, and change trophic dynamics. Furthermore, most ecosystems are subjected to multiple disturbance agents, and these disturbances do not operate in isolation from one another. Despite this, most studies have focused on how communities and ecosystems respond to a single type of disturbance, and few have considered the consequences of interactive effects among disturbance agents (Harvey et al. 2014, Buma, 2015). Additionally, few studies have addressed how the effects of disturbances, and in particular the interactive effects among different disturbances, varies across contrasting communities or is determined by environmental context (Sankaran and McNaughton 1988).

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This issue’s Editor’s Choice paper was based in Kruger National Park, in northeastern South Africa

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Volume 105, Issue 1

Volume 105 Issue 1 of Journal of Ecology is now available online!

105-1The January 2017 issue features 27 papers, including a Special Feature on dispersal processes by guest editors Cristina García, Etienne Klein and Pedro Jordano. The Special Feature – Dispersal processes driving plant movement: range shifts in a changing world – originated from a thematic topic session at the BES Annual Meeting 2015, Edinburgh. It includes 8 standard papers as well as an Editorial from the guest editors.

This issue’s cover image also comes from one of the Special Feature studies (Farwig et al). The photo credit goes to Sascha Rösner and shows one of the forest fragments in the Eastern Poland area of the Białowieża Forest, which was one of the areas the study was based in.

This issue also features our annual Harper Review paper. Last year’s inaugural Harper Review was written by Yvonne Buckley and Jane Catford, and this year Associate Editor Jason Fridley has contributed a fascinating review titled Plant energetics and the synthesis of population and ecosystem ecology. Continue reading

Fun Times at the BES Annual Meeting 2016

The BES meeting 2016 in Liverpool is now over and what a great meeting it was. Don’t worry: if you could not make it this year, you can hear all about it in the new blog post below from Jane Catford, our new Associate Editor. Jane kindly accepted to share her thoughts with you on the best moments of the meeting.

Pierre Mariotte
Blog Editor, Journal of Ecology


My first time in the home of The Beatles, my first time dodging owls at a poster session, and my first time being serenaded by a rotund frog in a bar. Clearly this was my first BES meeting, and – safe to say – it did not disappoint.

I’ve heard a lot about the BES meetings from colleagues all over the world. Being field season in Australia (my home until five months ago), I’ve never actually made it to one of these meetings before. I can see I’ve been missing out though – so, looks like regular BES meetings will be another benefit of moving to Southampton!

The second largest annual meeting of ecologists after the Ecological Society of America, this really is an exciting place to be for those partial to thinking about the natural world. At 1,200 attendees and 850 talks, it is large enough to have heaps to choose from – and for there to be a sizeable ecological buzz. But it’s also small enough to frequently bump into people, so that there is plenty of opportunity for those all-important chats. Though most attendees are local, 28% are from other countries, adding to the diversity of speakers, topics, and systems and organisms discussed. Continue reading

World Soil Day 2016

For World Soil Day 2016, secretary of the BES Plants, Soils, Ecosystems Special Interest Group, Ellen Fry, has written about the work of the SIG and the importance of World Soil Day…


wsd1This year on World Soil Day I intend to use my social media platforms to raise awareness of the main issues surrounding soil conservation, including erosion, pollution and urbanisation. Now I’ll admit, soil isn’t exactly on the top of most people’s conservation list, but the simple fact is that if we destroy our soil we destroy ourselves in very short order.

And we are destroying it. The Soil Association’s estimation is that 30 football pitches of fertile soil are lost globally every minute, which is just an incomprehensible thought. In this tumultuous year, it is more crucial than ever that we start trying to look after the world around us, and this is what the International Union of Soil Sciences was trying to achieve when they first came up with World Soil Day in 2002. The day has been adopted by the European Commission and the FAO who have come up with a number of directives that aim to reduce the amount of soil lost. Each year the EU holds a conference in Brussels on World Soil Day and this year it is titled the ‘Soil stakeholder’s conference’. This really means everyone, because who can claim to have no stake in the future of our air, water and food supplies? Continue reading