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Improbable Destinies: An interview with Jonathan B. Losos

Jonathan B. Losos with his favourite research subject: the green anole

Jonathan B. Losos is an evolutionary biologist, currently at Harvard University. He is best known for his research on speciation in Caribbean anoles, a genus of iguanian lizards. Previously, he has authored Lizards in an Evolutionary Tree: Ecology and Adaptive Radiation of Anoles. His latest book, Improbable Destinies: How Predictable is Evolution?  is an incredibly enjoyable romp through evolutionary biology, examining the phenomenon of convergent evolution (i.e. the process by which different organisms have evolved the same or similar traits independently over time), and asks the question: how repeatable is evolution really? After reading this book recently (see also the review I left for the book) I contacted Jonathan to talk some more convergent evolution with him.

1. As a biologist, I can understand your fascination with convergent evolution. But to introduce yourself to the readers, what drew you to study this one topic out of all the fascinating aspects of evolution? Was this interest there from the beginning, or did you chance on it as your research progressed?

I’ve been interested in convergence ever since I learned about evolution because convergence of species living in similar environments is such a great demonstration of the power of natural selection. However, when I conducted my doctoral work on Caribbean Anolis lizards, I truly became fascinated by the phenomenon.

2. In your preface, you write how your PhD project on lizard diversification in the Caribbean supported ideas on convergent evolution. Right after writing up your thesis, Gould published his book Wonderful Life, in which he stressed the importance of contingency, arguing that evolution is unpredictable. You write you were taken with his book. How did you go about reconciling Gould’s views with your own?

Evolutionary biology is unlike most sciences in that it is a historical science. We can’t just do a key experiment or derive an equation and solve the problem. Rather, like detectives, we have to build the best case to understand what happened in the past. In addition, as Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park, life finds a way. In fact, evolution occurs in myriad different ways – almost any way of evolving you can imagine has occurred somewhere, some time. In this way, evolution is an inductive sciencewe can’t derive general rules for first principles; rather, we have to go out in nature and develop many case studies. Only in that way can we recognize the general patterns from the interesting exceptions.

It is in this light that I reconciled my one research on Anolis lizards, which indicated that evolution has travelled very much the same course four times on the different islands of the Greater Antilles (the large islands of the Caribbean), with Gould’s ideas that evolution, for the most part, is unpredictable and unrepeatable. I considered the Anolis situation to be one of the exceptions, fascinating, but out of the ordinary.

3. Part two of your book describes a plethora of field studies, including your own work on Anolis lizards, which by and large show that evolution is repeatable. Some people, botanists especially, have raised the objection that such findings could also come about by phenotypic plasticity. You have addressed this objection yourself experimentally and found that phenotypic plasticity only plays a limited role. Have others done the same, and is this something that is routinely considered and excluded as a possible explanation in this kind of research?

Phenotypic plasticity – the ability of genetically identical individuals to produce different phenotypes when exposed to different environmental conditions – has long been known. However, until recently, it was mostly considered to be noise in the system, non-adaptive phenomena that mostly served to prevent natural selection from producing evolutionary change (the reason being that natural selection might favor one variant, but if different variants in a species were genetically identical, then selection wouldn’t lead to any evolutionary change). However, in recent years we have realized that plasticity may be an important part of the evolutionary process. Although phenotypic variation (i.e., variation in traits such as anatomy, physiology) among individuals in a population may not be genetically based, the ability of a species to produce different phenotypes in different conditions is itself a genetically based trait that may evolve adaptively. Thus, species may evolve to exhibit great phenotypic variation as a response to living in many different environments. As a result, the amount of research on phenotypic plasticity has skyrocketed in the last two decades.

Improbable Destinies

4. Towards the end of Part Two, you point out another weak point of most field experiments. They generally start off with genetically related populations and so are likely to be predisposed to generate parallel evolutionary responses. Furthermore, statistical analyses might filter out the exceptions to the rule. Has experimental work by now moved on to using genetically dissimilar starting populations to investigate if convergent evolution is powerful enough to funnel different populations towards the same evolutionary outcome?

I wouldn’t say that this is a weak point of field experiments. Rather, it is a consequence of the hypothesis that is being tested. If you want to understand why guppies evolve to be more colourful in the absence of predators, then the appropriate experiment is to create multiple replicate populations of guppies in different conditions and see what happens. But, as I wrote in the book, we would expect very similar, closely-related populations to evolve similar adaptive responses to the same questions. One approach would be to conduct parallel experiments on many different species of fish to see the extent to which they adapt in similar ways (or in differing ways). Right now, I’m unaware of anyone doing this. However, different researchers sometimes ask the same question with different species, and this is the most likely way we will be able to address this question.

5. Part Three of your book looks at long-term laboratory experiments with bacteria. It seems here too, results initially suggested convergent evolution is the rule. Until exceptions starting cropping up on the longer term. Does the answer to the question whether evolution is repeatable depend on the timescale over which you look? Are we too focused on the short-term if we conclude that convergent evolution is the rule, rather than the exception?

That’s a keen observation. In Rich Lenski’s Long-Term Evolution Experiment, the story after 14 years was that evolution is pretty repeatable. Then, 30,000+ generations into the experiment, one of 12 experimental lines evolved a very different adaptation, one that still hasn’t been matched in the other 11 lines after another 14 years. So, yes, the longer one conducts a study, the greater the chance that rare, unique adaptations will occur (and we must remember that 30,000 generations are a drop in the evolutionary bucket). On the other hand, as Rich Lenski himself says, if the LTEE is continued long enoughmaybe for 300,000 generations – then perhaps the other 11 populations will discover the new adaptive solution as well. So, yes, definitely, these studies need to be continued much longer. Most studies today, LTEE’s fame and influence notwithstanding, are much shorter in length (note: Loses and Lenski edited the book How Evolution Shapes Our Lives. ed.).

6. You conclude your book by saying that in the short term evolution is predictable, but that the world of biological possibilities is a vast one, and that in the long term, chance events have had a large impact. Given the many books dedicated to the topic of convergent evolution, and the way it speaks to people’s imagination, do you think we have overestimated the importance of this mechanism? Are we too keen on seeing patterns where there are none?

Well, we need a bit of historical perspective on this question. Until recently, we thought of convergent evolution as relatively rare. Great examples of the power of natural selection, worthy of being in biology textbooks, but not at all common. Now, thanks to the work of Simon Conway Morris and others, we realize that convergence is much more pervasive than we used to believe. This has been a valid contribution to our understanding of evolution. Nonetheless, some workers have gone too far, in my estimation, in emphasizing the importance and prevalence of convergent evolution. It is a common and important aspect of evolution, but it is not the only story.

Improbable Destinies is available to order from NHBS

The 100 best articles for ecologists

Keeping up to date with the latest research is a key part of any career in science. However, the push for researchers to publish early in their career and at frequent intervals means that there is now a seemingly unconquerable body of literature available to sift through. Because of the time-consuming nature of reading, processing and assimilating all of this information, the unfortunately result is that many researchers only find time to read the “hot” papers that are well publicised, or they focus primarily on papers that are recent and well-cited.

Image by brownpau via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
The days of searching through library index cards are now a distant memory.

The advent of online journals also means that the days of physically searching for articles using paper records and traipsing around library stacks to locate a particular journal edition are a thing of the past. One result of this is that students and researchers who use the same or similar online search terms are likely to be directed to the same sub-set of papers, to the exclusion of other thematically similar but less relevant articles.

On the face of it, this may seem like a good thing, but it ignores the fact that methodological and conceptual insights are often to be found in papers which are not directly related to one’s own research; papers that would have been found more frequently when searching in a “bricks and mortar” library. It also means that older papers, which are still of importance for providing a good grounding in both methods and concepts, may be overlooked. By ignoring these older papers, the risk of repeating work that has already been undertaken or explored, is also higher.

With these concerns in mind, Franck Courchamp and Corey Bradshaw from the Université Paris-Saclay in France and Flinders University in Australia have taken it upon themselves to produce a list of the top 100 articles that every ecologist should read. Their key objective was to propose a list of seminal papers that, regardless of date of publication or specific subject area, would provide ecologists with a well-rounded understanding of ecology.

To create this list, they first assembled a long-list of 544 paper which were nominated by a group of 147 ecology journal editorial members; individuals that were recognised as experts in their field and who have an excellent knowledge of publications in their subject area. This list was then ranked via random-sample voting by 368 ecology experts and the top 100 papers collated into a comprehensive and varied reading list.

A century and a half after its publication, Darwin’s paper on natural selection remains a key ecology text.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the number one paper on the list was Darwin and Wallace putting forth their theory of natural selection. Published in 1858, this entry also represents the oldest paper on the list. More surprising was the average age of the top-ranked papers, with a huge number of them being from the 1960s and 1970s whilst very few were included from the 21st century. Most of the papers were not published in journals with a particularly high impact factor and, in many cases, they did not receive an unduly high number of citations, indicating that citation-based selections are not always the most appropriate when selecting papers for background reading.

The final list provides ecologists with an excellent starting point for establishing a well-rounded understanding of basic ecological theories. Whether you’re an early-career scientist, a well-established researcher or even a keen amateur with an enquiring mind, there is plenty here to expand your knowledge.

The list of 100 papers, together with a description of the methods and discussion of the subject, is published in Nature Ecology and Evolution and is available to view online.

 

 

Flight Lines: Interview with Mike Toms

The Flight Lines Project is a collaboration between the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA). Using a unique combination of art, stories and science, this project aims to explore the lives of migrant birds and to highlight the challenges they face in a rapidly changing world.

In this interview with Flight Lines author, Mike Toms, we talk about the relationship between art and science, the importance of volunteer ornithologists and cultural differences in our attitudes to birds.


Flight Lines author, Mike Toms

I’m curious about the perceived division between the arts and the sciences. While it’s true that many artists portray images of the natural world in their work, there are not many situations where artists and scientists are required to work together towards a common aim. Flight Lines is obviously a wonderful example of this – where did the idea for the project come from and what do you consider to be the most important thing that came out of it?

There is growing evidence that audiences exposed to science and conservation messages through the creative arts are more likely to show meaningful change in their understanding, which suggests that those of us working in research should seek now opportunities to communicate the impact of our work. Flight Lines was made possible by the generous legacy left by Penny Hollow and the kindness of her executors. Penny, a long-standing BTO member was a regular at the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) exhibitions, a great supporter and a lay member of the SWLA. The bringing together of artists and scientists to raise the profile of our migrant birds was a fitting tribute to her interests and something that we had been looking do alongside our programme of research into migrant birds. Not only has the project enabled us to tell the stories of our summer visitors to new audiences but it has also helped to underline how art and science can work together to effect change.

Flight LinesOur knowledge of where our migrant birds disappear to each year has vastly increased with the development of ever smaller and more advanced tracking devices and locators. What do you think will be the next big technological advancement in the study of bird migration?

It is the arrival of smaller and smaller devices that has revolutionised our understanding of the movements of migrant birds. The level of information that can now be collected through the use of GPS-tags and satellite-tags means that we can identify the sites and habitats used by migrant birds throughout the year. In some cases, such as with those tags that communicate via the mobile phone or satellite network, the information collected can be presented to the public in near real time, greatly adding to wider engagement with the science that is being undertaken. For the smallest birds, the tags used have to be retrieved the following year in order to download the data. As miniaturisation continues, we will soon be able to track the movements of Swallows, House Martins, Whitethroats and other small migrants in near real time. That will be a significant advancement for our understanding.

Whinchat, Blakeney by Richard JohnsonIn the UK I think it would be fair to say that we have an above average obsession with birds and their welfare. This is in stark contrast to many of the countries you discuss in the book, where birds are often viewed mainly as food or hunting trophies. What do you think is responsible for this difference in attitudes?

It is incredibly important to recognise the cultural differences that exist between countries in terms of how birds are viewed. Many of these are deeply rooted and extend back through generations, each shaped by local beliefs and opportunities, by living conditions and by trade. The hunting of migrant birds in North Africa, for example, is shaped by at least three different drivers: some are hunted for food by people living in very poor communities; others are hunted because of cultural beliefs, and many are hunted because there is a sizeable market for such commodities within the Middle East. It is important that we recognise how attitudes towards birds differ across the globe so that we can deliver approaches to conservation that are sensitive and appropriate.

Flight Lines trip to Senegal, West AfricaThe subject of supplementary feeding is currently a hot topic with the recent publication of an article in Science showing how great tits’ beaks have changed size due to the use of garden feeders. However, the messages we receive about feeding our garden birds are very mixed. Do you think the amount of supplementary feeding that occurs in the UK is a good thing overall?

The provision of supplementary food is one of the most common deliberate interactions between people and wild birds, supporting a wild bird care industry within the UK worth an estimated £210 million each year. Despite the huge amount of supplementary food provided in gardens we know surprisingly little about its impacts, which is one of the reasons why the BTO has been funding research into this topic over many years. Supplementary feeding may increase the overwinter survival of small birds, shape the communities of birds living alongside us and alter migration patterns and behaviour. It may also change the dynamics of competition between species or aid the spread of new and emerging diseases. Before we can say whether or not it is a good thing we need to improve our understanding of the associated costs and benefits, and look at these in relation to other human-bird interactions, such as climate and habitat change.

Scissor stone curlew by Harriet MeadCitizen science schemes are an incredibly powerful force in terms of obtaining large quantities of data and you frequently mention in your book how much of our knowledge about bird populations comes from the tireless efforts of volunteers. Do you think that being involved with a citizen science project is also empowering to the individual and can help to break down some of the boundaries between “professional” scientists and amateurs, making science and research more accessible to them?

The terms ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ are often used incorrectly, suggesting that staff are professionals while volunteers are amateurs, when what is really meant is that staff get paid and volunteers don’t . Many volunteers are experts in their field, sometimes the expert, and the right approach to citizen science should recognise this. We know from various research studies that volunteers participate in citizen science for a whole host of different reasons, some linked to internal values – such as feeling good about yourself – and some to external – such as sharing expertise, contributing towards charitable objectives. A well run citizen science project should make the science being carried out more accessible to participants, enabling them to see how their contribution is being used to answer a particular research question and empowering them to recognise the impact that their involvement is facilitating.

Do you feel that your art is influenced by your love of birds and wildlife and, conversely, do you feel that your art affects your appreciation of the natural world?

Some of my writing – the prose and poetry – is influenced by the natural world and by the sense of place. This feeling for the natural world is equally evident when I am participating in BTO surveys, especially the Nest Record Scheme, where significant time is spent immersed in nature, watching birds and their behaviour in order to find and monitor nesting attempts.


Flight Lines is published by the British Trust for Ornithology and is available to buy from NHBS.

 

20% Off University of Chicago Press Titles

University of Chicago Press

During November 2017, we are offering 20% off University of Chicago Press titles

 

If universities are hallowed seats of learning, then University Presses surely are their beacons – beaming out knowledge and understanding, keeping the barbarians at bay! And of the world’s University presses, Chicago University Press is in the vanguard, with a long (since 1892) and illustrious list in subjects that are core interests for NHBS customers: ecology, evolutionary biology, palaeontology, earth history, conservation, history of natural history, forests, marine ecosystems, and zoology.

So, during November 2017, it is our great pleasure to offer 20% off all Chicago UP titles published before November 2017 and distributed in the UK. You can browse the full list of titles at nhbs.com. If you don’t find what you are looking for – but know it is published by Chicago UP – then send an email to customer.services@nhbs.com and we will be glad to source it for you, at 20% off, during November 2017.

Our top-ten Chicago University Press titles:

Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation

Wolves: Behaviour, Ecology, and Conservation
Paperback, January 2007
£18.00 £22.50

 

 

CuratorsCurators: Behind the Scenes of Natural History Museums
Hardback, March 2017
£21.20 £26.50

 

 

Why Birds Matter: Avian Ecological Function and Ecosystem Services
Paperback, September 2016
£27.20 £33.99

 

Messages from Islands: A Global Biodiversity Tour
Paperback, February 2017
£19.60 £24.50

 

 

Plant Evolution: An Introduction to the History of Life
Paperback, September 2016
£27.20 £33.99

 

 

Zebra Stripes
Hardback, February 2017
£27.20 £33.99

 

 

The Biology of Reefs and Reef Organisms
Paperback, November 2013
£35.60 £44.50

 

 

Great Transformations in Vertebrate Evolution
Paperback, November 2013
£27.20 £33.99

 

 

Why Ecology Matters
Paperback, May 2016
£15.20 £18.99

 

 

Planet of the Bugs: Evolution and the Rise of Insects
Paperback, October 2015
£10.40 £12.99

 

 

Fantastic books, by great authors

The Chicago UP author list is a gallery of some of the world’s most distinguished scientists: George B Schaller on gorillas; Charles Elton and Charles Krebs on ecology; Niles Eldredge, Ilkka HanskiMichael Ruse and Karl Niklas on evolutionary biology; Andrew Balmford,  Richard Ellis and Stuart Pimm on conservation and biodiversity.

Then there is Robin Chazdon, Susanna Hecht, and Michael Williams on forests;  Tim CaroLouise EmmonsThomas Kunz (bats), and David Mech (wolves) looking at mammals and Martin Rudwick on palaeontology and earth history. The list is long and impressive from some of the most original and influential scientists working in their field.

We invite you to take this opportunity to immerse yourself in the learned oeuvre of University of Chicago Press.

Manta: Interview with Guy Stevens

With their horn-shaped cephalic fins and large, gaping mouths, manta rays have long been the source of mariners’ myths and legends. Today, we know much more about these curious creatures, although many features of their lives and behaviours remain a mystery.

Marine biologist and co-founder of the Manta Trust Guy Stevens has spent many years researching mantas in an effort to understand their lives and to promote conservation practices that will ensure their continued survival. In Manta he has joined forces with National Geographic photographer Thomas Peschak to create a visually stunning and informative tribute to these animals.

To coincide with the re-release of the book, we recently spoke to Guy about his work with Mantas and the conservation challenges that they face.


Your life as a researcher and CEO of the Manta Trust must be incredibly varied and exciting. I’m curious what a typical day in the life of Guy Stevens looks like. Or, if a ‘typical’ day is unheard of for you, can you describe a recent day for us?

My days tend to be dictated by where I am. When in the field I am usually diving or freediving with manta rays on a daily basis, collecting data or guiding tourist expeditions. However, increasingly the majority of my time is spent on my computer behind a desk responding to emails, having Skype calls, writing papers, applying for grants and managing an ever increasing manta team.

Setting up an NGO must require an immense amount of work and passion. What did you find most challenging about the process and, as an extension of this, what advice would you offer other conservationists who are hoping to travel a similar path?

The most challenging part of the process, which still remains the main challenge today, is ensuring there are funds to enable the charity to carry out its mission. My advice to anyone wishing to follow a similar path would be to ensure you diversify your revenue streams.

Manta: Secret Life of Devil RaysThe work conducted by yourself and other researchers around the world has contributed a huge amount to the body of knowledge about manta rays. What do you think are the next big questions that need to be addressed and how do you think new technologies (e.g. satellite and acoustic tagging / genetic techniques) will contribute to these?

From a conservation perspective one of the next big focus areas is to try and quantify the extent and impact of bycatch fisheries on the high seas (such as purse seine tuna fisheries) to manta rays and their close relatives, the devil rays; how many are being caught, which species, where, when and how many survive release after capture? Using post-release mortality tags can help us to estimate how many of the rays are likely to survive being captured after release, while the implementation of better management practices can hopefully reduce bycatch.

It is clear from your book that the problems facing mantas are incredibly complex and, as such, will require complex solutions. The final message I took from your book, however, appears to be one of hope. What significant changes would you like (or hope!) to see happen within the next five years in the arena of manta ray conservation.

I would like to see a world shifting away from industrial fisheries which employ unsustainable fishing practices; such as drift nets, long-lines, gill nets, etc. The oceans are rapidly being depleted and we need to protect much greater areas of this common resource from fishing if we want to stand any chance of safeguarding the world’s charismatic species like manta rays from extinction in the next few decades.

Finally – and I appreciate that you must have hundreds to choose from – is there a single encounter with a manta ray that really stands out in your memory and that will stay in your heart forever?

Yes, certainly the encounter which stands out the most is the one I describe in the book with the manta Slice, who I rescued from fishing line back in 2008 in Hanifaru Bay….there are lots of detail on this encounter in the book and here’s a link to the story on our website (although it is a bit outdated now); http://www.mantatrust.org/amazing-experiences-entangled-manta-rescue/


Manta: Secret Life of Devil Rays is available from NHBS.

To find out more about the work of the Manta Trust and how you can support them, go to www.mantatrust.org

 

The Charter for Trees, Woods and People

On 6th November, a date that marks the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest, a new Charter for Trees, Woods and People will be launched. Read on to find out more, including the 10 principles of the Tree Charter and information on how to get involved.


Woodland Walk by Ted Rabbitts
Image by Ted Rabbitts via Flickr Creative Commons (CC by 2.0)

What is the Tree Charter?

Led by the Woodland Trust, the Tree Charter brings together more than 70 organisations in a united effort to protect the rights of and relationships between trees and people in the UK.

The Charter will be launched on 6th November at Lincoln Castle. This date marks the 800th anniversary of the historic 1217 Charter of the Forest which set out the rights of the people to use the Royal Forests in England. Lincoln Castle is home to one of the only two surviving copies of this document, making the timing and location of the launch doubly momentous.

The new Tree Charter is intended to influence policy and practice by settings out the practical roles and responsibilities of individuals, businesses and government in the UK and will also provide a voice for the hundreds of thousands of people that it represents.

The Charter consists of 10 Principles which cover different aspects of protecting and celebrating our trees. During National Tree Week (beginning Saturday 25th November) ten Tree Charter poles – one for each of the 10 Principles of the Charter – will be unveiled across the UK.

The 10 principles can be read in detail below, along with the locations of the charter poles.


The 10 Principles of the Tree Charter
(Reproduced from https://treecharter.uk)

1. Thriving habitats for diverse species (New Forest Visitor Centre)
Urban and rural landscapes should have a rich diversity of trees, hedges and woods to provide homes, food and safe routes for our native wildlife. We want to make sure future generations can enjoy the animals, birds, insects, plants and fungi that depend upon diverse habitats.

2. Planting for the future (Burnhall, Durham)
As the population of the UK expands, we need more forests, woods, street trees, hedges and individual trees across the landscape. We want all planting to be environmentally and economically sustainable with the future needs of local people and wildlife in mind. We need to use more timber in construction to build better quality homes faster and with a lower carbon footprint.

3. Celebrating the cultural impact of trees (Bute Park, Cardiff)
Trees, woods and forests have shaped who we are. They are woven into our art, literature, folklore, place names and traditions. It’s our responsibility to preserve and nurture this rich heritage for future generations.

4. A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK (Sylva Wood Centre, Abingdon)
We want forestry in the UK to be more visible, understood and supported so that it can achieve its huge potential and provide jobs, forest products, environmental benefits and economic opportunities for all.
Careers in woodland management, arboriculture and the timber supply chain should be attractive choices and provide development opportunities for individuals, communities and businesses.

5. Better protection for important trees and woods (Sherwood Forest, Nottingham)
Ancient woodland covers just 2% of the UK and there are currently more than 700 individual woods under threat from planning applications because sufficient protection is not in place.
We want stronger legal protection for trees and woods that have special cultural, scientific or historic significance to prevent the loss of precious and irreplaceable ecosystems and living monuments.

6. Enhancing new developments with trees (Belvoir Wood, NI)
We want new residential areas and developments to be balanced with green infrastructure, making space for trees. Planning regulations should support the inclusion of trees as natural solutions to drainage, cooling, air quality and water purification. Long term management should also be considered from the beginning to allow trees to mature safely in urban spaces.

7. Understanding and using the natural health benefits of trees (Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Liverpool)
Having trees nearby leads to improved childhood fitness, and evidence shows that people living in areas with high levels of greenery are 40% less likely to be overweight or obese. We believe that spending time among trees should be promoted as an essential part of a healthy physical and mental lifestyle and a key element of healthcare delivery.

8. Access to trees for everyone (City Forest Park, Manchester)
Everyone should have access to trees irrespective of age, economic status, ethnicity or disability. Communities can be brought together in enjoying, celebrating and caring for the trees and woods in their neighbourhoods. Schoolchildren should be introduced to trees for learning, play and future careers.

9. Addressing threats to woods and trees through good management (Land Craigs)
Good management of our woods and trees is essential to ensure healthy habitats and economic sustainability. We believe that more woods should be better managed and woodland plans should aim for long term sustainability and be based upon evidence of threats and the latest projections of climate change. Ongoing research into the causes of threats and solutions should be better promoted.

10. Strengthening landscapes with woods and trees (Grizedale Forest, Cumbria)
Trees and woods capture carbon, lower flood risk, and supply us with timber, clean air, clean water, shade, shelter, recreation opportunities and homes for wildlife. We believe that the government must adopt policies and encourage new markets which reflect the value of these ecosystem services instead of taking them for granted.


How to get involved:

Firstly and most importantly – sign the Tree Charter. By adding your signature you will show your support for the principles stated in the charter and will join the growing list of 1000s of people who want to see trees protected, shared and celebrated in the UK. The Woodland Trust will plant a tree for every signature on the list and will also use your contact details to keep you up to date with the campaign.

• Use social media to spread the word. Use #TreeCharter, #StandUpForTrees and #CharterOfTheForest in your posts, and link to the Tree Charter Thunderclap: https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/62126-the-tree-charter-is-launching

Join a local Charter branch. Join an existing group or, if there isn’t one near to where you live, set up your own. Charters can apply for funding from the Woodland Trust and will receive free copies of the seasonal newspaper LEAF! As a charter branch you will also be able to apply for a Legacy Tree. 800 of these trees are being planted around the UK as a living reminder of the 800 years between the original 1217 Charter of the Forest and the 2017 Tree Charter. Each tree will be supplied with a commemorative plaque.

Explore some of the locations on the Tree Charter Art and Heritage Trail. All locations are displayed on a beautifully illustrated map by Adam Dant, highlighting the role that trees have played in the culture and heritage of our country.

The Tree Charter Art & Heritage Trail - Illustrated by Adam Dant.
The Tree Charter Art & Heritage Trail – Illustrated by Adam Dant.

Woodland Reading:

Collins Tree Guide
Woodland Management: A Practical Guide
Winter Trees: A Photographic Guide to Common Trees and Shrubs
Trees: A Complete Guide to Their Biology and Structure
Woodland Development: A Long-Term Study of Lady Park Wood
Oak and Ash and Thorn: The Ancient Woods and New Forests of Britain
The Company of Trees: A Year in a Lifetime’s Quest

Kaleidoscope Pro annual subscriptions now available

Kaleidoscope Pro is now available as an annual subscription, providing an economical way to access the excellent analysis features of this software.

A discounted package is also available for students or academics who buy a subscription using an official university purchase order.

Each subscription will give you access to the software for 366 days and an automated email will remind you to renew at the beginning of the month that your current subscription is due to expire.

For customers who have purchased a copy of Kaleidoscope Pro in 2017, Wildlife Acoustics are offering you the chance to convert this to an annual subscription. Depending on when your software was purchased, you will be entitled to a one, two or three-year subscription (see the table below). This offer is valid until the 31st January 2018.

To take advantage of this offer: When Kaleidoscope Pro 4.5 is launched, you will receive a popup window notifying you of the conversion offer. You will be able to accept or decline at this time. If you choose to accept, your permanent license will be deleted.

Get involved in National Mammal Week

This year National Mammal week takes place from 21st – 29th October. Organised by the Mammal Society, this event is an opportunity to increase awareness of mammals and to highlight some of the challenges that they face. Keep reading for eight exciting ways to get involved with Mammal conservation in Britain today.

Brown Hare by Sheppy 9000 via Flickr Creative Commons. National Mammal Week 2017.
The brown hare can achieve running speeds of up to 45mph in order to avoid predators. Image by Sheppy 9000 via Flickr Creative Commons (CC by 2.0)

Submit your mammal-related sightings to the Mammal Atlas

Sightings of any mammals in the UK can be submitted to the Mammal Society website for inclusion in the Mammal Atlas. Schemes such as this allow a huge amount of data to be collected and collated – much more than would ever be possible by paid researchers or surveyors.

Download the mammal tracker app

Submitting your sightings is even easier with the Mammal Tracker app. Free to download, this app will allow you to upload photos, descriptions, sounds and annotated images of the mammals you have encountered, and provides a quick way of sending these to the Mammal Society for inclusion in the Atlas. Available for iOS and Android phones.

Contribute to the Hedgehog-watch Survey

Following the success of the 2016 Hedgehog-watch survey, this year the Mammal Society are conducting research into the effect of garden lighting on hedgehog feeding behaviour. The survey is sponsored by Kent Mammal Group, Cornwall Mammal Group, Devon Mammal Group and Dan Brown at Natural World Consultants and will involve citizen scientists filming hedgehogs in their gardens in the presence and absence of artifical lighting. Email atlas@themammalsociety.org to enquire about this survey.

Join your local mammal group

Local mammal groups bring people together in their shared passion for mammals. Most run a series of events throughout the year, including walks, talks and training courses, and they are a great chance to meet other people nearby who are excited to learn about and protect mammals in the UK. Use the Mammal Society map to find a group in your local area.

Enter the amateur mammal photographer of the year competition

The amateur Mammal Photographer of the Year competition is judged each year in the spring at the Mammal Society Spring Conference. This year’s competition opens on the 21st October to coincide with National Mammal Week. Head over to the Mammal Society website for details of how to submit your entry, and check out the winning photographs from this year’s contest.

Learn about Britain’s mammals

At the Mammal Society species hub you can download a useful fact sheet for more than 30 UK mammals. The society also publish a wide range of books including the excellent species series, the popular How to Find and Identify Mammals and the beautifully illustrated Mammals of the British Isles. For ecologists and researchers, UK BAP Mammals and The Water Vole Mitigation Handbook are useful additions to the bookshelf.

Attend a Mammal Society event

Mammal groups around the country will be running events to mark National Mammal Week. Take a look at the website or Facebook page of your local group to find out what’s going on, or head over to the events calendar on the Mammal Society website.

Follow the Mammal Society on social media

Like the Mammal Society Facebook page, follow @Mammal_Society on Twitter and search the tags #NationalMammals and #mammalweek to keep up to date with all the news and events.

 

Saltmarsh: Interview with Clive Chatters

Saltmarsh is the 5th and latest addition to the British Wildlife Collection. In this passionate and eloquent book, Clive Chatters celebrates some of our most beautiful and exceptional saltmarshes, bringing to life this mysterious and ever-changing habitat. To celebrate its publication, we recently chatted to Clive about the book and about conservation of saltmarshes in the UK.


Author, Clive Chatters

Your book is incredibly well-researched and is packed with fascinating details on the history, ecology and management of saltmarshes in the UK. However, if you were to be faced with an audience of people who know absolutely nothing about saltmarshes, their beauty or their value – what are the key things you would tell them to inspire and pique their interest?

Talking about Saltmarshes is no substitute to joining the audience on a short walk and experiencing the landscape first-hand. In a modest stroll one can share the reek of the mud and the companionable cry of waders. The breeze will bring minute particles of brine to our lips, a piquant introduction to a habitat so alien from our own. I would hope that such a stroll would leave people wanting more.

Saltmarsh by Clive ChattersSome of the most enjoyable parts of the book for me were the historical accounts of the saltmarshes; finding out how both common people and nobles, together with the shifting political framework throughout the ages, influenced the landscape of our country. Is history a particular passion of yours and do you think that an understanding of a region’s history is important for current and future conservation decisions?

Our encounters with wildlife are just snatched insights into the lives of countless other species. Britain’s landscape has co-evolved with people, we are a part of our nation’s native fauna. By understanding how that relationship has developed we can better understand our place in the world and so appreciate our responsibility for the consequences of our actions.

Saltmarsh by Clive ChattersTo quote from the end of your book, “all habitats and landscapes are subject to change”. However, saltmarshes are arguably under the influence of a greater range of factors in comparison to many other habitat types; with short- and long-term fluctuations in tides, sea level rise and land subsidence in addition to the inevitable human impacts of agriculture and land development. For these reasons, do you think that saltmarshes are uniquely difficult to provide a conservation plan for?

Nature conservationists are asked to master a host of interactive challenges. There are common themes covering all habitats and species  that focus on safeguarding interconnected landscapes and securing the wherewithal to allow ecological processes to progress unimpeded. In saltmarshes this usually means making spaces for tides and sediments to move and for the vegetation to develop in the presence of large grazing animals. Saltmarshes are particularly demanding as they shift across the landscape at a rate that can outpace our ability to manage change. If we fail then human life and property are at risk and the diversity of the natural world is diminished.

Saltmarsh by Clive ChattersAs a long-term naturalist with a rich and varied career, what do you think (or hope) will be your most important legacy to conservation?

All any of us can do is hope to leave Britain’s wildlife in better heart than when we first grew to know it. To me success is measured by rejuvenating conditions in which wildlife can cope with whatever changes are yet to come.

The research and writing of Saltmarsh must have been an immense undertaking. I’m curious what is next for you? Are there plans afoot for further books?

I enjoy writing as it helps to marshal the results of my curiosity into a semblance of order. If others enjoy what I’ve written then there are many more stories to tell.


British Wildlife Collection

Saltmarsh was published as part of the British Wildlife Collection; a series of books, each covering an individual aspect of British natural history. From the first publication in 2012, they have covered such diverse topics as mushrooms, meadows and mountain flowers, and books have been written by some of Britain’s finest writers and experts in their field. Filled with beautiful images, these wide-ranging and well-researched titles are a joy for any naturalist who is passionate about British wildlife and landscapes.

Browse the complete British Wildlife Collection

Hedgehog Facts and FAQs

This article will provide you with lots of fascinating hedgehog facts; learn about their natural history and behaviour and find out how the hedgehog is faring in Britain. Discover ways to make your garden attractive to these spiny creatures and other ways to get involved with hedgehog conservation and monitoring. Plus, get tips on some further reading and view a great range of hedgehog houses and other gifts.

Hedgehog Facts and FAQs. Image by Milo Bostock.
The hedgehog is a unique and much-loved garden visitor in Britain. Image by Milo Bostock via Flickr Creative Commons (CC by 2.0)

Hedgehog natural history and biology

The hedgehog found in Britain has the scientific name Erinaceus europaeus. This is the same species that can be found around Europe and, with the exception of some of the Scottish islands, they are present almost everywhere in Britain. Hedgehogs have even adapted well to urban habitats where they feed and nest in our wilder areas, parks and gardens. In more rural areas they utilise woodland edges and hedgerows where food and nesting spaces are plentiful.

A fully grown hedgehog measures approximately 260mm from nose to tail and can weigh in excess of 1.1kg, although this may be considerably less at certain times of year. The body of the hedgehog is covered in 25mm long spines which provide protection from predators: when threatened hedgehogs will roll into a tight ball with their more vulnerable face, belly and limbs tucked carefully inside.

Hedgehogs are omnivorous, feeding preferentially on beetles, caterpillars and earthworms, as well as slugs and snails. For this reason they are often referred to as the ‘gardener’s friend’. During the night they will travel long distances, eating as they go, before finding somewhere safe and sheltered to sleep during the day. A single hedgehog may travel up to 2km in a single night!

Between November and the end of March, hedgehogs hibernate to conserve their energy, as there is very little food available for them during these months.

Current status of hedgehogs in the UK

In the mid-1990s the JNCC produced a review of British mammals, in which the population of hedgehogs in Britain was estimated at 1.55 million. Since then citizen science schemes such as the BTOs Breeding Birds Survey and Garden Birdwatch, together with PTES’ Mammals on Roads and Living with Mammals have all contributed data to the picture, reporting significant declines in both rural and urban areas.

This picture is a cause for concern, not only for the hedgehog itself but because, as a generalist species, their presence is a good indicator of ecosystem health. Their declines suggest a loss of key soil invertebrates and important landscape features such as hedgerows as well a reduction in habitat connectivity.

As a result of these declines, the hedgehog was made a priority species in 2007 as part of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Encouraging hedgehogs in your garden

Many modern gardens are designed to be aesthetically pleasing but are not hospitable for local wildlife. Tidy lawns and well maintained fencing, although neat to human eyes, provide little to attract the humble hedgehog. However, there are a few simple tips you can follow to make your more garden more appealing to them:

• Attempt to keep some areas wild and overgrown, as this will provide secure nesting and feeding spaces.

• If you have a garden fence, cut a hole at the bottom measuring 13 x 13cm as this will allow hedgehogs to pass through on their nightly wanderings. You could also remove a brick from the bottom of a wall or dig a channel underneath.

• Try not to use pesticides or slug pellets, as these are poisonous to other animals as well as slugs.

• Provide a shallow dish of fresh water along with some dog or cat food, some chopped unsalted peanuts or some sunflower hearts.

• Make or buy a hedgehog home. This will provide a safe and warm space for hedgehogs to hibernate throughout the winter, and also for a female to raise her young in the spring and summer.

• Take care when mowing or strimming your lawn, particularly if your grass is very long to begin with.

Other ways to help

• Contribute to Hedgehog Street’s Big Hedgehog Map – by pledging to make a hedgehog hole in your garden wall or fence then registering this on the map, you can contribute to the network of hedgehog-friendly gardens that is being created all around the UK. You can also report a hedgehog sighting for addition to the map.

• Join the British Hedgehog Preservation Society – as well as raising awareness of hedgehogs and the challenges they face, the BHPS also helps to fund research into hedgehog behaviour and provides financial support to hedgehog carers.

• Take part in a citizen science project – schemes such as the BTOs Breeding Birds Survey and Garden Birdwatch, together with PTES’ Mammals on Roads and Living with Mammals surveys, provide essential data about our local wildlife, all of which would be impossible to collect on such a large scale without the help of 1000s of volunteers.

• Educate yourself about hedgehogs in the UK. Take a look at one of the excellent books below, or do some research online. This great guide provides lots of information about looking after the hedgehogs in your garden.

Recommended reading

Hedgehogs

Hedgehogs
Pat Morris

Presents scientific and down-to-earth information about one of Britain’s best-loved wild creatures, the bumbling and endearing hedgehog. The principal ‘popular’ book on the hedgehog for over thirty years.

 

Hedgehog

Hedgehog
Hugh Warwick

The Romans regarded it as a weather prophet, and modern gardeners depend on it to keep their gardens free of pests. Hedgehog explores how the characteristics of this small creature have propelled it to the top of a number of polls of people’s favourite animals.

 

The Hedgehog

The Hedgehog
Pat Morris

This Mammal Society booklet is written by UK hedgehog expert Pat Morris. It includes lots of general information on the biology and behaviour of the hedgehog.

 

 

Hedgehog houses and gifts

From left to right:
Hogitat Hedgehog House and Care Pack
Igloo Hedgehog Home
Hedgehog Nest Box
Eco Hedgehog Feeding Station

From left to right:
Hedgehog Feeding Bowl
Hedgehog Mug
Hedgehog Soft Toy