Author: Rob Salguero-Gómez
I spent the last month in the Simpson Desert (center of Australia) in collaboration with A/Prof Glenda Wardle from the Desert Ecology Research Group at the University of Sydney. During that time, two new NutNet sites were established in spinifex-dominated regions. One of them, recently burned, likely contains the lowest biomass productivity of the whole NutNet network. Together, both sites will be critical in increasing the statistical strength of global predictions on the role of nutrient addition and herbivory on grass species composition and diversity (see Adler et al. 2011 Science).
I was looking for ideal woody species organisms for my research on the evolution (and escape) of senescence. Some of the highly modular growth forms (e.g. mallee habit) that coexist in the Simpson Desert, such as some acacias and eucalypts, are potential candidates to explore questions regarding dietary restriction, role of fire and consequent re-sprouting, and the role of modularity on survival, reproduction and growth of the whole genet and its associated ramets. Some of the ideas that I am currently pursuing are discussed in the editorial of the Journal of Ecology special feature “New Perspectives on Whole-Plant Senescence“ that I led in collaboration with Rich Shefferson (UGA) and Mike Hutchings (Emeritus Professor, Univ Sussex).
Author: Y. Buckley
With the help of NutNet founders Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom, we marked out plots, built fences, determined species composition and collected soil and biomass samples for the important pre-treatment observational phase of the newest site in the global Nutrient Network (NutNet) initiative. The plots are located at UQ’s brand new Terrestrial Ecology Research Facility (TERF), about 15km west of UQ. Setting up and sampling the plots was truly a team effort so thanks to the lab members, volunteers and experts who helped out!
The NutNet is a grassroots research effort within a coordinated research network comprised of more than 40 grassland sites worldwide. The Network is focused on three main questions: 1) How general is our current understanding of productivity-diversity relationships? 2) To what extent are plant production and diversity co-limited by multiple nutrients in herbaceous-dominated communities? 3) Under what conditions do grazers or fertilization control plant biomass, diversity, and composition? The main goal of the Network is to collect data from a broad range of sites in a consistent manner to allow direct comparisons of environment-productivity-diversity relationships among systems around the world. The data collected from the plots at the TERF site will contribute to this world-wide data set.
Thanks to: Rob Salguero-Gomez, Shaun Coutts, Rebecca Harris, Natalie Kerr, John Dwyer, Rod Fensham and UQ engineering student volunteers, Matthew Deering and Dane Martensen. We’d like to offer a special thanks to Impact Fertilisers and (especially) Kenmore Mitre 10 for their help and input with supplies for the establishment of the plots.
During the last Buckley Lab meeting, we discussed some good pointers for giving good talks in preparation for the three honours students presenting their proposal talks in late April this year. Here are some our top tips!
- Prepare, prepare – know your content
- Most people can remember one or two things from a talk, decide up front what the most exciting thing you have to say is, put that in the title, then set the back ground for the exciting thing in the intro, why should the audience care about the thing. Does it answer a long standing question, does it have important real world consequences?
- Draw out an outline before making your presentation (e.g. as a flow diagram, where you plot out the transitions among components).
- Rehearse your presentation but don’t memorise a whole talk. Memorising too much has two key problems: firstly, you can sound wooden rather than excited and engaging; and secondly, when you forget something you were going to say the nagging doubt will be extremely distracting and can disrupt the rest of your talk. It may help to memorize key phrases, particularly transitions among slides (keeps you from staring at the screen for half a second when each new slide comes up).
- Run through your presentation with friends beforehand – talking it out will help with nerves and indicate weak points.
- Think about what is the most important/interesting part of your talk and focus your time on that (i.e. spend time on the results rather than the methods –unless it is your methods which are super exciting)
- Don’t forget to tell me at the beginning why I should care about what you are about to present, why is it important? If I don’t know why molecule x or species z are important then I will not be very inclined to listen attentively to the rest of the talk.
- Don’t write full sentences, just keywords, in your slides.
- Have little prompts on your slides that will remind you what you want to say (so you don’t need to rely on notes too much) – but avoid going off on tangents that will eat into your talk time
- A picture is worth a thousand words – I can’t concentrate on what you’re saying if I’m reading a slide. The exception is if your audience is going to have lots of people with English as a second language, text may help the audience then. If you do have a lot of written material on your slides you need to have more silence so people can read what you’ve written – don’t repeat what’s written on the slides, elaborate on it instead but don’t elaborate while people are still reading.
- Use animations to the extent that they help you convey your point. But do not abuse. Sequences of slides that act like an animation can be good as a strategy as they sometimes work more reliably than animations.
- Clear, uncluttered slides – and not so many that the audience gets a migraine as you flip through them at speed.
- Don’t use slides that you have to apologise for “you can’t see this…sorry, this photo is out of focus…”
- Most relative beginners are a little too tentative in presenting their work. Enthusiasm and confidence are infectious.
- However don’t take the confidence thing too far, and come across as cocky and arrogant. Never belittle other people’s work in a presentation.
- You are the person in the room who knows the most about what you are presenting.
- Put your acting face on. Giving a talk, just like teaching, is an act. You are the actor/actress; the audience is your public.
- Try to engage with the audience, and whenever possible, acknowledge their work if it relates to your talk. Everybody likes a little recognition.
- Relax and, if possible, enjoy yourself! The chance to talk to a room of interested people about something you are passionate about is one of the real joys of being in Academia!
- If you have an accent that your audience may have trouble with, make sure the words that you have a hard time pronouncing are on your slides. Slow down, take your time to make transitions in your arguments.
- NEVER read from notes, make eye contact with the audience, be enthusiastic and engage them. However, writing notes and having them to hand can be your safety net.
- Explain the axes of your graphs, walk people through what you want them to see. Don’t forget that while it might be obvious to you (you made the graph!) it won’t be intuitive to most of your audience.
- Get in the zone / put your game face on / look like you want to be there
- SLOW DOWN! You always talk faster when a bit nervous, so make a mental note to slow it down and speak to the back of the room (not to the floor)
Dealing with questions
- When asked a question, always listen carefully and be gracious.
- When answering a question, do not jump to quickly… it is ok to take some seconds to think about it. Or give yourself some time “that’s quite a great question, not quickly answered – I’m here at morning tea, lets chat then”
- When giving a seminar, highlight that you will be around for the rest of the day and that you look forward to discussing other aspects of your science or that very line or research with folks (only if pertinent, of course).
- If there’s something complex you’ll have to gloss over, you can insert a few slides after your last slide that can be used to help field questions. They can be wordier or busier than your main slides.
- Don’t be afraid if you don’t know the answer to a question. You could speculate on the answer (but say “I’m speculating, but…”), or simply say you will need to look into it more. Tough questions can really help hone your research.
- In the case of an obtuse or self-serving question (a surprising proportion of them, depending on the audience), you can say something like “That’s an interesting concept – perhaps we can talk about it afterward” and then choose whether you want to follow up.
- Leave your concluding slide up during questions - let your message sink in.
Studentships available for 2013! A PhD student top-up for APA holders is available for projects on: plant population dynamics, environmental decisions, and/or invasive plant management. Please contact Yvonne Buckley (email@example.com) with your expression of interest and current CV. Information about international scholarships available for potential PhD students is listed here.
Yi spent a whole week on Christmas Island for a workshop in December 2012. The workshop was held to assist three PhD students (including Yi) to get along with their projects and to familiarize them with the ecosystems that they are working on. Her reflection on her trip to Christmas Island:“It is a wonderful and valuable experience. After two days’ meeting of discussion of our projects with staffs and managers from Christmas Island National Park, we spend a day to help out at the “Pink House”, where is the captive breeding center for two endemic reptile species, the Blue-tailed Skink and the Lister’s Gecko. Our job was to prepare a meal for these beautiful creatures by netting as many insects as we could. The staffs took us out to experience the island-wide survey the following day. It is mainly a survey of Red Crabs and invasive Yellow Crazy Ants across the whole of the island, but recording endemic birds, reptiles and exotic plants is also a part of the survey. It was a tough work for anyone since the survey point was evenly distributed across the island and many of them are very difficult and dangerous to access. The land crabs are the most remarkable animals on Christmas Island.We were lucky to see ‘one of the wonders of the natural world’ – the amazing unique annual red crab migration. Fences were set up temporarily and roads were closed around the major migration path to help the crabs to migrate by park staffs.”
Photos from her trip
Coutts, S., Caplat, P., Cousins, K., Ledgard, N. & Buckley, Y.M. (2012). Reproductive ecology of Pinus nigra in an invasive population: individual and population level variation in seed production and timing of seed release. Annals of Forest Science [DOI 10.1007/s13595-012-0184-5]
The full journal article can be found here
Summary provided by Dr. Shaun Coutts
In this paper we describe two aspects of the reproductive ecology of an invasive pine (Pinus nigra) in New Zealand – the distribution of fecundity within a population and the timing of seed release.
By distribution of fecundity we mean how many cones each tree produced each year. Typically, plant populations have right skewed distributions of fecundity. This means that a few individuals produce a lot of cones, while the majority produce very few. We found that P. nigra was no exception, with a right skewed, negative binomial distribution being a good fit to each year’s observed fecundity. The negative binomial distribution is the distribution of cones you would expect to see if every tree had a different ability to produce cones (perhaps due to genetic differences or fine scale environmental heterogeneity). We also found that even though trees varied a lot in their cone production from year to year, it was always the same trees that produced the most cones. This means that a few individuals have far higher lifetime reproduction than the rest of the population.
We also found that P. nigra tended to release more seeds when conditions were windy and dry, a result that has implications for the spread of this particular invasive population. Due to the mountains surrounding our study site (see attached picture), the warm dry winds tend to be far stronger than cool damp ones, and as such the pine trees preferentially release seeds when conditions favour long distance dispersal.
The Environmental Decisions Group (EDG) includes a variety of Australian and International research centres, hubs and teams who all have a focus on Environmental Decisions Science. The Director of EDG is Professor Hugh Possingham, internationally recognised as a leader in the field of conservation biology and decision-making, who is located at the School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, Australia.
In 2011, EDG secured substantial funding through the Australian Research Council Centres of Excellence Program (CEED) and the Australian Governments National Environmental Research Program (NERP). Two postdoctoral research fellow positions are now available within EDG at The University of Queensland, each being funded by either NERP or CEED.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow – Environmental Decisions – NERP. Information about the position funded by NERP can be found here.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow – Environmental Decisions – CEED. Information about the position funded by CEED can be found here.
Applications for either position closes on 1st Feb 2012. Read more…