Mind Games 2.0

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Category: Ecology (Page 1 of 2)

American Naturalist Covers

(This post was first published on the AmNat150.org website)

The American Naturalist was first published in March 1867. Over the last 150 years, AmNat has had 16 different covers. Below is a gallery of those covers, with the dates they were used. Click on any image to bring up the full-sized gallery.

AmNat 1867-1875

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The cover of the first issue in March 1867. This cover design was used through 1875.

One of the fascinating features to trace through the covers is how the motto of the journal changed through the years.

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The Maximum Impact Factor Measure

I used to be the Editor-in-Chief of the American Naturalist, one of the oldest scientific journals in North America.  The American Naturalist published its first issue two years before Charles Darwin published the Origin of Species, and I think that AmNat, as it’s affectionately called, is the world’s best journal for papers in evolution (and ecology and behavior). 

Today, our Managing Editor, Trish Morse, brought to my attention some of the best evidence of AmNat‘s significance.  AmNat is number 113 on the list of sources most cited by the Oxford English Dictionary.  Only 6 other scientific publications are ahead of us on the list.  That seems like a much better measure of the importance of a scientific journal’s contribution to knowledge than Impact Factors or other so-called measures of importance. 

AmNat, at 113, is two ahead of Robert Burns (pretty impressive) at 115 and behind Ayenbite of Inwyt at 112. Who or what is Ayenbite of Inwyt you ask?  Look it up!

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Did Hutchinson Think Niches Were Non-Interesting?

One of the foundational concepts in modern ecology is the formulation of the “niche” by G. Evelyn Hutchinson. Hutchinson defined his conception of the niche famously as an “N-dimensional hypervolume” of environmental variables that describe where a species can maintain a population.  You can find a (pirated) pdf of this seminal paper here or the Cold Spring Harbor site if your conscience is bothering you and want to pay for it because you don’t have a library subscription.

When I read this paper in graduate school, I was dumbfounded to find one of the most glaring typographical errors I had ever seen in the scientific literature.  In this paper, the plain text on the page says that the realized niches of co-occurring species are non-interesting.  

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American Society of Naturalists Presidential Address 2016

Here’s the Presidential Address I gave at the 2016 American Society of Naturalists annual meeting in Austin, Texas.

 

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Is There A Best Way To Choose A PhD Dissertation Topic?

For every new graduate student, the first major headache is what their dissertation will be about. In many areas of science, graduate students have very little choice. The laboratory leader essentially assigns a topic to the student, based on funding requirements and the laboratory structure.

However, in ecology, evolution and behavior, most laboratories still work on the principle that each graduate student must develop their own thesis topic.  Of course this is done in consultation with their dissertation supervisor, and it is often closely associated with other research that is being done by others in the laboratory.  It may even form a part of the larger project of the laboratory.  However, the student must develop the questions.  In this post, I want to discuss the two main ways that students in these disciplines approach this most important of problems for them.

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A Seminar I Gave At Harvard

Here’s a video of a seminar I gave at Harvard in 2009 in their Biodiversity, Ecology, and Global Change Lecture Series in their Center for the Environment.

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Mechanistic Natural History

See nature with a naturalist’s eye,

translate that vision into a theoretician’s perspective,

and explore that perspective with a zeal

to integrate mechanisms across disciplinary boundaries.

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A Lesson Learned As A Pond Dries

Yesterday, I collected adult damselflies at a vernal pond.  Because of a lack of rain, this pond was only a few inches deep and will probably be dry within the week.  The animals that still have not metamorphosed were all concentrated in the small puddle left in the bottom of the basin.  Lestes damselflies, Ambystoma salamanders, Dytiscus beetles, Rana and Hyla tadpoles, Corixus waterboatmen, and Notonecta backswimmers all teemed in this ever-shrinking pond.

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General patterns among coexistence mechanisms? A research program.

Coexistence of multiple species is one of the central problems of community ecology.  We all know of many different ecological systems where the diversity of species found living together is bewildering.  However, models of species interactions suggest that coexistence of these species (in the strict ecological sense) is extremely difficult and requires very particular conditions.

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Hard questions

When I was in graduate school, Mathew Leibold, a fellow graduate student and one of my best friends (and now Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior at the University of Texas, Austin), asked me one of the hardest questions I’ve ever been asked.  I don’t remember his exact wording, but the question was to explain to him why my research was not trivial.

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