Science

New publication: Supporting ape rights: a comment on the role of science

Autumn 2018, friend and colleague Edwin van Leeuwen asked me an intriguing question: if I was interested in co-authoring a comment on an essay about Nonhuman rights? This was a topic we had talked about before and I find very fascinating, timely and relevant. So of course I said yes.

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The central essay and our comment, together with other comments, are part of a special issue on the topic of Great Ape Personhood, published by the ASEBL Journal (Association for the Study of (Ethical Behavior)•(Evolutionary Biology) in Literature; St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, N.Y.).  As so nicely explained by the editors (Gregory Tague and Christine Webb) in the introduction of this special issue: with his essay, Professor Thompson tries to bridge the false divide between natural science and humanities. Working from the foundations of philosophy and legal theory [and subsequently discussing important focus points for future research], he tries to reach scientists and their thinking in the battle for great ape personhood.

“Thompson relies on Nonhuman Rights Project attorney Steven Wise, who calls on scientists to awaken the thinking of judges deciding the fate of great apes. Perhaps it’s an unfair analogy, but Thompson attempts to do with primatology what climatologists from several generations tried to do – demonstrate how science is part of and can dramatically affect public policy. Thompson shows how what is empirically rational in science is treated differently in the legal arena, and that difference poses a real problem in the question of granting personhood status and other rights to great apes.”

Several interesting comments were made on the essay, both from philosophers and scientists. Edwin and me commented i.a. by suggesting some alternative ways science could support the quest for Great Ape Rights.

This project was definitely out of my comfort zone. And I see that as a good thing. Thompson’s essay and also the philosophers’ brief, written in support by a group of  philosophers, have given me many new insights about the role of philosophy and science in society. How together, philosophy and science can have some very important things to say about the way we live in this world.

The complete issue can be found here.
And (only) the comment made by Edwin and me, here.

Reference
van Leeuwen E.J.C., Snijders L. (2019) A comment on Thompson “Supporting Ape Rights: Finding the Right Fit Between Science and the Law.” ASEBL Journal 14 (1), 46-48.

 

Science

New preprint: More guppies on the preprint server

After my good experience with the first preprint publication, I recently uploaded my second preprint on the BioRxiv server. I am really excited to share these cool new findings, especially since this study almost did not happen.

BioRxiv

Fieldwork is always full of surprises, including flash floods (2018) and cars being stolen (2016). The year of this study (2017), we got stuck on Curacao because our airline was grounded (due to airplane safety concerns, we found out later). Curacao is a great island to spend some time, but it just lacked our favourite little fish: guppies. Luckily, we were able to get new flights and make it to Trinidad a couple of days later.

I love working with guppies, because they allow us to answer some very interesting questions about social living. Guppies live in rainforest streams and in the dry season they often end up in separate pools. These little fish thus naturally experience a variety of physical environments (pools) and social environments (the other fish in the pool). We take advantage of this natural system by trans-locating individual fish to different pools with different social compositions. Most animals would try to go back to their original environment, but for guppies experiencing new physical and social surroundings is just part of their ecology. That we can experimentally control their (social) environment is important, because it allows us to go beyond correlation and ask questions about causality, e.g. how does social composition influence individual foraging success?

To answer this question, we introduced individually marked wild guppies in single sex (male or female) or 50:50 sex compositions, to different pools and studied individuals’ social behavior and their ability to locate novel (experimentally introduced) food patches.

Lysanne_field
Me, being fascinated by guppies

Male guppies found fewer novel food patches in the absence of female guppies, while female patch discovery did not differ between single-sex or mixed compositions. We argue that these results were driven by sex-dependent mechanisms of social association: males reduced sociality when females were absent, while less social individuals found fewer patches. Females were, however, similarly social with or without males. Finally, males, but not females, preferred to join females over males at food patches.

Our study’s take-home message: for a more thorough understanding of social evolution, it is important to consider how individual (e.g. sex) and (sub)population-level traits (e.g. sex composition) interact in shaping the adaptive value of social living in the wild.

Maybe also: don’t fly with Insel Air.

Reference 
Snijders L, Kurvers R.H.J.M, Krause S., Tump A.N., Ramnarine I.W., Krause J. (2018) Females facilitate male patch discovery in a wild fish population. BioRxiv.

 

Conservation, Science

New publication: Systematic reviews and maps as tools for applying behavioral ecology to management and policy

Yeah! Our recent open access paper on systematic maps and reviews in behavioural ecology is now available in, how appropriate, Behavioral Ecology. It is the first concrete output of a group of behavioral ecologists, passionate to effectively contribute to wildlife conservation. This is just the beginning! Many thanks to Oded Berger-Tal, Alison Greggor and Dan Blumstein for bringing us all together.

Paper_head

Summary of the paper:

Although examples of successful applications of behavioral ecology research to policy and management exist, knowledge generated from such research is in many cases under-utilized by managers and policy makers. On their own, empirical studies and traditional reviews do not offer the robust syntheses that managers and policy makers require to make evidence-based decisions and evidence-informed policy.

Similar to the evidence-based revolution in medicine, the application of formal systematic review processes has the potential to invigorate the field of behavioral ecology and accelerate the uptake of behavioral evidence in policy and management. Systematic reviews differ from traditional reviews and meta-analyses in that their methods are peer reviewed and prepublished for maximum transparency, the evidence base is widened to cover work published outside of academic journals, and review findings are formally communicated with stakeholders. This approach can be valuable even when the systematic literature search fails to yield sufficient evidence for a full review or meta-analysis; preparing systematic maps of the existing evidence can highlight deficiencies in the evidence base, thereby directing future research efforts.

To standardize the use of systematic evidence syntheses in the field of environmental science, the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence (CEE) created a workflow process to certify the comprehensiveness and repeatability of systematic reviews and maps, and to maximize their objectivity. We argue that the application of CEE guidelines to reviews of applied behavioral interventions will make robust behavioral evidence easily accessible to managers and policy makers to support their decision-making, as well as improve the quality of basic research in behavioral ecology.

Key words: applied animal behavior, conservation behavior, evidence-based management, literature review, meta-analysis, policy impact, systematic maps.

Link to the paperhttps://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/ary130

Reference
O Berger-Tal, AL Greggor, B Macura, CA Adams, A Blumenthal, A Bouskila, U Candolin, C Doran, E Fernandez-Juricic, KM Gotanda, C Price, B Putman, M Segoli, L Snijders, BBM Wong, DT Blumstein. (2018) Systematic reviews and maps as tools for applying behavioral ecology to management and policy.” Behavioral Ecology.

Science

New publication: the guppy background stories

I am very proud to share my latest publication in Nature Ecology Evolution (NEE). It is the first paper from my ‘guppy’ postdoc at the Leibniz-IGB. It is also the first time (I think) that a manuscript of mine got accepted by the first journal I sent it to, which is also nice for a change :-). Guppies were also the topic of my final year’s highschool science project o, which makes this publication extra special for me. Fish are amazing creatures and I am happy I get to share their stories.

Next to our scientific article, I wrote two background stories:

Social individuals find more food – IGB-website
Guppy_colour_SnijdersHow do you find food when the food is never exactly present at the same place or time? Wild guppies living in the rainforest of Trinidad are faced with this vital question every day. Looking at guppies, it turns out that there are a few keys to finding unpredictable food: being social and surrounding yourself with females. Read more

Being consistent in a dynamic environment: a guppy story – NEE-website
Sometimes things happen that can give you a whole new appreciation of the study system you are working with. For me this thing happened this year. Read more

If you are more of a visual person, I also made a little Youtube video.

The research article can be viewed for free, but please contact me, for example via ResearchGate, if you would like to have the PDF.

Reference
Snijders L, Kurvers RHJM, Krause S, Ramnarine IW, Krause J (2018). Individual- and population-level drivers of consistent foraging success across environments. Nature Ecology and Evolution.

 

Science

A new project! Personality and migration strategies in bats

This month, I officially started with my two-year postdoc fellowship at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), granted by the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung. As of now, I am part of the Evolutionary Ecology Department, or more specifically: the Batlab, and I will study the role of personality and social associations in the movement behaviour of partially migratory noctule bats, Nyctalus noctula. In Germany they are called Abendsegler, meaning something like ‘Evening sailor’. Beautiful isn’t it? I am very much looking forward to my work at IZW and I hope to learn many new things, meet many passionate wildlife researchers and contribute some fascinating new insights into noctule bat behaviour.

IZW

Abstract of my awesome bat project:

Migratory animals vitally connect distant ecosystems worldwide, impacting key ecological processes by transporting nutrients, seeds, parasites and pathogens. As the only flying mammals, bats represent a unique and widespread group of migratory animals, serving important ecosystem functions as pollinators and pest controllers. Bats comprise one fifth of all mammal species, but little is known about their migration strategies. Yet understanding animal migration strategies provides important insights into ecosystem connectivity. Therefore, I aim to gain a better understanding of the key mechanisms that drive variation in bat migration strategies.

A single bat population can contain resident as well as migrating individuals. Such populations offer an excellent opportunity to study individual differences in migration strategies within populations. Hitherto, research on migration has mostly focused on birds, yet novel tools have recently become available to study partial migration in bats. Migration poses a trade-off: migration can lead individuals to more favourable habitats, but is also risky and energetically costly. Individuals have to balance these costs and benefits of migration and are likely to differ in how they do so. Bats fundamentally differ from many migrating bird species in key life-history traits that profoundly impact migration decisions. Knowledge about bat migration strategies, may thus lead to crucial insights into the maintenance of animal migration over evolutionary timescales.

New and improved techniques, such as non-invasive isotopic geolocation, allow for novel insights into the migration strategies of this poorly understood migratory taxon. Using this novel technique in combination with bat personality assays, social network analyses and bat banding, I will test whether individual bats consistently or plastically differ in their migration strategies and investigate the key social, physiological and behavioural factors underlying these differences.

 

Science

Fieldwork is not (just) about data collection

This weekend I came back from a three-week fieldtrip to Trinidad. We went there to collect behavioural data for our guppy research project. However, on the plane back I had some time to reflect on the past weeks and realized that fieldwork is about so much more than just collecting data points.

For me, I realized, fieldwork is about all the little big things that come along with it. For example, living closely with people who all contribute in their own unique ways: someone who plays the guitar in the evening, who bakes tasty tortillas for dinner, who makes funny jokes at the end of a hard working day or who takes the team on expeditions in search of remarkable birds, snakes, insects and spiders.

Its about the surprising new people you meet, which can result in eating ‘Guinness icecream’ and making Chinese dumplings while on a tropical island.

Its about seeing your entire fieldsite get flooded in about an hour and having to ‘survival’ your way out of the rainforest. And lying in a hammock shortly after.

Its about seeing all the other critters that occupy your fieldsite: the little greedy crab, the colourful jumpy lynx spider, the small vocal male frog (sometimes with tadpoles on its back), but also the forever annoying killifish and the hundreds of biting insects.

Its about getting to know a little patch of nature very well, but never completely. Its about learning about your study species by observing it in between the actual trials. Its about getting new exciting ideas for next year’s fieldtrip.

Its about all these things and so much more. So the next time you see the datapoints of a fieldstudy, remember that they are not just units of analysis, they are stories, experiences, insights and surprises as well. For me, each one is a reminder of why I love being a biologist.

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Ralf is doing some ‘in-situ’ behavioural tests
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On a birding expedition
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This is our fieldsite before the flooding
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This is our fieldsite during the flooding
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This is me after the flooding. Unfortunately the only moment I actually had time to enjoy the hammock 🙂

 

 

Science

New preprint: Guppies on a preprint server

This week I submitted a manuscript to a preprint server for the first time. This is a bit scary because a preprint is not peer-reviewed and so is missing a ‘security check’, something that always makes me feel a bit more at ease when communicating my results [but see: http://thebrainissocool.com/2017/12/19/peer-review-is-not-all-that-is-cracked-up-to-be/%5D. However, I think preprint servers are a great idea, because you don’t have to wait for months before you can finally share your results and show people what you are working on. More importantly, preprint servers provide a way, for those interested, to read your findings without having to pass a pay-wall. A version of your study will thus always stay open-access. So, I put my fears (somewhat) aside and decided to submit my recent manuscript to BioRxiv, before submitting it to a scientific journal.

In the manuscript, we describe a field experiment with wild guppies in Trinidad by which we studied foraging success in the wild. We tested if foraging success in the wild differs consistently between individuals and if these differences can be explained by individual traits such as sex and social type, but also by population traits such as sex-ratio. I think the results are very exciting and also somewhat unexpected. If you would like to find out more, then please read the preprint on BioRxiv.

Guppies_BW_Snijders