Tag Archives: roundabouts

Ideas for doing ecology during the lockdown

If you are a follower of my blog then you will know that I have a thing about roundabouts; if not then follow this link and read about the wonderful world of the famous Bracknell roundabouts 🙂 Seriously though, I, or more correctly, a bunch of my students with the occasional visit from me, spent twelve years sampling roundabouts for a variety of plant and animal life, ranging from bugs through to birds with beetles in between.

I originally set the project up as a pedagogical exercise to make island biogeography and nature reserve design more relevant to UK-based undergraduates. I have a bit of a thing about students swanning off to warm tropical places to do conservation, when we have plenty of our own nature that needs attention much closer to home.

Having come up with the idea of getting students (initially undergraduates, but soon involving a horde of MSc students and even a PhD student) to test the species-area relationship using roundabouts as islands – green oases surrounded by a sea of tarmac,  I had to do something about it, especially as the Borough Council, to my total amazement, agreed that I could do it 🙂

So the project was born and lived on for twelve very productive and enjoyable years. We used pitfall trapping, sweep netting, tree beating, suction sampling, transect sampling for the butterflies and bumblebees and also bird counts.  We sampled the vegetation, measured NOx and recorded how often the grass was mown.  We also measured how far away the nearest green spaces were and the immediate and not so immediate land-use.

To my initial surprise (although perhaps I shouldn’t have been), it turned out that the roundabouts were full of wildlife and behaved like geographical islands, big ones having more species than smaller ones (species-area) and more individuals of those species (area-abundance theory).  We also showed that native plants supported more insects than non-native plants and that this was good for the birds.

Quite a bit of the work is now published although we still have a pile of plant and woodlouse data to write up.

So, how does this relate to our current lockdown status?  You can’t very well go out and sample roundabouts or roadside verges, the police will move you along pretty quickly.  Most of you however, probably have a garden and know people with gardens.  Why not get together (virtually of course) and decide what you want to sample; pitfall traps are probably the easiest thing to start with or you could do a bit of bush and tree beating.  Measure your respective islands (gardens) and start collecting and counting. Then collate your data and see what you turn up. Kevin Gaston and Ken Thompson both formerly at Sheffield University found all sorts of exciting things in Sheffield domestic gardens and if you want a good read about the wildlife of suburban gardens I can recommend Jennifer Owens’ little book https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ecology-Garden-First-Fifteen-Years/dp/0521018412

So, find a trowel and get those plastic/paper party cups, jam jars, or tin cans deployed, or get a broom handle and bed sheet and start being cruel to the trees and bushes and enjoy a bit of outdoor time 🙂

 

 

 

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The Roundabout Review 2019 – navel gazing again

Welcome to my, now very, very definitely, traditional review of the past year.

A new roundabout – Jennett’s Park, Bracknell – I have no idea what it is meant to signify

 

Impact and reach

I have continued to post at about ten-day intervals; this is my 273rd  post.  As I wrote last year, there never seems to any difficulty in coming up with ideas to write about; the problem is more in deciding which one to use and when.  As happened last year, some of my blogs have, albeit in slightly modified forms, made it into print (Cardoso & Leather, 2019).

Many of you remain lukewarm about the idea that social media has a place in science. I would, however, ask you to think again and if you need any more convincing, read this paper that very clearly demonstrates the benefits arising from such interactions (Côté & Darling, 2018); evidence that science communication via social media is a very worthwhile use of our time. Highlights of the year included a joint blog with Stephen Heard, about paper titles. Semi-related to my Blogging and Tweeting are my other forms of science communication, giving talks and helping at outreach events, such as the Big Bang Fair, which continue unabated.  I also had three Skype a Scientist dates this year, two with schools in the USA and one with a school in Switzerland.  I really enjoyed the experience and hope that the pupils were as pleased as I was. If you have not come across this scheme, check them out here.

My blog had visitors from 179 countries (181 last year, 165 in 2017, 174 in 2016 and 150 in 2015), so only another 16 to go to achieve total global domination 😊  My blog received 63 710 views (54 300 last year,  40 682 in 2017,  34 036 in 2016; 29 385 in 2015). As with last year, most views came from the USA, with views from India holding on to 4th place and Nigeria entering the top ten for the first time.

Top ten countries for views

Top reads

My top post (excluding my home page) in 2019 was the same as last year, one of my aphid posts,  A Winter’s Tale – Aphid Overwintering, (with almost 200 more reads this year than last, 4108 to be precise) although there may have been some disappointment felt by those who were hoping to find a reference to Shakespeare’s play or the song by Queen. It is now my all-time winner with just over 13 000 views, with Not All Aphids are Vegans with over 11 000 views still maintaining an honourable second place.  My top ten posts continue to be either about aphids or entomological techniques/equipment, which I guess means that I am filling an entomological niche. Aptly, my two posts about the loss of insects made it into the top ten this year.

A Winter’s Tale – aphid overwintering 4,108
Not all aphids are vegans 2,458
“Insectageddon” – bigger headlines, more hype, but where’s the funding? 1,829
Aphid life cycles – bizaare, complex or what? 1,762
Meat eating moths 1,226
Entomological Classics – The Pooter or Insect Aspirator 1,217
Not Jiminy Cricket but Gregory Grasshopper – someone ought to tell Walt 1,158
Ten papers that shook my world – watching empty islands fill up – Simberloff & Wilson (1969) 1,089
Entomological classics – the sweep net 1,052
Global Insect Extinction – a never ending story 1,045

 

My Pick & Mix link fests stalwartly foot the table, although disappointingly, my second collection of natural history haikus is also in the bottom ten 😦

Trends

Although in general, there still seems to be no signs of the number of people viewing my site reaching an asymptote or for that matter, the figures for December were the lowest of the year, by a considerable margin.  Is this the beginning of the end?

Linear still the best fit but is it levelling off?

Tweeting for entomology

I still find my interactions on Twitter very rewarding, although this past year I have become somewhat more political; Brexit and Trump, need I say more?  Most of my tweets are, however, still entomological and ecological and the increase in political comment has not stopped my followers from growing.  I finished 2018 with 6884 followers and begin 2020 with just over 8000, 8088 to be precise.   Many thanks to all my readers and especially to those who take the time to comment as well as pressing the like button.  My top commenters, as indeed they were last year, were fellow bloggers, Emma Maund, Emily Scott, Jeff Ollerton, Amelia from A French Garden and Philip Strange.  I look forward to interacting with you all in 2020.

In theory I am semi-retired from my daytime job, academia but I hasten to add, not from entomology.  I do, however, seem to be spending considerably more than 60% of my time doing stuff that I thought I would no longer have to do 😦

This time last year, I reported that I had submitted a proposal to OUP for a semi-popular entomology book.  I am happy to report that it was accepted, and I am now behind schedule in writing Insects – A Very Short Introduction 🙂

On a less happy note; to me, this has been, in some ways, a horrendous year.  Due largely to the selfish, bigoted and xenophobic behaviour of a large proportion of my very privileged generation, we are set to leave the great European project that has kept Europe largely peaceful for more than forty years. I would remind you, that not all of us voted to deprive our children and grandchildren of the rights and privileges that we have enjoyed since 1975.  It is also appropriate to remember that my father and his generation fought to enable us to enjoy that peace.

My late father (a fervent pro-European) and I (equally pro-EU), both aged 21; he in 1945 after having served in the Royal Marines since he was 17, endured the D-Day landings and fought in the Pacific, me in 1976, in my penultimate year at Leeds University. My teeth would have been the same but I had braces as a child 🙂

On the other hand, a lot of good things have happened; new friends, old friends and family all make life worth living, so in the words of the song “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again”.

A Happy and Prosperous New Year to you all.

References

Cardoso, P. & Leather, S.R. (2019) Predicting a global insect apocalypse. Insect Conservation & Diversity, 12, 263-267.

Côté, I.M. & Darling, E.S. (2018) Scientists on Twitter: preaching to the choir or singing from the rooftops?  Facets, 3, 682-694.

*The number of views for my annual reviews are as follows: 2014 (86), 2015 (110), 2016 (179), 2017 (115, of which 112 were in January).

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Satiable curiosity – side projects are they worthwhile?

I’ve been meaning to write this one for quite a while.  It was stimulated by two posts, one from the incredibly prolific Steve Heard, the other by the not quite so prolific, but equally interesting,  Manu Saunders.  First off, what is a side project?  To me, a side project is one that is not directly funded by a research council or other funding agency or, in some cases, one that you do in your spare time, or to the horror of some line-managers, is not strictly in your job description 🙂 The tyranny of modern research funding dictates that projects must have specific research questions and be accompanied by hypotheses and very specific predictions; most proposals I referee, even contain graphs with predicted results and almost all have ‘preliminary data’ to support their applications.   This is not necessarily a bad thing but to directly quote Manu Saunders from her blog post

“Whittaker’s (1952) study of ‘summer foliage insect communities in the Great Smoky Mountains’ is considered one of the pioneer studies of modern community ecology methods. The very short Introduction starts with the sentence “The study was designed to sample foliage insects in a series of natural communities and to obtain results of ecological significance from the samples.” No “specific research questions” and the hypotheses and predictions don’t appear until the Discussion” Sounds like bliss.

The central ethos of my research career which began in 1977, can be summed up by this quotation uttered by the character ‘Doc’ in John Steinbeck’s novel Sweet Thursday “I want take everything I’ve seen and thought and learned and reduce them and relate them and refine them until I have something of meaning, something of use” (Steinbeck, 1954).* The other thing that has driven me for as long as I can remember, and why I ended up where I am,  is something I share with Rudyard Kipling’s Elephant Child, and that is a “satiable curiosity”:-) Something that has always frustrated me, is that, in the UK at least, most funded research tends to be of a very short duration, usually three years, often less than that**, and if you are very lucky, maybe five years.  If you work on real life field populations, even if you work on aphids, these short term projects are not really very useful; laboratory work is of course a different matter.

I got my first ‘permanent’ job in 1982 working for UK Forestry Commission Research based at their Northern Research Station (NRS) just outside Edinburgh.  My remit initially was to work on the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea and finally, on the large pine weevil, Hylobius abietis.  As a committed aphidophile, I was determined, job description or not, to carry on working with aphids. I decided that the easiest and most useful thing to do was to set up a long-term field study and follow aphid populations throughout the year.  My PhD was on the bird cherry-oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi, a host alternating aphid, the primary host of which is the bird cherry, Prunus padus, with which  Scotland is very well supplied, and fortuitously, just down the road from NRS was Roslin Glen Nature Reserve with a nice healthy population of bird  cherry trees.  I chose ten suitable trees and started what was to become a ten-year once a week, lunch time counting and recording marathon.  I also decided to repeat a study that my PhD supervisor, Tony Dixon had done, record the populations of the sycamore aphid, Drepanosiphum platanoidis.  In the grounds of NRS were five adjacent sycamore tree, Acer pseudoplatanus, and these became my early morning study subjects, also once a week. I had no articulated hypotheses, my only aim was to count and record numbers and life stages and anything else I might see. Anathema to research councils but exactly what Darwin did 🙂

Although it was a ‘permanent’ job, after ten years I moved to Imperial College at Silwood Park and immediately set up a new, improved version of my sycamore study, this time a once weekly early morning*** walk of 52 trees in three transects and with much more data collection involved, not just the aphids, their natural enemies and anything else I found and on top of all that, the trees themselves came in for scrutiny, phenology, growth, flowering and fruiting, all went into my data sheets.  I also set up a bird cherry plot, this time with some hypotheses articulated 🙂

As a result of my weekly walk along my sycamore transects, a few years later I set up yet another side project, this time an experimental cum observational study looking at tree seedling survival and colonisation underneath different tree canopies. At about the same time, initially designed as a pedagogical exercise, I started my study of the biodiversity of Bracknell roundabouts.

One might argue that most undergraduate and MSc research projects could also come under the heading of side projects, but I think that unless they were part of a long term study they aren’t quite the same thing, even though some of them were published.  So, the burning question, apart from the benefits of regular exercise, was the investment of my time and that of my student helpers and co-researchers worth it scientifically?

Side project 1.  Sycamore aphids at the Northern Research Station, 1982-1992

I collected a lot of aphid data, most of which remains, along with the data from Side project 2, in these two notebooks, waiting to be entered into a spreadsheet.  I also collected some limited natural enemy data, presence of aphid mummies and numbers killed by entomopathogenic fungi.  Tree phenological data is limited to bud burst and leaf fall and as I only sampled five trees I’m not sure that this will ever amount to much, apart from perhaps appearing in my blog or as part of a book.  Nothing has as yet made it into print, so a nil return on investment.

Raw data – anyone wanting to help input into a spreadsheet, let me know 🙂 Also includes the data for Side project 2

 

Side project 2.  Rhopalosiphum padi on Prunus padus at Roslin Glen Nature Reserve 1982-1992

I was a lot more ambitious with this project, collecting lots of aphid and natural enemy data and also a lot more tree phenology data, plus noting the presence and counting the numbers of other herbivores.  I have got some of this, peak populations and egg counts in a spreadsheet and some of it has made it to the outside world (Leather, 1986, 1993: Ward et al., 1998).  According to Google Scholar, Ward et al., is my 6th most cited output with, at the time of writing, 127 citations, Leather (1993) is also doing quite well with 56 citations, while Leather (1986) is much further down the list with a mere 38 citations.  I have still not given up hope of publishing some of the other aphid data.  I mentioned that I also recorded the other herbivores I found, one was a new record for bird cherry (Leather, 1989), the other, the result of a nice student project on the bird cherry ermine moth (Leather & MacKenzie, 1994).  I would, I think, be justified in counting this side project as being worthwhile, despite the fact that I started it with no clear hypotheses and the only aim to count what was there.

 

Side project 3.  Everything you wanted to know about sycamores but were afraid to ask 1992-2012

As side projects go this was pretty massive.  Once a week for twenty years, me and on some occasions, an undergraduate research intern, walked along three transects of 52 sycamore trees, recording everything that we could see and count and record, aphids, other herbivores, natural enemies and tree data, including leaf size, phenology, height, fruiting success and sex expression.  My aim was pretty similar to that of Whittaker’s i.e.   “…to sample foliage insects in a series of natural communities and to obtain results of ecological significance from the samples”  truly a mega-project.  I once calculated that there are counts from over 2 000 000 leaves which scales up to something like 10 000 000 pieces of data, if you conservatively estimate five data observations per leaf. Quite a lot of the data are now computerized thanks to a series of student helpers and Vicki Senior, currently finishing her PhD at Sheffield University, but certainly not all of it. In terms of output, only two papers so far (Wade & Leather, 2002; Leather et al., 2005), but papers on the winter moth, sycamore and maple aphids and orange ladybird are soon to be submitted.  On balance, I think that this was also worthwhile and gave me plenty of early morning thinking time in pleasant surroundings and a chance to enjoy Nature.

The sycamore project – most of the raw data, some of which still needs to be computerised 🙂

 

Side project 5. Sixty bird cherry trees 1993-2012

This project has already featured in my blog in my Data I am never going to publish series and also in a post about autumn colours and aphid overwintering site selection.  Suffice to say that so far, thanks to my collaborator Marco Archetti, two excellent papers have appeared (Archetti & Leather, 2005; Archetti et al., 2009), the latter of which is my third most cited paper with 101 cites to date and the former is placed at a very respectable 21st place.  I don’t really see any more papers coming out from this project, but I might get round to writing something about the study as a whole in a natural history journal. On balance, even though only two papers have appeared from this project, I count this as having been a very worthwhile investment of my time.

All now in a spreadsheet and possibly still worthwhile delving into the data

 

Side project 5.  Urban ecology – Bracknell roundabouts 2002-2012

This started as a pedagogical exercise, which will be the subject of a blog post in the not too distant future. The majority of the field work was done by undergraduate and MSc students and in the latter years spawned a PhD student, so a side project that became a funded project 🙂 To date, we have published seven papers from the project (Helden & Leather, 2004, 2005; Leather & Helden, 2005ab; Helden et al., 2012; Jones & Leather, 2012; Goodwin et al., 2017) and there are probably two more to come.  Definitely a success and a very worthwhile investment of my time.  The story of the project is my most requested outreach talk so also gives me the opportunity to spread the importance of urban ecology to a wider audience.

The famous roundabouts – probably the most talked and read about roundabouts in the world 🙂 Sadly Roundabout 1 i n o longer with us; it was converted into a four-way traffic light junction last year 😦

 

Side project 6.  Testing the Janzen-Connell Hypothesis – Silwood Park, 2005-2012

I mentioned this project fairly recently so will just link you to it here.  So far only one paper has come out of this project (Pigot & Leather, 2008) and I don’t really see me getting round to doing much more than producing another Data I am never going to publish article, although it does get a passing mention in the book that I am writing with former colleagues Tilly Collins and Patricia Reader.  It also gave undergraduate and MSc project students something to do.  Overall, this just about counts as a worthwhile use of my time.

Most of this is safely in a spreadsheet but the data in the notebooks still needs inputting

According to my data base I have published 282 papers since 1980 which given that I have supervised 52 PhD students, had 5 post-docs, and, at a rough estimate, supervised 150 MSc student projects and probably 200 undergraduate student projects doesn’t seem to be very productive 😦 Of the 282 papers, 125 are from my own projects, which leaves 139 papers for the post-docs and PhD students and 17 from the side projects.  Three of the papers published from the side projects were by PhD students, so if I remove them from the side projects that gives an average of 2.3 papers per side project and 2.4 papers per post-doc and PhD student.   So, in my opinion, yes, side projects are definitely worth the investment.

 

References

Archetti, M. & Leather, S.R. (2005) A test of the coevolution theory of autumn colours: colour preference of Rhopalosiphum padi on Prunus padus. Oikos, 110, 339-343.

Archetti, M., Döring, T.F., Hagen, S.B., Hughes, N.M., Leather, S.R., Lee, D.W., Lev-Yadun, S., Manetas, Y., Ougham, H.J., Schaberg, P.G., & Thomas, H. (2009) Unravelling the evolution of autumn colours: an interdisciplinary approach. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 24, 166-173.

Goodwin, C., Keep, B., & Leather, S.R. (2017) Habitat selection and tree species richness of roundabouts: effects on site selection and the prevalence of arboreal caterpillars. Urban Ecosystems, 19, 889-895.

Helden, A.J. & Leather, S.R. (2004) Biodiversity on urban roundabouts – Hemiptera, management and the species-area relationship. Basic and Applied Ecology, 5, 367-377.

Helden, A.J. & Leather, S.R. (2005) The Hemiptera of Bracknell as an example of biodiversity within an urban environment. British Journal of Entomology & Natural History, 18, 233-252.

Helden, A.J., Stamp, G.C., & Leather, S.R. (2012) Urban biodiversity: comparison of insect assemblages on native and non-native trees.  Urban Ecosystems, 15, 611-624.

Jones, E.L. & Leather, S.R. (2012) Invertebrates in urban areas: a review. European Journal of Entomology, 109, 463-478.

Leather, S.R. (1986) Host monitoring by aphid migrants: do gynoparae maximise offspring fitness? Oecologia, 68, 367-369.

Leather, S.R. (1989) Phytodecta pallida (L.) (Col., Chrysomelidae) – a new insect record for bird cherry (Prunus padus). Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, 125, 17-18.

Leather, S.R. (1993) Overwintering in six arable aphid pests: a review with particular relevance to pest management. Journal of Applied Entomology, 116, 217-233.

Leather, S.R. & Helden, A.J. (2005) Magic roundabouts?  Teaching conservation in schools and universities. Journal of Biological Education, 39, 102-107.

Leather, S.R. & Helden, A.J. (2005) Roundabouts: our neglected nature reserves? Biologist, 52, 102-106.

Leather, S.R. & Mackenzie, G.A. (1994) Factors affecting the population development of the bird cherry ermine moth, Yponomeuta evonymella L. The Entomologist, 113, 86-105.

Leather, S.R., Wade, F.A., & Godfray, H.C.J. (2005) Plant quality, progeny sequence, and the sex ratio of the sycamore aphid, Drepanoisphum platanoidis. Entomologia experimentalis et applicata, 115, 311-321.

Pigot, A.L. & Leather, S.R. (2008) Invertebrate predators drive distance-dependent patterns of seedling mortality in a temperate tree Acer pseudoplatanus. Oikos, 117, 521-530.

Steinbeck, J. (1954) Sweet Thursday, Viking Press, New York, USA.

Wade, F.A. & Leather, S.R. (2002) Overwintering of the sycamore aphid, Drepanosiphum platanoidis. Entomologia experimentalis et applicata, 104, 241-253.

Ward, S.A., Leather, S.R., Pickup, J., & Harrington, R. (1998) Mortality during dispersal and the cost of host-specificity in parasites: how many aphids find hosts? Journal of Animal Ecology, 67, 763-773.

Whittaker, R.H. (1952) A Study of summer foliage insect communities in the Great Smoky Mountains. Ecological Monographs, 22, 1-44.

 

*

I was so impressed by this piece of philosophy that it is quoted in the front of my PhD thesis 🙂

**

My second post-doc was only for two years.

***

You may wonder why I keep emphasising early morning in relation to surveying sycamore aphids.  Sycamore aphids are very easy to disturb so it is best to try and count them in the early morning before they have a chance to warm up and become flight active.

 

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A Roundabout Review of the Year – highlights from 2016

Welcome to my traditional, well it is the fourth after all, annual review of my social media and science communication activities.  I have had another enjoyable year blogging and tweeting, and as I wrote last year, I have absolutely no plans to stop either.   You may also be pleased to know that pictures of roundabouts will continue to appear at irregular intervals 🙂

2016-review-1

Roundabout on the edge of Prades, 2016, complete with the author 🙂

 

Impact and reach

I have continued to post at about ten-day intervals; this is my 142nd post.  The more I write the easier it seems to become. I also did my first jointly authored post, teaming up with Anne Hilborn (@AnneWHilborn) to ask if naming study animals introduced observational bias which generated a fair bit of interest and was published in a slightly modified form in the on-line magazine Biosphere.  Another of my blog articles was converted into a discussion piece for the journal Agricultural & Forest Entomology  (see February 2017 issue) and my blogging activities resulted in me being asked to do an article about roundabouts and their biodiversity for the summer newsletter of the International Association for Landscape Ecology.  For those of you who think that social media has no place in science, I feel that this is pretty convincing evidence that science communication via social media is a  very worthwhile use of our time.

I had visitors from 164 countries (150 last year) and received 34 036 views (29 385 last year).  As last year, the majority of my readers

2016-review-2

The top ten countries for views in 2016

came form the UK and USA, although Sweden and The Netherlands made it into the top ten, pushing Spain into the wilderness.

 

Top reads

My top post (excluding my home page) in 2016 was one of my entomological classics, the Moericke Trap, closely followed by  A Winter’s Tale – Aphid Overwintering,  although my all-time winner is still Not All Aphids are Vegans with over 5 000 views.  My top ten posts tend to be either about aphids or entomological techniques/equipment which I guess means that I am filling an entomological niche.  I was however, disappointed to see that one of my favourite posts about (to me at any rate) the inspirational paper by Mike Way and Mike Cammell on using aphid egg counts to predict crop damage is languishing in the bottom ten, despite being published in September 2015 😦

 

Comparative statistics

One of the things that I find somewhat frustrating with blogging is the difficulty of gathering comparative data.  It may be the scientist in me or perhaps I am just too competitive, but as WordPress kindly supply their users with personal statistics, I feel the need to know how others are doing.  It is surprisingly hard to get these sort of data although this site is useful if you are hoping to use your blog for generating an income.  I was very excited a few weeks ago when my blog reached over 100 000 views at beginning of December.  Just a few days later Dynamic Ecology announced their 1 00 000 unique visitor which certainly put me in my place!   They have, however, been around a while and post much more frequently than I do, so are perhaps not the best yardstick, although of course something to aspire to.  Luckily, Jeff Ollerton who has been blogging about a year longer than me and in a similar subject area, is as obsessed with blogging statistics as I am and very kindly gave me access to his data.  Looking at the data it seems that we arrived at the same point

2016-review-3

Comparative statistics between my blog and that of Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity Blog.

after the same amount of time but in different ways.  Jeff had a much slower start than me and his stats are best described using a curvilinear relationship whereas my line is still a straightforward linear relationship.  I guess that as I was on Twitter when I launched my blog that I immediately picked up more views than Jeff who only joined the Twitter fraternity a month or so ago.  It will be interesting to see if his readership curve steepens in the coming months and if mine continues to rise linearly, plateau or (hopefully) take-off as Jeff’s did.

Tweeting for entomology

In terms of Tweeting I had a really great experience curating the Real Scientists Twitter account @realscientists.  It kept me very busy but I interacted with a whole new set of people and had some really interesting conversations.  I can heartily recommend it to anyone who is considering volunteering.  I had hoped to hit the 5 000 follower milestone before the end of the year but didn’t quite make it, ending the year with 4 960 instead which is according to my children, pretty good for a normal person 🙂

Many thanks to all my readers and especially to those who take the time to comment as well as pressing the like button.  My top commenters, as indeed they were last year, were Emma Maund, Emily Scott, Emma Bridges, Jeff Ollerton, Amelia from A French Garden and Philip Strange.  I look forward to interacting with you all in 2017.  A Happy and Prosperous New Year to you all.

 

 

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Roundabouts – so much more than traffic-calming devices

Roundabout1

I have often been asked why I work on roundabouts, or urban green spaces, if you want to sound more scientific and ecological. Roundabouts to me are not just traffic-calming devices.

Roundabout2

They are a teaching tool,

 

 

Roundabout3

a research programme

 

Roundabout4

and a source of amusement and wonder.

 

Roundabout5

They are islands of calm among a sea of traffic, a haven for wildlife amidst a tarmac and concrete jungle.

Hook of Holland

or just plain fun!

So, next time you are waiting to enter a roundabout, don’t just think of it as an impediment (or aid) to your journey, but as a haven of wild-life, an urban nature reserve

Roundabout6

or even as a work of art, especially if you are in France 🙂

 

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Getting a buzz with science communication – Reflections on curating Realscientists for a week

My week on Realscientists was a direct result of National Insect Week, a biennial event organised by the Royal Entomological Society (RES) to bring the wonders of entomology to a wider audience*. I had never thought about being a curator for Realscientists although I have followed them for some time.  Back in February however, one of my PhD students who has been involved with National Insect Week on more than one occasion, suggested that I might apply to curate RealScientists during National Insect Week as the RES Director of Outreach, Luke Tilley, was hoping to be on Biotweeps during National Insect Week as well.  To make sure that I had no excuse to forget to do it, she very helpfully sent me the link to the Realscientists web site and instructions on how to apply 🙂

Duly briefed, I contacted Realscientists and to my surprise and slight apprehension, was given the slot I had asked for, the week beginning 19th June.  As my curatorial stint drew closer I began to worry about what I was going to tweet about and how to fit it into my day-to-day activities.

I made a list of twenty pre-planned Tweets to give me an outline script to work from. I managed to include all but one into my week as curator, the one about why you should want to work in entomology.

RS1

The twenty tweet list

I felt that my whole week was addressing this point so there was no need to belabour the point any more.  I also received an email from Realscientists with a Vade Mecum of how and what to tweet.  I was somewhat concerned by the section on how to deal with trolling, but I needn’t have worried, as far as I could tell I received no overt abuse**.

The big day approached, which as my actual launch was at Sunday lunchtime caused some slight logistical problems, but easily solved by making lunch a bit later than usual. As it was a Sunday I basically kept it light, introduced myself and tweeted a few insect factoids and pictures, including some great images from van Bruyssels The Population of an Old Pear Tree.  I have my own hard copy of the 1868 translated edition, but if you want to read it on-line it is available here.

RS2a

From van Bruyssel – The Population of an Old Pear Tree

It is definitely worth a read.

I also had to make a decision about how much time I was going to spend Tweeting. The previous curator had only done about 10-15 tweets a day, which is what I usually do.  The curator before her, however, had done considerably more.  As my stint as curator coincided with National Insect Week and as my contract with my university does actually specify that I do outreach***, I felt that I could justify several hours a day to it and that is what I did, and managing to fit quite a bit of the day job in between.

In between tweeting images and fantastic insect facts I tried to get some important messages across to my audience.  I started with what some might  term a “conservation rant”, basically bemoaning the fact that although insects make up the majority of the animal kingdom, conservation research and funding is very much biased toward the vertebrates, largely those with fur and feathers.  I also pointed out that most statements about how we should go about conservation in general is based on this unbalanced and not very representative research.  Taxonomic chauvinism has annoyed my for a long time 🙂

RS3

That rant over I introduced my audience to the work our research group does, biological control, chemical ecology, integrated pest management, agro-ecology and urban ecology and conservation. Our use of fluorescent dust and radio tagging to understand insect behaviour aroused a lot of interest and comment.

 RS4

Using alternative technology to understand vine weevil behaviour.

RS5

The glow in the dark sycamore aphid was also very popular

 

Midweek I translated one of my outreach talks to Twitter and in a frenzy of Tweets introduced the world to Bracknell and the biodiversity to be found on its roundabouts and how an idea of how to teach locally relevant island biogeography and conservation, turned into a 12 year research project.

RS6

How teaching led research – the Bracknell roundabout story.

In between these two main endeavours, I tweeted about the influences that entomology has had on art, literature, popular culture, religion, medicine, engineering, advertising, economics, medicine , fashion and even advertising, using a variety of images.

RS7

Our new insect-inspired smoke detector attracted a lot of love and envy.

I even composed a haiku for the occasion

Six-legged creatures;

Fascinating and diverse,

Beautiful insects

 

RS8

I have been an entomologist for a long time.

and told the story of my life-long love of insects, incidentally revealing some of my past hair-styles and exposing my lack of interest in sartorial elegance 🙂

My overall message for the week was, and hopefully I got this across, is that we should be much

RS9

more aware of what is under our feet and surrounding us and of course, that aphids are not just fantastic insects

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My final tweet

but also beautiful animals.

Giant Myzus

Model Myzus persicae that I recently met in the Natural History Museum

And finally, would I do it again? Yes most definitely. I ‘met’ a lot of new and very interesting people and had some really good ‘conversations’.

 

References

Harrington, R. (1994) Aphid layer.  Antenna, 18, 50-51.

Huxley, T.H. (1858) On the agamic reproduction and morphology of Aphis – Part I. Transactions of the Linnean Society of London, 22, 193-219.

Leather, S. R. (2009). Taxonomic chauvinism threatens the future of entomology. Biologist 56, 10-13.

 

 

*I was one of the original ‘founders’ of National Insect Week so have always tried to be involved in some way with the event.

**or I am so thick-skinned I didn’t notice it 🙂

***or as Harper Adams University quaintly terms it, “reach out”

 

 

 

 

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Planned and accidental landings – Search terms that found my site

Unbelievably yet another year has gone by which means that I have managed to complete three years of blogging at Don’t Forget the Roundabouts writing articles at about ten-day intervals. This post will be my 105th since I started blogging on January 1st 2013.  I have written over 15 000 words about aphids and another 31 000 words on other entomologically related subjects ; so at least one book if I can get around to linking the various posts into a coherent form 🙂  My views on the usefulness of blogging at a personal level and in terms of science communication remain as positive as ever and I fully intend to continue blogging for the foreseeable future.  At this time last year last year I summarised my facts and figures in terms of views and international reach.  This year I have decided to ‘borrow’ an idea from three of the blogs I follow, Scientist Sees Squirrel, Small Pond Science and The Lab and Field and speculate about some of the search terms that direct people to my site.

So first the bare facts, I reached 150 countries (145 last year) and received 29 385   views

Countries 2015

Top nine countries for views during 2015

(24 616 last year) and as yet the figures seem to suggest that I will continue to gain more views during 2016, but it is only a simple regression and a pessimist might see a plateau appearing 🙂

Blog stats

My top post, as last year, was Not All Aphids are Vegans closely followed by  A Winter’s Tale – Aphid Overwintering both with over a thousand views.  So how do people find me, which search terms do they use?  As you might expect the most frequently used search terms are those that ask do aphids bite people (humans)? In fact most of the search terms that plonk people down on my blog are aphid related.  Jiminy Cricket also turns up a lot; this is because of one of my very early posts in which I pointed out that Jiminy Cricket should really be Gregory Grasshopper.  On the other hand, some people do actually search for me and my site specifically.  There are, however, some weird and wonderful search terms that send people my way, a few of which are worth commenting on.

 

Do police dogs follow the scent of fear?  An easy one to start with, this directed the searcher to my post on aphid alarm pheromone, which will of course, not have answered her/his question.

Police dog cartoon

 

These two are obviously linked to the name of my blog.

Who are the roundabouts in Pinocchio? I didn’t know that roundabouts featured in Pinocchio but Jiminy Cricket certainly does 🙂  On reflection this may have been a misspelling of roustabouts, in reference to the two villains who kidnapped Pinocchio.

Why were roundabouts so big back in the day?  An intriguing question to which I have no answer.

 

This one takes the prize for the most specific set of terms entered.

What is the name of the male group of entomologists that is the oldest group in the world and has recently invited Dr Helen Roy to become a member? – the answer is of course The Entomological Club.

 

I was extremely flattered that Google directed this inquirer to my blog  🙂

Where is the latest global discourse in entomology?

 

Obviously all my trips to Paris and France have upped my international profile,

article sur aphis nerii et ses parasitoides

 

but these are pretty obscure to say the least!

her wellies got sloppy pictures, but probably (s)he meant soppy? so here you are

soppy wellies

it’s raining get coat and umbrella study module to get a first in exam results

what is a milligram?  I have no idea how that ended up on my site and as for this one?

joni printed 50 pages, then he took a pair of scissors and carefully cut 300 tag and signed all of them

 

And finally a couple of X-rated ones:

 why girls bum sap changes having sex? I’m guessing that (s)he meant shape –  being directed to an article about aphids ingesting phloem sap must have been a bit deflating!

video sex girls avenae  this one must have really been disappointed but if (s)he comes this way again (s)he might like to watch this video produced by the Silwood Revue which is well worth a view https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sBzNsaSzdM

 

I could go on, but enough is enough, and the rest are mainly aphid related.

I continue to find blogging immensely satisfying but would really like to have more comments and interactions via the blog. Twitter is where most exchanges occur at the moment.  As far as I can make out other bloggers, even those with much larger readerships than me, also say that comments on their blogs have fallen over the last couple of years.  It would be nice if everyone who followed me on Twitter read my blog!  That said I must acknowledge my most frequent commenters and bestowers of likes.  These are Emily Scott http://adventuresinbeeland.com/, Jeff Ollerton http://jeffollerton.wordpress.com/, Amelia from A French Garden, Emma Tennant http://missapismellifera.com/, Manu Sanders http://ecologyisnotadirtyword.com/ and Philip Strange https://philipstrange.wordpress.com/.   I am also very grateful to the 175 people (40 more than last year) who subscribe to my blog.

Many thanks to you all for your interest and kind words and A Prosperous and Happy New Year to you all.

 

Post script

As a late Christmas present to you all, my favourite roundabout of the year!

Surgeres

On the edge of Surgeres (Charente Maritime) – not very ecological but certainly literary!

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Post card from Catalunya Nord – Summer Holiday 2015

 

If three years can be construed as a tradition then this is my traditional holiday blog post! This year we spent three weeks in Catalan France, in the Pyrénées-Orientales.  We have usually travelled south by putting our car on the train and having a relaxing and interesting overnight journey letting the train take the strain. Unfortunately there seems to be a conspiracy against motor-railers and yet another of our train options was closed this year.   As I like to bring back a few bottles of wine with me, the hire-car option is not very attractive. We thus had to do the ferry and drive option. We caught the ferry from Portsmouth on a Friday night and arrived early the next morning in Caen.

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We were then faced with the long drive to Maureillas-las-Illas, a small town close to the Spanish border. We split the journey in half and spent the night in a very picturesque B&B run by an aged Italian lady in a tiny village in the Charente-Maritime,

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not far from the town of Saint-Genis-de-Saintonge, near Pons, which had rather an unusual roundabout which I immediately added to my collection 😉

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Pons itself was a rather nice little town which just happened to be having a medieval fete when we arrived.

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We eventually arrived at Maureillas-las-Illas and were then faced with a 20 minute drive up a single track mountain road to Las Illas and finally up a dirt track to our holiday villa in Super Las Illas (a seven minute walk from the Spanish border) where we to be based for the next three weeks.

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There was of course a pool, with a lovely view, although given that we were at 900 m, it was not the warmest pool we have ever

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experienced even on a sunny day J

In terms of wildlife, it was not as prolific as some places we have stayed, although the pool collected the usual suicidal millipedes, Hymenoptera, Diptera, Coleoptera and even some grasshoppers and the odd shield bug or two. I also rescued a small lizard which then seemed to become very attached to me, at one stage even taking refuge in my hair.

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There were the usual impossible to photograph humming-bird hawk moths and numerous swallowtails

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which I did manage to snap. I also discovered that one of my favourite entomological shirts was a great hoverfly attractant, although despite the design, did not fool any of the butterflies.

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We were not far from Ceret, which we had visited five years ago and were happy to renew our acquaintance with its narrow streets, Picasso fountain and many cafés.

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We also came across this street celebrating Charles De Gaulle’s exhortation to the French people in 1940, although I was saddened to see that vandals had been at work, albeit appositely.

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We also visited Amelie-les-Bains and Prats de Mollo La Preste, the former apparently famous for urinary tract cures!   In Prats we saw

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multi-storey graves and also a great painting of one of the gates of the old walled town on a house opposite the actual gate

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Unusually we only had one trip to the coast, Port Vendres where we enjoyed a sunny morning and a very long lunch.

 

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On our return to the villa we might have been forgiven for thinking that we had somehow been transported back to an English autumn.

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We also we went to Vernet-les-Bains and surrounding areas, looking at potential places to retire. We knocked quite a few houses off the possible to buy list; it is amazing how different the pictures that estate agents put on their sites are from the real thing.   It was nice to be in Vernet again, although once again Gill found the hilly streets a bit tough going.

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Since our last visit the old communal lavoir has been very nicely restored both externally and internally.

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Vernet also has a nice arboretum scattered through the town and parks, so you often come across signs like this. I was pleased to see that one of my favourite trees (Prunus padus, bird cherry) gets a mention.

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We also visited Elne a very pretty sleepy little town with a small cathedral.  Nearby we found a nice artist’s centre where we had lunch and a local artisanal Catalan beer,

 

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and for the entomologists, some horse-chestnut leaf miner damage

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Gorges de la Fou is well worth a visit and as well as being geologically impressive, is also signed botanically.

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It turned out that the obligatory safety hats were made in the UK.

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We also visited Thuir – mainly famous for Byrrh (but they also prepare and bottle other fortified aromatic wines including Cinzano, Ambassadeur, Vabe and Dubonnet). Unfortunately the tour didn’t have any manufacturing going on but there were free samples at the end, which as a responsible driver was a little frustrating.

                                 26

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We visited Perpignan a couple of times.   Both times we were blessed with lovely hot sunny weather. Plenty of canal side cafes, the castle of the Kings of Majorca is worth a visit, with great views from the top, although a bit of a climb to get there.

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We also came across these giant flower pots which is certainly an interesting way to grow urban trees.

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Closer to home was the Cork museum in Maureillas-las-Illas .   It is very interesting although quite small, and even if you watch the video and visit the shop, where I bought a cork post card, the visit is easily done within an hour. I really liked the mini-sculptures in cork depicting the making of cork. There were also examples of cork ark and furniture.

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And of course, not forgetting the biggest cork in the world.

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On Day One of our marathon motorway trip on our way back to catch the ferry we stopped at the most fantastic motorway service station (Aire) ever – jazz band, environmental messages, great gift shop, a restaurant, a cafeteria, and a sandwicherie, plus lots of water (it was on the Canal du Midi). Perhaps our motorway service areas could take a lesson from Vinci.

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We broke our return journey in the Charente-Maritime again, this time staying in a glorious B&B in Forges. Nearby was the town of Surgeres which provided me with yet another roundabout for my collection.

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The next morning, as La Rochelle was not far way, we took the opportunity to have coffee there and to do a bit of sight-seeing. A very picturesque place indeed and it would have been nice if we could have stopped longer. It is now on our list of places to come and revisit.

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We left La Rochelle late morning and continued our trip towards Caen, where we arrived in the early evening with plenty of time to do a bit of sight-seeing.  We came across this very shiny statue of Joan of Arc.  We then sat in the sun at the head of the canal and had a very good dinner.

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Then sadly, it was off to the ferry port to wait to be allowed to board as the sun set on our holiday ;-(

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Post script

This year we invested in Télépéage, which allowed us to sail through the toll booths on the motorways instead of queuing and scrabbling for the right money – well worth the investment.

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A Roundabout Look at 2014 – Another year of Not Forgetting the Roundabouts

Although I have recently written about my two years of blogging and tweeting, I couldn’t resist the temptation to begin 2015 with a quick round-up of 2014 on Don’t Forget the Roundabouts.

Hook of Holland

A gratuitous roundabout – collected summer 2014 Hook of Holland on our way back from our summer holiday.

According to the statistics provided by WordPress, I reached 145 countries (112 in 2013), and received about 24 000 views (14 349 in 2013).

Countries 2014

Once again my most viewed post was Not All Aphids are Vegans with my post about saving UK plant sciences in second place.  I continue to be surprised at how many people appear (or think that they have) to be bitten by aphids.  In all my years of working with aphids I have only been probed (bitten, stung) twice.  Looking at the distribution of hits for the post though it does seem to reflect the times of year when aphids are most active.

Vegan aphid stats 2014

This post is obviously filling a need as the number of views has more than doubled since last year.

An innovation for 2014 was my series on entomological classics, mainly equipment, but I also included Southwood’s 1961 paper under that heading.  This coming year I will continue much as before, posts about aphids, more entomological classics (look out for yellow water traps next), the odd rant or two and a new series on those scientific papers and authors that have really inspired me over the years.

I guess my biggest accolade this year was having my blog praised by a professional science journalist, @GrrlScientist, who in her plenary talk at the recent joint BES/SFE meeting in Lille made me blush terribly.

I would really like to have more comments and interactions via the blog; at the moment Twitter is where most exchanges occur.  It would also be nice if everyone who followed me on Twitter read my blog!  That said I must acknowledge my most frequent commenters and bestowers of likes.  These are Emily Scott http://adventuresinbeeland.com/, Jeff Ollerton http://jeffollerton.wordpress.com/, Amelia from A French Garden, and Emma Tennant http://missapismellifera.com/.  I am also very grateful to the 135 people who subscribe to my blog.  Many thanks to you all for your interest and kind words.

A Prosperous and Happy New Year to you all.

Happy New Year

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A Year of Not Forgetting the Roundabouts

Exactly a year ago (January 1st 2013), and with some trepidation, I launched my blog, Don’t Forget the Roundabouts.  I recently wrote about why I joined Twitter, https://simonleather.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/why-i-joined-the-twitterati-blogs-tweets-talks-making-entomology-visible/ and concluded that it had been a worthwhile and educational experience.  So how about the blog?  To me this was even scarier than going on to Twitter.  It took me some time to come up with a title, and I finally opted for the one you see above this post.  This celebrates my interest in urban ecology, my fascination with the architecture, decoration and biodiversity of roundabouts in general

Cantaur compressed

and my belief that we should concentrate the majority of our conservation efforts on small and local issues in our own back-yards https://simonleather.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/think-small-and-local-focus-on-large-charismatic-mega-fauna-threatens-conservation-efforts/.  I am not saying that international conservation is a bad thing; I just think that there is a lot of scientific imperialism/colonialism (e.g.  http://www.bmj.com/content/331/7519/705.full, andhttp://www.conservationandsociety.org/article.asp?issn=0972-4923;year=2007;volume=5;issue=2;spage=147;epage=183;aulast=Adams ) out there as well as a huge amount of taxonomic bias, driven by ex-situ conservationists with agendas driven by charismatic mega-fauna.  I think that local conservationists and indigenous populations should be primarily responsible for their own conservation efforts, but also of course, not forgetting their global responsibilities.

Writing a fully fledged blog, as opposed to tweeting, is to me a big deal.  Twitter is pretty ephemeral but a personal blog is out there and relatively easy to find.  I have therefore felt that when I write about science, which is mainly what appears here, that I need to research the literature thoroughly and get my facts right. After all, what I write about aphids may be found by a researcher or student who because I have published extensively on aphids, may take it as gospel without checking sources, despite my warnings https://simonleather.wordpress.com/2013/03/28/how-stephen-jay-gould-wrote-macbeth-not-giving-credit-where-its-due-lazy-referencing-and-ignoring-precedence/.  I find that preparing a scientific post takes as much background research as writing a full-blown paper for publication, in fact sometimes it takes longer because I find myself delving into some really obscure literature from the distant past https://simonleather.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/desperately-seeking-sources-the-quest-for-the-original-citation/. That said, it has all been great fun and I have learnt a lot and found a lot of really interesting blogs out there; something I never really looked at until I started blogging myself.

So what have I learnt from blogging?  Well, not everyone finds aphids as interesting as I do, but I will continue to plug away at trying to convince you all that aphids really are the greatest insect group in the world 😉  That said, my most popular post was about aphids, https://simonleather.wordpress.com/2013/06/06/desperately-seeking-sources-the-quest-for-the-original-citation/ found mainly by people using the search term, ‘do aphids bite people’ and looking at the traffic data it shows a fairly good correlation with the times that aphids are likely to be most abundant, although I am not convinced that they are all out there biting people.

Not all aphids are vegans

Otherwise my most popular posts are those that have dealt with more general issues, such as the PhD viva experience https://simonleather.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/are-phd-examiners-really-ogres/ which shows a steady number of hits at about an average of one a day once you discount the initial launch peak.

 Are PhD Examiners really orgres

I have published 39 posts, reached people in 112 countries, with the top ten being dominated by the English-speaking countries of the world, and

Country views

had over 14,000 views with an average of 39 per day and sixty people subscribe to my blog as official followers.

Annual summary again

My most viewed day was 451, won by my recent blog on joining the Twitterati.  My ambition is to have a post that is actually read by all my followers on Twitter!  My two most frequent commenters and bestowers of likes are Emily Heath http://adventuresinbeeland.com/ and Jeff Ollerton http://jeffollerton.wordpress.com/.   My most frequent referrer was Chris Buddle http://arthropodecology.com/

My thanks and best wishes to them all, and of course, to all my other readers and followers.  I would really like feedback from all of you to help me improve my efforts during 2014.

A Prosperous and Happy New Year to you all.

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