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How to Do Ecology

How to Do Ecology: A Concise Handbook (Second Edition)

Richard Karban
Mikaela Huntzinger
Ian S. Pearse
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: STU - Student edition, 2
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    How to Do Ecology
    Book Description:

    Most books and courses in ecology cover facts and concepts but don't explain how to actually do ecological research.How to Do Ecologyprovides nuts-and-bolts advice on organizing and conducting a successful research program. This one-of-a-kind book explains how to choose a research question and answer it through manipulative experiments and systematic observations. Because science is a social endeavor, the book provides strategies for working with other people, including professors and collaborators. It suggests effective ways to communicate your findings in the form of journal articles, oral presentations, posters, and grant and research proposals. The book also includes ideas to help you identify your goals, organize a season of fieldwork, and deal with negative results. In short, it makes explicit many of the unspoken assumptions behind doing good research in ecology and provides an invaluable resource for meaningful conversations between ecologists.

    This second edition ofHow to Do Ecologyfeatures new sections on conducting and analyzing observational surveys, job hunting, and becoming a more creative researcher, as well as updated sections on statistical analyses.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5126-3
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

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  1. Preface to the Second Edition
    (pp. xi-xii)
  2. Introduction: The Aims of This Book
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    As students of ecology, we take classes in ecological principles and ecological theory. We familiarize ourselves with the influential studies that have shaped our discipline. But rarely do we explicitly try to figure out how to do ecology ourselves. What are the skills that are required to do a good job? How can we develop them? In a nutshell, this book is an attempt to provide a concise set of suggestions for how to do ecology well. It is intended for students and practicing ecologists who are faced with developing an exciting research program.

    In this handbook, we consider different...

  3. CHAPTER 1 Picking a Question
    (pp. 1-18)

    Perhaps the most critical step in doing field biology is picking a question. Tragically, it’s the thing that you are expected to do first, when you have the least experience. For example, it helps to get into grad school if you appear to be focused on a particular set of questions that matches a professor’s interests. However, at this stage in most students’ careers, many topics sound equally interesting, so this forced focus is difficult or even painful.

    The question that you pick should reflect your goals as a biologist. If you are a new grad student, your short-term goal...

  4. CHAPTER 2 Posing Questions (or Picking an Approach)
    (pp. 19-36)

    Much of what you can learn about ecology depends on the questions you ask. Your preconceptions and intuition determine the factors that you choose to examine, and these will constrain your results. Ecologists take several different approaches to science, and which approaches you use will constrain the kinds of answers that you’ll get. Answers to the questions that you ask then form your view of how the natural world works. Deciding on an approach may sound like a bunch of philosophical nonsense to waste time, but it can have important consequences on everything that follows.

    Ecologists use several different approaches...

  5. CHAPTER 3 Using Experiments to Test Hypotheses
    (pp. 37-57)

    As we discussed in chapter 2, manipulative experiments are valuable in ecology because they can help to establish causality. The experimenter manipulates the treatments and observes the effects of the manipulations. In the next chapters, we consider experimental and statistical techniques that are used to evaluate cause-and-effect relationships in ecology.

    Unambiguous interpretation of causality is dependent on several requirements: (1) appropriate controls, (2) meaningful treatments, (3) replication of independent units, and (4) randomization and interspersion of treatments (Hurlbert 1984).

    Controls are treatments against which manipulations are compared. Biological systems change over time. As a result, we cannot simply compare our...

  6. CHAPTER 4 Analyzing Experimental Data
    (pp. 58-76)

    The first step in doing research is to have a clear question or hypothesis in your mind. If you just have a vague interest in a system, an organism, or an interaction, you are not ready to do experiments; however, this would be a great time to poke around so that questions start to form in your mind. You must be able to formulate your ideas into a clear question. Without a clear question, there is no end to the data (relevant or otherwise) that you may feel compelled to collect. Good research is a bit of a balancing act:...

  7. CHAPTER 5 Using Surveys to Explore Patterns
    (pp. 77-96)

    Earlier we discussed why manipulative experiments are such powerful tools for establishing cause-and-effect relationships (chapter 3). But in practice, even when experiments are possible, they can test a limited number of causal factors. Experiments will rarely be easy in, for example, conservation or global change biology (Young 2000). As ecologists attempt to address environmental problems with policy implications, such as issues involving introduced or endangered species, it is often impossible or unethical to conduct manipulative experiments. Luckily, observations can also allow you to pose and evaluate hypotheses.

    Observations of patterns form a continuum ranging from poking around to formal surveys....

  8. CHAPTER 6 Building Your Indoor Skills
    (pp. 97-104)

    Unfortunately, field ecology doesn’t take place exclusively in the field. In this section, we offer suggestions about skills that might make your life a little easier.

    Organizing a field season requires thinking of both the big picture and the day-to-day activities. Remember that you will want to share your data as some kind of story. So ask yourself throughout whether your questions (the big picture) and your day-to-day activities are allowing you to fully develop the story your system is offering. Plan out your season in your electronic or field notebook, not just in your head. You might be tempted...

  9. CHAPTER 7 Working with People and Getting a Job in Ecology
    (pp. 105-118)

    When we aspired to become biologists, we imagined that the scientific process was totally objective; the truth could be separated from lesser hypotheses in a manner that was removed from social interactions. The longer we stay in this business, the more we are struck by the opposite. Science is a social endeavor, most ecologists are human beings, and coming up with good ideas isn’t enough; successful ecologists need to be persuasive about the value of their ideas.

    In this chapter we consider some of the social situations that you are likely to encounter as a graduate student and as a...

  10. CHAPTER 8 Communicating What You Find
    (pp. 119-163)

    Communicating is an essential part of doing field biology, although it requires very different skills than scientific investigation. Learning about nature is fun, but the field of ecology only advances when you communicate what you have learned. We have never been able to make a lick of sense of the argument that a tree that falls in the forest hasn’t really made a sound if nobody is there to hear it. However, if you don’t make other interested people aware of what you have learned, then from society’s point of view, essentially nothing has been learned.

    Not all attempts to...

  11. CHAPTER 9 Conclusions
    (pp. 164-166)

    There is a card game called Mao that is popular on several university campuses. One of the rules of Mao is that players cannot ask or explain the rules. New players joining the game must figure out the rules by observation and trial and error. A player who fails to follow a rule is given a penalty. Doing field biology can be a lot like playing Mao. The rules of field biology, and academia more generally, often go unstated. In this handbook we have attempted to make the unstated basic rules of the game explicit. You may or may not...