It is conference-summer – BES-TEG in YORK 2014

The Sun is shining, birds are singing and most scientists have nothing better to do than jetting around the globe to attend conferences. Yes, it is summer indeed. Here is some advertising for the 2014 Tropical Ecology – Early Carer Meeting of the British Ecological Society. This year the fun is happening in York. As many people seem to be on vacation the deadline for abstracts has been extended to the 14th of July. See the attached Documents ( BES-TEG 2014 Flyer ,BES_TEG Key speakers ) for more information. I will be there as well… .


Dear All,

The British Ecology Society – Tropical Ecology Group (BES-TEG) are organizing a 7th early career meeting scheduled to take place at the University of York, on the 14th and 15th of August 2014. Day one will focus on Ecology and Ecosystem Processes while day two will focus on Practical Applications and Links to Policy; such as conservation, livelihood, policy and development. All early-career researchers, both PhD and Post-Docs, are welcome to present their tropical ecology related research as a poster and/or oral presentation. The deadline for abstract submission has been extended to Monday the 14th of July 2014.

Please find attached the flyer and conference document for detailed information.

It would be appreciated if this flyer circulates within your department. Students are encouraged to come to York for what should be a really interesting few days in August.

An event website has been set up for registration

http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/british-ecological-society-tropical-ecology-group-bes-teg-6217007537

Annual Forest Loss – A comparison between global forest loss datasets

The start of this year was marked by the publication of two new global datasets for environmental analysis. My impression is that both of those datasets will be of increasing importance in ecological analysis in the future (even though their value for conservation biology has been actively criticized, see Tropek et al. 2014). Thus there is a need to assess the accuracy of their forest loss detection over time and if they are consistent.

The first dataset is the already famous Global Forest Map published by Hansen et al. (2013) in Science end of last year. The temporal span of their dataset goes back from the year 2000 up to the year 2012 and by using only Landsat data in a temporal time-series analysis they got a pretty decent high-resolution land-cover product. Although the resolution of the Hansen dataset is great (30m global average coming from Landsat) Hansen et al. decided to only publish the year 2000 baseline with the forest cover. They provide us with aggregated loss, gain and loss per year layers though, but nevertheless the user has no option to reproduce a similar product for the year 2012.

The other dataset is the combined published result from a 4 year long monitoring by the japanese satellite ALOS-PALSAR. They decided to release a global forest cover map at a 50m spatial resolution, which in contrast to Hansen can be acquired for the whole time-frame of the ALOS-PALSAR mission. It thus has a temporal coverage of the whole globe from the year 2007 until 2010. The data can be acquired on their homepage after getting an account. The ALOS PALSAR data has a nice temporal span and can be downloaded for multiple years, thus in theory allowing to make temporal comparisons and predictions about future land-use trends. However I am a bit concerned about the accuracy of their classifications as I have found multiple errors already in the area I am working in.

Classification Errors with the ALOS PALSAR dataset. Suddenly there are huge waterbodies in the Savanna near Kilimanjaro

Classification Errors with the ALOS PALSAR dataset. Suddenly there are huge waterbodies (blue) in the Savanna near Kilimanjaro

Because I am interested in using the ALOS PALSAR dataset in my analysis (how often do you get a nice spatial-temporal dataset of forest cover) I made a comparison between the forest loss detected in my area of interest for both datasets. It should be noted that is a comparison between different satellite sensors as well and not only by classification algorithms. So we are not comparing products from the same data source.

So what is the plan for our comparison:

  • We downloaded the whole ALOS PALSAR layers for all years covered of the area around Kilimanjaro in northern Tanzania (N00, E035). We then extracted only the forest cover (Value == 1) and calculate the difference between years to acquire the forest loss for the year 2008,2009 and 2010 respectively.
  • From the Google Engine app we downloaded the “loss per year” dataset and cropped it to our area of interest. Furthermore we are only interested in the aggregated Forest loss in the years 2008, 2009 and 2010 which we have available in the ALOS PALSAR dataset. We furthermore resampled the Hansen dataset up to 50m to match up with the ALOS PALSAR resolution.

The Result:

I haven’t found a fancy way to display this simple comparison, so here comes just the result table. As predicted (if you look at it visually),the ALOS PALSAR algorithm overshots the amount of forest loss a lot.

year 2007-2008 2008-2009 2009-2010
Hansen Forest Loss cells 262 304 529
ALOS PALSAR Forest Loss cells 26995 24970 16297
Equal cells in both 17 30 131

Conclusion:

So which one is right? I personally trust Hansens data a lot more. Especially because I found them to be pretty consistent in my area of study. For me the ALOS PALSAR data is not useable yet until the authors have figured out ways to improve their classification. It can be concluded that users should not forget that those Forest Cover products are ultimately just the result of a big un-supervised algorithm who doesn’t discriminate between right and wrong. Without validation and careful consideration of the observer you might end up having wrong results.

Interesting Paper: Global warming and invertebrate colouring

Just now another very interesting paper has been published in Nature Communications, which was written by former colleagues of mine from the University of Marburg.

Global warming favours light-coloured insects in Europe

As we all know many insect species like butterflies, bees or dragonflies have their main activity pattern during the day due to their ectotherm thermoregulation. Body colour is an important aspect of this thermoregulation as darker ( more blackish) individuals usually heat up faster. Therefore darker insects have an advantage compared to brighter insects in cooler climates as they heat up more rapidly and can forage earlier. This pattern can be mapped on a larger scale using occurrence data and has been known as “thermal melanism hypothesis” in macroecology. The authors go a step further from here as they  not only display a new biogeographic pattern previously unknown to science ( colouring gradient of European dragonflies and butterflies from south to north), but they also demonstrate how this mechanistic link between a macroecological pattern and a functional trait can be used to forecast the effect of climate change on insects.

From Zeuss et al. (2014): Shift in colour value for (a) the raw data; (b) the phylogenetic component (P); and (c) the specific component (S). Red indicates an increase in colour lightness; blue indicates a decrease in colour lightness. The diameter of each dot indicates the extent of the shift (n=1,845). The distribution of the shifts shows for the specific component a clear trend towards higher (that is, lighter-coloured) values (peak of the distribution positive; zero indicated by black line). The phylogenetic component suggests that the shifts in colour lightness have a strong phylogenetic background leading to a complex geographic mosaic in the response of assemblages to climate change. The inserted histograms show the mean change in colour lightness calculated for 1,000 alternative phylogenetic trees and are positive throughout, indicating that uncertainties in the phylogenetic hypotheses are unlikely to affect our conclusion of a general shift towards lighter assemblages. The distributional information used in the analysis is often based on a large time span, that is, the distributional information published in 1988 summarizes data until that year using information even from the beginning of the twentieth century. Rugs at the abscissa indicate observed values.

Possible critics: A definite next step in the analysis would be to include real measurements of optical colour rather than RGB values of scanned pictures. The colour values used in this study were all derived from scientific taxonomic drawings of those insects and thus biased by subjectivity of the respective artist. Nevertheless this bias should be consistent (if the same artist has sketched the images) so it should not influence the colouring gradient.  It is also interesting to note that many insects ( I know this for instance from my work with bugs and hoverflies) can adapt their body colouring to their habitat or differ quite a lot within a population. Differing melanism in body color and wing colouration might be related to the climatic niche they occur in, but the insects themselves might also possess phenotypic plasticity to adapt for instance to different habitats and background (Hochkirch et al. 2008). This pattern certainly needs more investigations in the future.

The article has been published as open access paper, so give it a try ;)

  • Hochkirch, A., Deppermann, J. and Gröning, J. (2008), Phenotypic plasticity in insects: the effects of substrate color on the coloration of two ground-hopper species. Evolution & Development, 10: 350–359.

  • Zeuss, D. et al. (2014) Global warming favours light-coloured insects in Europe. Nat. Commun. 5:3874

Macroecology for QGIS, the new QSDM plugin

This is just a quick posting informing all the QGIS interested readers of this blog that I am about to release a new QGIS plugin. It’s name is QSDM (QGIS Species Distribution Modelling) and similar as with LecoS it is particular suited for the practicing ecologists out there. This time i had no plan and interest of coding a graphical interface and thus the whole plugin can only be executed from within the Processing Toolbox (QGIS version > 2.0 ). In my opinion this will be the future of most advanced QGIS plugins anyway.

So what is the idea? Basically QSDM is a plugin taking statistical models for species distribution modeling to QGIS. For now only the famous Maxent is enabled and working, but the ambitious plan is to enable other modeling techniques such as RandomForests and LogisticRegression as well if the user has the necessary libraries enabled.

You might ask what is the advantage of running Maxent from within QGIS? First, you can immediately see the output so it is nice for visual exploration. Second, the QSDM plugin helps you with the formating of your layers and occurrence files. For instance all input raster layers are automatically unified to a common resolution and exported as ESRI .asc files. You simply need to load in your layers and let the tool do the rest. For those of you who want more control (and I really insist that you want to), I also enabled functions to generate a custom parameter file for Maxent and enabled an option to start the Maxent GUI in a new process.

–> I recognize that the easiness of this tool might tempt more people to execute tools without really understanding what they do and how they work. Please be sure what you do and always (!!!) validate the outputs of the tools you use (this includes QSDM). For understanding Maxent parameters I highly recommend reading the attached literature list and this publication!

Other things i implemented in the initial release of QSDM

  • Create Species Richness grid
    • Creates a new raster containing Species Richness or Endemism of input occurence layer
  • Calculate Niche Overlap Statistics
    • Can calculate Schoener’s D or Warren’s I based on Hellinger distances for all input layers.
  • Range Shift
    • Shows the difference between two input prediction layers. For instance for current and likely future conditions.
  • Data Transformations
    • Makes quick transformations of input raster layers

More is planned, but this depends entirely on my inclination to do so, the time I have available and if it can be useful for my own research as well.

Please remember that the plugin is still experimental. So please don’t be angry if it doesn’t work for you. testing was conducted on QGIS 2.2 stable on my Debian Linux machine and it should hopefully work for Windows as well. But similar as with LecoS i have no opportunity to test the plugin on Mac OS based systems and I also don’t really intend to :-p. Sorry Apple.

Literature:

  • Steven J. Phillips, Robert P. Anderson and Robert E. Schapire, (2006) “Maximum entropy modeling of species geographic distributions” Ecological Modelling, Vol 190/3-4 pp 231-259
  • Steven J. Phillips and Miroslav Dudik, (2008) “Modeling of species distributions with Maxent: new extensions and a comprehensive evaluation.” Ecography, Vol 31, pp 161-175
  • Jane Elith et al. (2011) “A statistical explanation of MaxEnt for ecologists” Diversity and Distributions, 17, 43–57 DOI: 10.1111/j.1472-4642.2010.00725.x

Interesting Paper: Current and future nature-based tourism in the Eastern Arc Mountains

Greetings from Moshi, Tanzania, where I am still busy with the fieldwork. Just want to point the dear readers to a new paper, that is currently in Press in “Ecosystem Services”. Titled “The current and future value of nature-based tourism in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania” the study analyses and gives estimates for the current and future economic value of nature-based tourism in Tanzania. The analysis is based on a dataset including the spatial location of lodgings and visitor estimates and provides predictive outlooks for two different land-use scenarios (no-change, hopeful-future). They conclude that eco-tourism in the Tanzanian EAM (Eastern Arc Mountains) can provide, among other values for ecosystem service, substantial revenue in the future if the management effectiveness of protected areas can be improved.

Bayliss, J., et al., The current and future value of nature-based tourism in the Eastern Arc Mountains
of Tanzania. Ecosystem Services (2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2014.02.006i

Sadly they only included the EAM from Tanzania in their study and thus left out the Taita Hills. During my stay in Taita I observed multiple disturbances such as fuelwood extractions and larger loggings in the last forest patches of Taita. Having multiple endemic bird (Taita Thrush, Taita Apalis, …) and plant species (eg. Saintpaulia teitensis) the forests of the Taita hills surely can be considered a part of the renown EAM Biodiversity hotspot. But due to the high population density at Taita there should be more economic opportunities and initiatives, such as the Taita-Taveta Wildlife Forum has been promoting, to increase the support of both local people and government to protect these last forest patches and ensure future connectivity.

 

Fuelwood collection. Photographed near Ngangao Forest

Fuelwood collection. Photographed near Ngangao Forest

Recent loggings within parts of Vuria Forest.

Recent loggings within parts of Vuria Forest.

Anyway, lets hope that this study can back up some arguments in the science-policy dialog with decision makers in Tanzania and abroad.

BIOFRAG – Biodiversity responses to Forest Fragmentation

Another interesting project closely related to PREDICTS is the BIOFRAG Project, which tries to construct a global database of research papers dealing with Forest Fragmentation and its impacts on Biodiversity taxa. One final goal of the BIOFRAG project is the development of a new fragmentation index using watersheds delineation algorithm and fragment descriptors in order to characterize Fragment traits. I am very interested in seeing the final outcome of this approach and maybe I even find the time to implement their algorithm in LecoS for QGIS as soon as it is released. Their database paper, lead authored by Marion Pfeifer, was just released to the public as open-access paper. You can read it in full here.

Pfeifer et al. (2014) BIOFRAG – a new database for analyzing BIOdiversity responses to forest FRAGmentation. Ecology and Evolution. doi: 10.1002/ece3.1036

If you consider of contributing data then more information can be found on the BIOFRAG blog and all researchers involved with forest fragmentation research should consider contributing to them and also to PREDICTS   (see here) if you haven’t already done so. And as usual: If you were studying in Africa, then please get in touch with me! I will contact you as soon as I return from my Fieldwork in Kenya and Tanzania at the end of May.

Out in the field – Working in the agricultural Mosaic of the Taita Hills

And here are some news from my current field work that is part of my Thesis. After spending some quiet, but exiting days in Nairobi (maybe later more about that) I finally arrived in Wundanyi, Taita Hills, where a substantial part of my work will be conducted along the CHIESA transect. Suited in the coastel area in proximity to Mombasa the Taita Hills are renown for their extraordinary bird diversity and endemic species and as such are considered to be part of the Eastern Arc Mountains Diversity hotspot. The Taita hills encompass a variety of different land-use forms, but the majority of them surely are tropical homegardens as most of the “Taita” people are subsistence farmers growing crops in the highly fertile soil of the mountain slopes. Besides homegardens there are riverine forests in the valleys, shrubland vegetation in the lower altitudes, exotic tree plantations and of course the remaining indigenous forests remaining on the Taita hills mountain tops. Every last forest part is known well and was traditionally protected by the locals as part of their culture. However in the later centuries the remaining forest area became more and more scarcer and even during my visits in some of the forest fragments with the highest biodiversity value (Chawia, Ngangao) I saw frequent signs of fuelwood and timber extraction. Clearly a lack of funding for biodiversity protection seems to be the problem, but also an economic perspective and opportunities such as ecotourism might enhance locals perception if and how these last forest parts should be protected.

Past Funding

Past Funding

Cloud Forest Vuria

Cloud Forest Vuria

Woodland

Woodland

My work in the Taita hills is all about birds. Specifically I am conducting avian diversity and abundance assessments along an altitudinal transect encompassing a variety of different land-use systems. Although avian assessments have been conducted in Taita many times before, they were often restricted to the forest fragments and for instance didn’t look at the bird diversity in homegardens in different altitudes. The resulting data will just be used for my thesis as validation dataset, but I am hoping that it has maybe some value on its own as well. Initial results show that especially the homegarden in Taita support quite a high diversity of birds, which is even similar to levels in the remaining forest fragments (although the community is somewhat different and biotic homogenization is likely on-going).

web_DSC_1249

It can be quite challenging to conduct avian research in tropical human-dominated landscapes. Not only do you have to arrange for transport to the specific transect areas and lodging (in my case provided by the University of Helsinki Research station in Wundanyi), but also account for the frequent interruption by children and farmers asking what you are doing. Furthermore it is not an easy task to count birds in for instance a maize or sugarcane plantation due to the limited accessibility and my intention not to damage the farmers crops. Most of the farmers however happily provide access to their land and are very interested in what kind of research this “Mzungu” is doing on their farm. From my own experience here I can tell that the Taita people are very kind and it is a pleasure to work with them on their land. They are very respectful and even walking around late at night or very early in the morning seems to be no problem here (in contrast to for instance Nairobi or Mombasa).

Speckled Mousebird

Speckled Mousebird

Female Chamaleon

Female Chameleon

In the end my sampling goes on quite well and much better than I expected. Although it is technically raining season and long heavy rains can be expected every day, the mornings were exceptionally dry and weather was mostly favourable for ornithological research. Generally this time of the year in East Africa is especially interesting for bird assessments as many local bird species are in their breeding plumage and nesting, but also because European migrants are often still around or on their way back to Europe (for instance I saw and heard an European Willow Warbler some days ago). Lets see what else the next weeks will have for be in terms of avian diversity.

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