An interview with Anthony Fiorillo, our new Paleontology Section Editor


Anthony Fiorillo is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Earth and Man at Southern Methodist University (Dallas, USA). His research interests are in vertebrate taphonomy and particularly its role in understanding dinosaur paleoecology, the evolution of Mesozoic terrestrial ecosystems, and the distribution of Mesozoic vertebrates in western North America. Dr Fiorillo recently joined our Section Editorial board. PLOS ONE Section Editors are advisors to the journal staff, working on special issues including policy development and reporting guidelines. In this blog post, we talk with Dr Fiorillo about his enthusiasm for paleontology and his motivations coming to this new role.

Dr Anthony Fiorillo

Why did you want to become a palaeontologist? What do you like the most about your job?

My parents credit my grandmother for my career path because as a very young child she would take me to the local natural history museum. So, while almost all small children are introduced to dinosaurs, I tend to think the question for me is, why didn’t I outgrow the fascination? And to that question, I don’t have an answer because the work remains fun and rewarding even now as a senior scientist. Paleontology remains a field-based science, so as a paleontologist I think I should be dirty. The ability of get outside and explore is of primary importance to me, especially if it is an opportunity to get somewhere new. But the exploration is not complete until the study has been published, so there is tremendous satisfaction that comes from publishing peer-reviewed papers. Each paper is a statement of success in problem solving, representing if you will, a milestone in moving a project forward.

Everyone is a fan of dinosaurs, but what other exciting palaeontology topics do you think should be more popular?

Dinosaurs are a gateway for most children to be introduced to science.  Many kids are given a bag of plastic dinosaurs early on, and at some point, they begin to wonder where are these animals now? That question begins the process of understanding the evolution and extinction of life on Earth.  As such, dinosaurs can be a powerful tool, but they are not the only significant component of paleontology. New technologies are finding new ways to address the record of life in new and exciting ways. For example, who would have imagined even a few years ago that whole groups of colleagues would be discussing color variation in long-dead animals?  Rather than begin a process of listing other innovative aspects of paleontology, my own perspective is that one of the most compelling contributions the science makes is when our work crosses discipline boundaries and thus is relevant to others. For example, paleontology provides important perspectives on biodiversity through time, as well as the interplay between biota and climate. These are pressing issues in understanding how our modern world is changing, and paleontology provides vital insights.

You have recently become our new Section Editor for Palaeontology. Why did you decide to join our Editorial Board and what motivates you about your new role?

I greatly appreciated being approached to become Section Editor for Paleontology because I have come to see the tremendous importance of open-access journals like PLOS ONE. As Section Editor for Paleontology, I hope to contribute to the ongoing evolution of one of the most important journals in my discipline, PLOS ONE. As my engagement has increased, I have come to appreciate that the management and editorial team is a community of dedicated individuals that want to help improve not only the scientific process, but science literacy in general. Their commitment makes me extremely excited about joining the team.

What are, in your opinion, the most important challenges for the palaeontology community?

Considering increased funding pressures, I think perhaps the most important challenge ahead for paleontology is to improve the case for the relevance of the study of life through time to the global audience beyond the biggest, the smallest, the oldest, the youngest whatever. Many times, the lay public can get caught up in the commercialism of the field such as the major movies or toys that become available. And while all of this can be fun, there is the risk of losing sight of the real science behind the stories being told. We are competing at times with the entertainment industry, which has a quite different set of goals than science, so we need to work harder at making it clear to the public why our science matters. An open access format, which is one platform for the public, provides a mechanism for the public to understand how we tell the stories we tell.

How important is Open Science for the palaeontology community? What role can PLOS ONE play to contribute to palaeontology research?

As a gateway for building the bridge of trust for the public to understand the scientific process and what science can do for them, paleontology can play a leading role in demonstrating the value of Open Science. PLOS ONE is one of the global leaders for open access publishing and they should continue the work hard at making the professional community understand the journal, as well as perhaps other Open Science options. There are likely many case studies demonstrating the societal value of Open Science, but the one that I hold as perhaps most significant personally stems from my own research program. Our field sites are in very rural parts of Alaska, and open access publishing allows me a way to get the science back into the communities that often support the logistics of my program.

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If you are interested in Paleontology research, please check our Paleoecology and Paleobiology of Extinct Species curated collection. This collection showcases recent PLOS ONE publications that aim to reconstruct extinct species’ interactions with both the abiotic and biotic environment, including unraveling past faunal communities from fossil assemblages and fossil trackways to analyzing interactions between species from tooth wear patterns and paleopathology.

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Featured image: ‘Dinosaurs of Denali’ by Karen Carr.

https://www.karencarr.com/portfolio-images.php?r=679

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A river of new ecological data – An Interview with the Guest Editors of our Freshwater Ecosystems Call for Papers

Freshwater ecosystems provide important services to human societies, such as water, food, regulation of hydrological extremes, pollutant attenuation, and carbon sequestration. As freshwater systems are under pressure from human activity and climate change, a more complete understanding of these systems is needed to respond to the environmental changes associated with these processes.

Here Prof Kirsten Seestern Christoffersen and Dr Ben Abbott, Guest Editors of PLOS ONE Call for Papers on Freshwater Ecosystems, share their thoughts on the present and future of freshwater science research.

What are the most interesting scientific advances in freshwater science recently?

KSC: I would say it is the enormous amount of data that is becoming available as we apply more and more continuous recording data loggers with sensitive sensors, drones, unmanned vehicles, all sort of cameras, fast running analytic instruments – and that these great things are also becoming more and more affordable. Because of these advances, it is possible to get data, photos and live videos for almost any part of the World, from the deepest lakes and the permanently ice-covered lakes to boiling mud-holes. And then, it follows from these advances mentioned above that these great challenges require computer power to handle, analyse and store these large amounts of data. So, it is no longer a question of how to get enough data but rather how to manage the wealth of data that we can produce.

BA: Our capacity to measure parameters in more ways has greatly expanded over the past two decades. This opens up the possibility for new spatiotemporal analyses to move beyond just calculating concentrations and loads to understanding the mechanisms driving ecosystem function across the terrestrial-aquatic gradient. The combination of traditional physicochemical parameters with metrics of ecological community and remotely-sensed watershed characteristics is really exciting.

And, on the other hand, what are the main challenges freshwater ecosystems will face in the near future?

KSC: Here I would say all the “usual challenges”: climate change, biodiversity crisis, eutrophication (still an issue despite it has been a problem for many years now). One thing that we really need to do is to establish what the baseline conditions are especially for freshwater ecosystems that have not yet been affected too much – like the freshwaters in the Arctic and alpine regions.

BA: This flood of new data represents a challenge in itself. More numbers do not automatically translate into greater understanding. We need new approaches to extract meaningful patterns and attribute those signals to ecological processes, especially human disturbance. Another challenge is that many of our long-term monitoring stations are at risk because of changes in funding priorities. We need to leverage these long-term data sources and figure out ways to better integrate across sites.

What new approaches are needed to respond to these challenges?

KSC: Awareness, political will and resources.

BA: See my last two responses.

What are your main research interests? What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment in your career so far?

KSC: My main interests these years are understanding how Arctic freshwater ecosystems are organised under different (natural) environmental conditions and identifying the drivers and stressors that rule the biota. This might be the key elements to understand the uniqueness of pristine ecosystems and also to be able to predict their changes.

BA: There are still two million people who die every year from polluted water. Many more than that are affected by chronic or acute disease associated with exposure to pollutants. At the same time, aquatic ecosystems around the world are experiencing huge declines in biomass and biodiversity. We need to improve global water governance and ensure access to clean water for all people and ecosystems. The biggest accomplishment of my career has been the privilege of working with students, researchers, and water managers who are striving to address these global water crises.

What advice would you give to early-career freshwater researchers that want to make a difference?

KSC: It will be to follow your interests and go for the things that you think is important; if you can’t really get yourself into an enthusiastic mode when doing your research, you should maybe change horse. In other words, don’t necessary follow the main stream and where the money is often good – but follow your sense for what really matters. Another go advice is to talk with other scientists but not only those that are close to you (physically and thematically)!

BA: The distinction between basic and applied research is really counterproductive. Any good research has applications, and we should be seeking to share the relevant information we discover with all interested parties. As an early-career researcher myself, I frequently ask myself, how relevant and important is the work I am doing? Are there other issues or problems that I could be contributing to in a meaningful way? In this time of accelerating consumption and restructuring of human activity, the world needs high-quality information more than ever.

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PLOS ONE has an open Call for Papers on Freshwater Ecosystems. Researchers working on freshwater ecology are encouraged to submit their work before January 8, 2021.

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About our Guest Editors:

Kirsten Seestern Christoffersen

Kirsten Seestern Christoffersen is Professor of Freshwater Ecology at the University of Copenhagen

Ben Abbott

Ben Abbott is an Assistant Professor at Brigham Young University

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Introducing the Biodiversity Conservation Collection

  It is with great pleasure that we announce the launch of our Biodiversity Conservation Collection. This Collection showcases research on a broad range of conservation science related topics, including anthropogenic impacts on biodiversity, such

Introducing the Biodiversity Conservation Collection

 

It is with great pleasure that we announce the launch of our Biodiversity Conservation Collection. This Collection showcases research on a broad range of conservation science related topics, including anthropogenic impacts on biodiversity, such as habitat degradation, the spread of invasive species and global warming; conservation of key ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration and pest regulation; and new management strategies to prevent further biodiversity loss.

We are extremely grateful to our team of Guest Editors, Steve Beissinger (University of California, Berkeley), Thomas Couvreur (Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador), Carlos Duarte (KAUST), Claudia Mettke-Hoffmann (Liverpool John Moores University) and Stuart Pimm (Duke University), for evaluating all submitted research and selecting articles for inclusion in the Collection. We also want to express our thanks to the PLOS ONE Academic Editors involved in the handling of submissions, to the reviewers, and to all the authors who submitted their research to this Call for Papers.

 

 

Habitat loss

Eight of the studies published in the initial Collection release focus on habitat destruction in a wide range of regions, ecosystems and species. In the North Pacific Ocean, Edwards et al. investigated the ecological consequences of marine deforestation caused by shifting trophic interactions in the Aleutian Archipelago. They show that the rapid decline of sea otter populations, caused by increased predation pressure from killer whales, led to high sea urchin densities causing widespread deforestation of the kelp forests and general loss of biodiversity and ecosystem function. In the mainland USA, Bradshaw et al. evaluated whether wetland management practices for waterfowl were also beneficial to other wetland-dependent species such as bitterns, grebes and crakes. Habitats for marsh bird species have more than halved in the last 50 years due to wetland loss and degradation; their results highlight the importance of maintaining wetland hydrologic and vegetation complexity for the conservation of breeding marsh birds.

In Brazil, three independent studies provide evidence of the impacts of habitat fragmentation in the Amazon rain forest, where biodiversity has rapidly declined in recent decades. Palmeirim et al. quantified the effect of deforestation on small mammals and found that forest dwelling species are being replaced by open-habitat species as the deforestation frontier expands. Teixeira-Santos et al. studied four endangered emblematic large terrestrial mammals and showed that the survival ability was different for each species and that some species can adapt to tolerate anthropogenically altered habitats. Paschoalini et al. studied the effects of habitat fragmentation on the Araguaian river dolphin, whose populations have been dramatically reduced due to dam construction. This research provides potential practical applications to help species management and conservation in the region, as occupation and development of the Amazon is currently being encouraged in Brazil.

 

 

When the habitat is fragmented, isolated populations lose genetic diversity, leaving them more vulnerable to changing environmental conditions and with a higher risk of extinction. In the Midwestern USA, Douglas et al. examined the genetic population structure of three upland game birds inhabiting the declining American prairie grasslands, including the endangered Greater Prairie Chicken, and found that their populations are experiencing a genetic bottleneck. They advocate for a multi-species approach as a more effective management strategy for endangered upland game birds and for making more land available to prairie species. In the United Kingdom, Ball et al. conducted a study on the conservation genetic state of adder populations and found that the species’ polyandrous breeding system is, for the moment, protecting it against inbreeding. However, this might become a problem in the future as loss of connectivity prevents movement of individuals between patches of suitable habitat. Dondina et al. studied the suitability of ecological corridors to connect two isolated wolf populations through the degraded lowlands of Northern Italy and showed the importance of keeping natural areas, such as rivers, for maintaining habitat connectivity for the conservation of endangered species in a fragmented landscape.

 

 

Climate change

Three studies among the first batch of articles published in this Collection address the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and potential mitigation strategies. Carbon sequestration has been suggested as a potential approach to mitigating the effects of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for global warming. In Spain, Morant et al. investigated the relationships between wetlands’ ecological characteristics, conservation measures and carbon emissions in the Ebro Delta wetlands. Wetlands are an important ecosystem service acting as natural carbon sinks but are under threat due to habitat destruction. 

Large-scale empirical studies of the existing and projected impacts of climate change on wildlife are vital to scientifically-informed conservation management strategies aimed at minimizing and mitigating these impacts. In Southern California, Fogarty et al. used a large bird abundance dataset to investigate whether annual variation in seasonal temperature and precipitation was associated with relative abundances of breeding bird species. They found that species in arid areas may be negatively affected by increased temperature and aridity, but species from cooler areas may respond positively to those fluctuations in climate. Carbon pricing policies can also have unintended consequences for biodiversity through changing land management. Hashida et al. modelled forest habitat changes in response to forest landowner decision-making under multiple carbon pricing scenarios in Western USA. Their results predict a major shift from coniferous forest to hardwoods which could result in a dramatic loss of biodiversity in the region.

 

 

Invasive species

Three studies published in the Collection showcase research on species invasions. International trade is a major pathway of introduction of invasive species. Lucardi et al. conducted a comprehensive survey of the plant community at the largest container terminal in the USA . Their research identified the presence of a high number of invasive plant species in the port, providing  important evidence that shipping ports are crucial sources of emergent plant invasions but  are largely under-researched. Invasive species can have complex ecological impacts on the regions of invasion. Besterman et al. studied the ecological impacts of the establishment of one of the most invasive macroalgae on habitat selection and foraging behaviour of shorebirds in the mid-Atlantic region of the USA and found that generalist species preferred invaded habitats while specialist shorebirds preferred uninvaded mudflats. Invasive species also cause major economic losses in the regions of invasion. One of the most successful methods for sustainable management of invasive species is using their own natural enemies against them. In Morocco, Qessaoui et al. discovered the insecticidal activity of native rhizobacteria present in the soil against an important pest of tomato crops and suggested that using biological control agents would reduce the amount of synthetic chemical pesticides being used to control plant pests.

 

 

Conservation strategies

Finally three papers report methodological advances in conservation of endangered species. Endangered species are usually difficult to study because their population densities are low which hampers conservation efforts. Here, Nagarajan et al. report successful results of a non-invasive method for monitoring a wood-boring beetle species threatened by habitat loss in California. Current monitoring efforts require extensive field work looking for this rare species. In this study, the authors collected faecal samples from exit holes on trees and applied genetic barcoding techniques to identify the makers of the holes.

Large terrestrial carnivores are often keystone species in the ecosystems but have historically been persecuted and their populations are in decline globally. In the USA, sport hunting is used as a tool for managing puma populations. Laundré et al. investigated the effectiveness of this strategy for reducing conflict with humans, livestock and game species. Their results indicate that there is little evidence that puma control reduces conflict, and remark the need to reassess traditional predator control practices.

Management of captive populations is crucial for conservation of endangered species whose wild populations are at high risk of extinction. Fazio et al. studied the stress physiology of the fishing cat, a threatened wild cat from Southeast Asia, that is notoriously difficult to breed in captivity. Their study suggests that management actions such as transfers between facilities increases levels of stress while reduced animal-keeper interaction and social housing could lower stress levels and increase breeding success. This study might provide insights to better manage translocations of captive individuals of easily stressed species.

 

 

At the time of launch, there are 17 research articles featured in the Collection but more papers will be added as they are published over the coming weeks – so do check back for updates!

 

About the Guest Editors:

Steve Beissinger

Steve Beissinger is Professor of Ecology & Conservation Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he held the A. Starker Leopold Chair in Wildlife Biology (2003-13), is a research associate of the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and is the co-Director of the Berkeley Institute for Parks, People and Biodiversity. Professor Beissinger’s current research centers on wildlife responses to global change and species’ extinctions – with recent fieldwork carried out in protected areas and working landscapes in California and Latin America. He directs the Grinnell Resurvey Project – a 15 year effort to revisit locations throughout California first surveyed by Joseph Grinnell in the early 1900’s in order to quantify the impacts of a century of climate and land-use change on the birds and mammals of California. Steve’s studies of parrotlets in Venezuela extend more than 30 years. Integrative studies of secretive, threatened rails in California provide a model for understanding coupled natural and human systems. He has authored over 200 scientific publications and is senior editor of three books. He served on the editorial boards of Ecology Letters, Ecology, Conservation Biology, Studies in Avian Biology, and Climate Change Responses. Steve is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Ecological Society of America (ESA), the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and the American Ornithological Society, which awarded him the William Brewster Memorial Award in 2010 for his research on Western Hemisphere birds.

Thomas Couvreur

Thomas L.P. Couvreur is a senior researcher at the French National Institute for Sustainable Development, and is currently based at the “Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Ecuador”, in Quito Ecuador. He received his PhD in tropical biodiversity from the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and worked as post doc at the Osnabruck University in Germany and The New York Botanical Garden in the USA. His main interest lies in understanding the evolution, resilience and diversity of tropical biodiversity, and rain forests in particular, one of the most complex and diverse ecosystems on the planet. He undertakes research in taxonomy, conservation, molecular phylogenetics and phylogeography of tropical plants. His research mainly focuses on tropical Africa and South America. He is chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission for palms since 2018.

 Carlos Duarte

Professor Carlos M. Duarte (Ph.D. McGill University, 1987) is the Tarek Ahmed Juffali Research Chair in Red Sea Ecology at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), in Saudi Arabia. Before this he was Research Professor with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and Director of the Oceans Institute at The University of Western Australia.
Duarte’s research focuses on understanding the effects of global change in aquatic ecosystems, both marine and freshwater. He has conducted research across all continents and oceans, spanning most of the marine ecosystem types, from inland to near-shore and the deep sea and from microbes to whales. Professor Duarte led the Malaspina 2010 Expedition that sailed the world’s oceans to examine the impacts of global change on ocean ecosystems and explore their biodiversity. Professor Duarte served as President of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography between 2007 and 2010. In 2009, was appointed member of the Scientific Council of the European Research Council (ERC), the highest-level scientific committee at the European Level, where he served until 2013. He has published more than 700 scientific papers and has been ranked within the top 1% Highly-Cited Scientist by Thompson Reuters in all three assessments of this rank, including the 2018 assessment released by Clarivate Analytics.

 Claudia Mettke-Hofmann

Dr Claudia Mettke-Hofmann is Reader in Animal Behaviour at Liverpool John Moores University, UK, and Subject Leader of the Animal Behaviour team. She received her externally conducted PhD from Free University of Berlin, Germany, and subsequently worked as a postdoc at the Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell and Andechs, Germany, in collaboration with the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Comparative Behaviour, Vienna, Austria, before moving to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, Washington DC, USA. She is now based at Liverpool John Moores University. Her research area is cognitive ecology, mainly in birds, with strong links to conservation aspects and animal welfare. She investigates how animals collect and store environmental information in relation to their ecology on the species level but also on the individual level (personality). A focus is how animals respond to environmental change, particularly in species that differ in their movement patterns such as being resident, migratory or nomadic. Differences in cognitive abilities in these groups help explain and predict population developments in our rapidly changing environments. More recently, her research has focussed on individual differences in cognition in colour-polymorphic species highlighting exciting differences in responses to environmental change between colour morphs. Claudia has been a PLOS ONE Section Editor since 2014.

 Stuart Pimm

Stuart Pimm is the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. He is a world leader in the study of present day extinctions and what we can do to prevent them. Pimm received his BSc degree from Oxford University in 1971 and his Ph.D from New Mexico State University in 1974. Pimm is the author of over 300 scientific papers and four books. Pimm directs SavingSpecies, a 501c3 non-profit that uses funds for carbon emissions offsets to fund local conservation groups to restore degraded lands in areas of exceptional tropical biodiversity. His international honours include the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (2010), the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Environmental Sciences from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (2006).

 

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Tackling global biodiversity loss – An Interview with Biodiversity Conservation Call for Papers Guest Editor

  Human-induced environmental changes constitute the greatest current threat to biodiversity, comparable with other major extinction events observed in the Earth’s history. Biodiversity is the backbone of ecosystems and maintaining diversity through conservation is important