seascape models

Research update, addressing trends emerging in 2020

An excerpt from our lab meeting 7th July 2020.


I’ve just back from a holiday in and around Noosa, where I had lots of time to spend paddling, thinking and being around Noosa’s beautiful estuaries and lakes. Time away from work is really important for giving yourself space to think about big picture questions, like where is biodiversity science going in the next few years?

Well its been a year of big changes, and Australia is facing probably its third existential crisis this year, with announcement of massive increase in military funding to address ‘regional instability’ and geopolitical disruption in the Asia-Pacific.

As a team we’re going to change tack and spend more time tackling risk-based research, in particular, the modelling, prediction and management of risks to marine biodiversity conservation. This theme fits naturally with the way our research is going, but we will now bring it further to the forefront of what we do, as society increasingly appreciates the massive impact of extreme events on economies and the environments.

We have a grant starting on the topic of environmental risk assessment, to be announced formally soon. The notion of dealing with enviro risk runs through a number of our current projects as well. I’m leading writing of a review on planning for risk in a spatial context. Renee Piccolo started her PhD earlier this year, and is addressing how we plan for feasibility in conservation and restoration of coastal habitats. Alyssa Giffin, is close to wrapping up her thesis chapter on prioritizing conservation actions to enhance ‘ecosystem based adaptation’ to extreme climate events.

We’ve been running a major research program on multiple stressors to marine ecosystems, which has been keeping Olivia King, Laura Griffiths, Mischa Turschwell and our collaborators busy. A central theme to that work is that we can’t hope to measure all the unexpected impacts of the multitude of interacting stressors that affect coastal ecosystems, so we need model that can predict them, or we need management actions that are robust to uncertainty. So the next phase of that research is looking at the role of extreme events in driving risks to coastal systems.

Another new research direction for the team will be looking at how we analyse the new large-datasets being produced by automated classification of images, particularly the work Rod Connolly’s lab is doing on enviro monitoring using AI tools to classify fish species in videos. This new data poses new opportunities and issues for eco-statistics.

We’ll be starting a new honours student next week, one of the top undergraduates from my modelling class, Jordan Holdorf. Jordan has a maths undergrad and will be looking at how we can make the most of AI generated data in statistical analyses, both dealing with its shortcomings, but also making the most of its strengths.

We’ll also be continuing our work with The Nature Conservancy on electronic monitoring of longline tuna vessels in the western Pacific. Improving monitoring of tuna fisheries in the region is important for economic stability of western Pacific countries and for conserving pelagic ecosystems. There are also opportunities to apply AI tools in this work. I hope to recruit a PhD student to work on this topic soon.

Career goals

With all the paddling I also had time to think about career long goals for myself, and the seascapemodels research team.

In reflecting on these questions for myself I realized that planning career goals is not something we talk about much, or get a lot of mentoring on. Yes, we do lots of planning and discussion about goals for 1,2,3 year time horizons. But what about career accomplishments? In some sense there is an expectation in academia that you carry the aspirations of your own mentors or institution, such as grant funding, senior positions or publication. Everyone needs to work with these systems to some extent, in order to achieve what they want. But it’s in authoring our own goals that I think we really find job satisfaction.

So I had two realisations in Noosa that I would like to shift my priorities for how I spend my own time. First, is to actually put a bit more time into the things that are important to my own long-term career goals. That is (1) investing a little bit of time in my passion project on information theory in ecology and (2) starting my conservation hacking platform to expand the work we do on training scientists and conservationists in R, GIS, statistics and data wrangling. More on that soo.

As homework I’ve asked the lab to think about their own career/lifetime objectives. One way to start thinking about this is to ask yourself “why did I choose a career in science over other careers? “ To get to the root of why, you should ask yourself this question three times. For instance “Why did I choose a career in science?” “To help the environment” “What makes me want to help the environment so much?” “I think we need to do more to avoid loosing so many species so fast” “Where does your passion for helping the environment come from?” And so on Understanding not just WHAT you are working towards, but also WHERE your goals come from is important. The where is important because it tells us how much our goals are our own, versus somebody else’s goals. Often we find to some extent we are working towards goals someone else gave us, that might be ok, but it might also be a source of dissatisfaction if those goals don’t fit our true passion.

When you feel you can write down pretty clearly what your goals are, and importantly, where they’ve come from, then move onto this next step. Consider 1 or more of the below.

  1. What activities can I start doing this week that will help me further my goals?
  2. What things am I currently doing that hinder, or detract time away from, my goals?
  3. Who can I inspire, recruit, delegate to help me achieve my goals?

We’ll discuss those last three things in the next lab meeting.

Contact: Chris Brown

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