I’ve selected three favourite papers from 2018: a research study, a think piece and a technical review.
I was really excited to read “Digging mammals contribute to rhizosphere fungal community composition and seedling growth” (subscription) because I’m interested in how conservation management actions – in this case conservation and potential reintroduction of digging mammals – may have broader ecological impacts – in this case on ectomycorrhizal fungal diversity and fungal-plant interactions. Plus there are bandicoots involved. Best way to get my attention! The authors compared seedling growth and diversity of rhizosphere fungi in soil samples from inside and outside predator-proof sanctuaries (fenced reserves that protect digging mammals from introduced predators). They found that the presence of digging mammals was beneficial for growth of seedlings of a key forest tree species, and influenced ectomycorrhizal fungal community composition. Why is this important: digging mammals have declined dramatically all over Australia, and now we are starting to uncover the ecosystem services that have been lost with them… but that we may be able to restore.
My favourite think piece, “The peril of gene-targeted conservation” (subscription), has an important message: gene-targeted conservation strategies (which focus on using knowledge of adaptive variation to save species) are attractive but they are also incredibly complex, typically rather expensive, and bring risks of unintended consequences. They are not a “conservation silver bullet”. We still don’t know how effectively such genomic analyses can be incorporated into management. The authors propose a set of criteria to help determine when gene-targeted conservation is likely to be beneficial. I’m sure this paper will provoke some debate, but it is hard to argue with the core message that we need to be able to evaluate when a conservation strategy is likely to actually work and avoid wasting limited resources when success is unlikely.
My final choice is “Genetic and genomic monitoring with minimally invasive sampling methods” (open access). This is a really useful technical review of methods available for minimally invasive sampling, some of the limitations associated with them, and the kinds of questions that be addressed using these approaches. It would be a great introduction for anyone new to this field and includes some important discussion of issues around sampling design, data quality control, and sources of error.
I want to highlight three papers this year: my favorite, a think piece, and one that made me smile.
My favorite paper this year was “Geographic variation in pollen color is associated with temperature stress“ (subscription). I first saw this paper as a talk by first author Matt Koski, then went home and downloaded it and read it. The authors link pollen color (light to dark purple) in a flower species to longitudinal geographic variation associated with increasing temperature and UV from east to west. The authors went on to experimentally manipulate this system by changing the abiotic environment and measuring the effects on pollen germination, where they found that dark pollen was more resilient to heat stress. Beyond the great science (huge field effort, description of natural variation, then experimental manipulation), this paper shook me out of my latitudinal-variation-is-everything mindset. Yes, latitudinal variation is important and prevalent, but it was so refreshing to see a different pattern and think about how it may have evolved.
My favorite think piece was, “What if trophy hunters didn’t kill their trophies?” (open access). I’m not convinced that the author’s suggestion that trophy hunters would forgo killing and instead anesthetize and participate in animal work-ups for science would enjoy even small scale participation; but I liked the outside the box thinking. This paper is one page and open access, so worth an easy and thought provoking read about new ideas to support scientific study of game species.
I instantly smiled when my email popped up with, “Adaptation and conservation insights from the koala genome” (open access). In 4th grade my best friend and I put together a report on koalas and we did an amazing job! If I remember correctly my Ranger Rick koala issue was in complete tatters though. So seeing this genome paper come out reminded me of said glory days.