Category Archives: Q&A with an ecologist

Q&A with an ecologist: Diana Fisher

Diana Fisher and nail-tail wallby (Onychogalea sp.)

Diana Fisher and nail-tail wallaby (Onychogalea sp.)

It’s a pleasure to have Diana Fisher up next in Q&A with an ecologist. I’ve known her for quite some time and I continue to follow her research on the evolutionary ecology of marsupials with a keen interest.

At times Diana’s work can get quite risqué as you’ll discover below. Most recently, I’ve been working with Diana and many other wonderful ecologists on trying to better understand what’s behind the demise of the northern quoll and, more importantly, what we can do to change this terrible situation.

1. What got you in to ecology?

I don’t know why I’ve always been obsessed with animals. My family lived near a reserve and liked bushwalking, and also I had lots of pets, as many species and individuals as I was allowed.

I liked ecology when I went to uni because I like whole, live animals, although some of the maths scared me as an undergrad (I like it now. Also it helps that these days I have a tame mathematician at home).

2. Why are you still in ecology?

Luck.

3. What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made?

As a postdoc doing evolutionary ecology experiments, putting a field site in the Brindabellas next to Uriarra pine forest near Canberra, which burnt spectacularly in the 2003 Canberra firestorm. I had to start again with a new site on the NSW south coast and a new study species. The new site and species turned out to be much easier (e.g. no −8 ºC mornings checking traps in July), and better.

4. What’s your favourite organism and ecosystem?

All dasyurids, especially antechinus, quolls, and kalutas (Pilbara animals). I have a soft spot for my PhD study animals: bridled nailtail wallabies (sweet, dopey little things). Any tropical terrestrial ecosystem with brigalow, spinifex or rainforest is great.

5. What result has surprised you most in ecology?

If you mean my results, I’ve been shocked by the dramatic way that antechinuses respond to manipulation. I think their way of life is so extreme that you just have to push them a little bit to see over the top responses (one reason why I love dasyurids). I have been involved in a few antechinus breeding experiments. The most surprising was when I stopped females from being promiscuous. I thought sperm competition was important to them and something was going to happen, but I was expecting a civilized slowing of male growth rate or something, not mass death of young unlucky enough to have monogamous mothers. Wild antechinuses have a lot of mass death.

A baby brown antechinus (Antechinus stuartii) and nestbox.

A baby brown antechinus (Antechinus stuartii) and nestbox.

6. What do you see as the next ‘big thing’ in ecology?

I don’t know at all. I don’t think I know what the current big thing in ecology is. I suppose in general community ecology has moved from being focused on competition a couple of decades ago to predation as the major driver of almost everything, and that might continue for a while.

7. What advice would you give to someone starting out in an ecology-based career?

Keep very detailed field notes by writing your data and observations in books (not loose pages). Make copies and keep the originals forever. Data and questions that you worked on as a young person will come back to you later in life, and long term datasets and past data are precious.

8. If you had 10 minutes with a decision-maker what key message would you give them?

Restore and maintain funding for CSIRO and the ARC including for ecology, evolution and biodiversity research. Pay attention to the research findings.

9. What’s your favourite field food?

Whatever locally grown or made food is special to the area: ngali nuts and soursop in the Solomon Islands, smoked beef and local bacon from Tiaro in central Queensland, fish and chips in Bateman’s Bay. I have yet to discover what the local delicacy of the Karratha region is.

10. What’s the best popular book you’ve read?

Popular science books: it’s hard to go past Richard Dawkins ‘The Selfish Gene’. I also really liked ‘The Ghost with Trembling Wings’ by Scott Weidensaul. My favourite non-science book is ‘They Call Me Naughty Lola’ by David Rose.

11. What’s the most important scientific paper you’ve read?

I can’t say what’s important for everyone, but the ideas and methods in Owens IPF, Bennett PM (2000) Ecological basis of extinction risk in birds: habitat loss versus human persecution and introduced predators DOI started a long term research direction for me.
The original mechanisms proposed in Pimm et al. (1995) The future of biodiversity DOI and Charnov EL (1991) Evolution of life history variation among female mammals LINK have also kept cropping up and have inspired a lot of other people too I think.

12. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Scientifically: collect data on bycatch, and find out as much as possible when in the field, not just on what you think is directly related to your research question at the time.

Generally: do something involving public speaking at an early age. I was encouraged to do school debating and nothing is as terrifying as improvising in front of a large critical audience as a kid. It cured me of any possible public speaking anxiety forever and surviving that was generally morale boosting.

13. What’s your most interesting/funny field story?

I spent four and a half months living under a tarp in the Solomon Islands, working on rainforest flying foxes for Tim Flannery in 1992 when he was doing Melanesian mammal taxonomy work at the Australian museum. I was only 22. I had recently finished honours, and I went with my similar-aged friend Liz. We were looking for a new, rare monkey-faced bat on New Georgia and Vangunu, to find out something about its natural history, status and distribution.

These are remote and beautifully undeveloped islands with no electricity, sewerage, phones (no sat phones in those days), banks (we had to carry our money for the whole expedition with us), or shops at the time really (people are subsistence farmers), and people do not generally speak English. In retrospect it might have been a risky thing for a couple of young girls to do, but it was brilliant. OH&S was inconspicuous; we handled hundreds of bats without gloves or shots. Visitors were accompanied by local guides everywhere, we always had several young (and old) men with us, and you had to pay to stay on people’s land, but there were lots of land disputes.

We were there on Easter Sunday and that was the only time when all of the guides left to go to church at once, leaving us alone at the camp. A man with a bush knife (like a large cane-cutting machete) turned up saying it was his land and we had to pay him or he would cut the camp down, so we paid him. The Solomons is not like PNG, threats like this are very unusual. When the actual landowners came back they told us that he was lying and we should go to the police. We reported the incident to the least intimidating policeman I’ve ever seen, he was barefoot, smiling, and wearing police shorts, a Hawaiian shirt and straw hat. He asked us if bats lay eggs. I didn’t think the money would be recovered.

The closest I came to any harm on the trip was not due to people or animals though, but when I slipped off a mud path above a rocky creek bed a few metres below, and somehow unconsciously I had noticed a root sticking out of the bank and hooked my leg over it as I fell, so that I did not plummet onto the rocks. I would have surely broken something and that could have been bad.

There is a strong story-telling and oral history culture there. This year I have been back and have a postdoc (Tyrone) and a Solomons student now working on bat ecology, conservation, and re-surveying our past sites where we found the threatened flying fox. It was great to see our former guides again and their children who are now grown up, and give them some photos. Locals remember all about us, and even exactly where each net was. People not born then have shown Tyrone these places.

On the 1992 trip, funny things I can remember are mainly me being a hopeless dag, for example I was offered betelnut, politely took some, got dizzy and fell over. We were sitting around the fire once taking turns telling jokes, and I was worried that I couldn’t remember any at all when put on the spot to think of something culturally appropriate. When pushed repeatedly, I told the only joke I could think of: ‘what’s green and kills you if it falls on you out of a tree?’ Answer: a billiard table. There are no billiard tables there, and Solomons jokes are not abstract surreal statements. Only Liz was laughing (a lot, at me).

New Georgian Monkey-faced Bat (Pteralopex taki), endemikc to the Solomon Islands.

New Georgian Monkey-faced Bat (Pteralopex taki), endemic to the Solomon Islands.

14. If you weren’t an ecologist what would you be doing?

Gardening. Working as a public servant in an environment agency (I have done that a few times over the years, but possibly that means I would be unemployed now).

15. Who will win this year’s AFL grand final?

Hawthorn.

Q&A with an ecologist: Associate Professor Ian Lunt

Next up in our Q&A with an ecologist series is Associate Professor Ian Lunt from Charles Sturt University.

Ian Lunt

Ian Lunt

I’m a big fan of the way Ian goes about things. When you read his work and his wonderful blog  you’ll quickly realise he’s Australia’s ecological version of Sherlock Holmes. Instead of solving crimes, he pieces together information from a variety of sources to solve ecological mysteries, such as why habitats are structured in certain ways and appear the way they do, and what factors could be responsible? His research findings have significance for how we perceive and manage habitats today, but also for how we interpret ecological histories.

Most recently Ian has been terrific in promoting the importance of science communication and community engagement through his blog. He’s certainly one who inspired me to start this site and has encouraged me along the way, so thanks, and over to Ian…

1. What got you in to ecology?

I always loved animals and the bush. We used to go on family holidays to places like Little Desert and Wyperfeld National Park when I was a kid, and I’d wander off looking for birds and lizards. Later on I got more and more interested in plants and ecosystems. At uni, I was lucky to have a fantastic lecturer, David Ashton, who was the guru of wet forest ecology in Australia, and a tremendously inspiring person.

2. Why are you still in ecology?

I’ve been very lucky in my career, and moved from vegetation surveys and policy work in government departments into academia after I did my PhD. It’s a fantastic job — there’s always something new to read and learn, great places to visit, and wonderful people to work with. I love working with new students and colleagues, as everyone is always so enthusiastic about each new project.

3. What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made?

Failing first year zoology at uni — it was sooooo boring. After that disaster I concentrated more and more on plant ecology and was hooked for life.

4. What’s your favourite organism and ecosystem?

I’ve always loved working in small fragmented remnants. Each patch is different and it’s always a fun challenge to try to work out how all of the fragmented pieces fit together. Which differences are natural, which were caused by past and current management, which were caused by the process of fragmentation itself? Weirdly, I’ve always found big intact ecosystems much less exciting, even though they are often more scenic.

Favourite organism? I’ve still got a soft-spot for what John Morgan calls the ‘inch flora’, all the tiny species of native annual plants that make up the super-diverse grassy woodlands of western Victoria. They’re so small, cute and awesome.

5. What result has surprised you most in ecology?

I love the fact that you can rarely predict what the results will be in a survey or experiment. If you could it would all be so boring and predictable. Early on I got in the habit of writing down what I thought the results would be for each new study, and then hid them away. I’d then look at them again after it was all over, and was always astonished at how naive they seemed. The world is never as simple or straight-forward as we think.

6. What do you see as the next ‘big thing’ in ecology?

Same as the ‘last big thing’ – great research on good questions, whatever they may be. The diversity of topics and approaches is a key attraction of ecology, so all contributions are important. Always beware of one-dimensional people who tell you there’s one big important question. By coincidence that question always happens to be the topic they work on.

7. What advice would you give to someone starting out in an ecology-based career?

Always remember why you chose this career initially – you love nature, you want to save species and ecosystems, you love working with local communities, whatever. As time goes on it’s easy to get waylaid, buried in busywork, and lose sight of why you started off down the path. Whenever things get tough, at work or in life in general, sit on a rock, walk along a beach or climb a big tree, and remember why you love nature – it’s awesome. Then go directly to question 12.

8. If you had 10 minutes with a decision-maker what key message would you give them?

Think long term and remember why you too started in your career. We can all make a big difference if we focus on the hard, long term decisions, not the minutiae of the moment. It’s possible that things may end up bad, but they’ll be much worse if we don’t work together on them.

9. What’s your favourite field food?

Rice. Where would we be without it?

10. What’s the best popular book you’ve read?

Oooh, long term memory lets me down again. At the moment I’m really into listening to podcasts while I take the dog for a long walk every night. Everyone should listen to Radiolab, This American Life, and everything on the Radiotopia podcast site, they are all fantastic story tellers.

11. What’s the most important scientific paper you’ve read?

There are too many fantastic papers to pick one as being ‘most important’. But the paper that really made things click for me when I was young was in a really tiny journal from the USA and was called, ‘Just a few oddball species: restoration and the rediscovery of the tallgrass savanna’ by Steve Packard. I wrote a blog post about it, 25 years after I read it, and through a miracle of social networking, received a reply from Steve Packard (who I’ve still never met) within 24 hours, which was pretty mind-blowing. I called the blog ‘Steve Packard was my Steve Jobs’, which pretty well sums up the importance of the paper for me. 🙂

12. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Never give up. Ever.

13. What’s your most interesting/funny field story?

That would probably be the time I drove to a field site just west of Melbourne for a short day trip, and then thought it was way too nice a day to dig soil samples, so kept driving until I ended up at Sturt National Park in far western NSW a week later. If the car radiator didn’t leak I probably would have gone further. I came back a couple of weeks later. It was a wonderful trip.

14. If you weren’t an ecologist what would you be doing?

I have no idea. I’m sure it would be fun though.

15. Who will win this year’s AFL grand final?

There’s only one choice: the Dons. Our drugs are way better than yours.

Q&A with an ecologist: Professor Mick McCarthy

It’s Mick’s turn in Q&A with an ecologist.

I’ve admired Professor Mick McCarthy’s work for quite some time, because of the rigorous quantitative and often novel approach he takes to ecological research and environmental management.

Last year we even got to work together on a couple of things, further testament to combining the powers of social media and science!

We’ll forgive Mick for being a Bombers supporter and I must freely admit I am just a wee bit jealous that he’s recently had a species named after him.

1. What got you in to ecology?

I’ve always liked the natural world. Apparently I used to play at the back door with (and get stung by) wasps that would come into the house after feeding on rotten apples in the garden. Camping at Wyperfeld, and looking for animals and plants there (and bones, I was mad keen on bones as a kid) sticks in my memory. So, after getting over the adolescent wish to be a fighter pilot, I leaned toward something in nature. I did a forest science degree, but decided production forestry was not for me. Mark Burgman, who supervised my fourth year research project, suggested I do a PhD on population viability analysis of helmeted honeyeaters. Before I knew it, I was in ecology.

2. Why are you still in ecology?

I enjoy it. I can’t think of a better job. The research, teaching and engagement (and even some of the admin) is fun, but the real clincher for me is the people I work with; they are excellent.

3. What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made?

Whenever a student chats to me about doing a research project, I always tell them to shop around. They should investigate who in the world, within the realm of what is personally possible, would be the best supervisor to do the research that they want to do. Then they should find out what that person is like as a supervisor, figure out if that person’s supervisory style suits them, and find out the range of outcomes for their students. I made the mistake of not checking out any of these things, so I got incredibly lucky to end up with a great supervisor in Mark Burgman.

4. What’s your favourite organism and ecosystem?

It is hard to go past mountain ash forests. As a forestry student in Victoria, you learn from day one that they are the world’s tallest angiosperm (and possibly had the tallest living tree at one point). I have worked on these forests on and off since, including a major effort with David Lindenmayer when doing a postdoc at the Australian National University.

For an organism, I really like cascade tree frogs, which I encountered when helping Kirsten Parris with some of her PhD fieldwork. The males’ call sounds like “Reeep pip-pip”. If you make the “Reeep” sound yourself, you can get the males to do the “Reeep” part of their call back to you. I imagine they are saying “Back off mate! This is my turf…”. Here I am, bordering on 190 cm tall, eye to eye with a frog smaller than my thumb, and it is telling me to back off… all class. Or all hormones. One of the two.

5. What result has surprised you most in ecology?

I think it is hard to go past some of the complexities that can arise from simple processes. The cyclic dynamics of simple predator-prey models come to mind; only very basic properties in predator-prey relationships are required to generate interesting cycles.

6. What do you see as the next ‘big thing’ in ecology?

If we knew that, we’d all be doing it now! I’m just going to mention a trend that I’d like to see. I think ecology should have a stronger experimental focus. Some of the most highly cited contemporary fields in ecology have very little experimental work — species distribution modelling, for example. Michael Kearney’s work, as it relates to species distribution modelling, is a notable exception. Other exceptions exist in other ecological fields. I saw a really nice experimental test of effects of inbreeding and population size on extinction by Tim Wootton at the Ecological Society of America meeting in 2012, and Chris Clements’ experimental protozoan communities to test extinction estimators is also nice.

I can see lots of opportunities for using experiments to test all sorts of different predictive and correlative models — I’ve even done some myself lately. I can’t really say experimental testing is “the next big thing”; after all, experiments have been part of ecology forever. And I don’t mean to imply that all ecological research should include experiments. But I’d be happy to see experiments used more frequently.

7. What advice would you give to someone starting out in an ecology-based career?

Have fun. Beyond that, identify how your skills and interests can be used to address unique questions, or answer questions in a unique way. In essence, look to fill vacant niches by using a rare combination of traits.

8. If you had 10 minutes with a decision maker what key message would you give them?

Right now, I would discuss with him/her the value of research for universities and society.

Research is clearly important for national innovation. But research also drives the international reputation of universities. Given selection of universities by international students is influenced strongly by reputation (and hence research), and education is one of Australia’s highest export earners (e.g., ahead of tourism and similar to gold), investment in universities is critically important for both sustainable innovation and competitiveness of this major export sector. And these export dollars are a fraction of the value of universities to the national economy via domestic education and innovation.

9. What’s your favourite field food?

Euan, I think you are asking the wrong person. But chocolate; definitely chocolate.

10. What’s the best popular book you’ve read?

To Kill a Mockingbird — empathy for the vulnerable, and courage to do what is right, not just expedient.

11. What’s the most important scientific paper you’ve read?

That’s a tough one! I’m going to take that as “Which paper has influenced your research the most?” Perhaps Bayes (1763)? The paper itself is quite hard work, especially when 18th century print represents many instances of the letter “s” as a character that looks like “f”. So I keep reading “in most cases” as “in most cafes” — let alone trying to read what at first looks like “fuch events”. And Price’s commentary that accompanies Bayes’ essay has some of the longest sentences in the history of humanity. However, the paper has fubfequently influenced many fields, not just my research.

12. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Early during my PhD, I wrote some notes describing simulation results that investigated the influence of demographic stochasticity on extinction risk. Mark Burgman told me to work them into a journal article and submit it. That advice to publish throughout my PhD was less common then, but it really helped my career.

13. What’s your most interesting/funny field story?

Again, Euan, you are asking the wrong person. I’ll have to borrow from some field work that I did with Kirsten Parris again.

It is 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, and we’re in the forest somewhere between Jimna and Kenilworth in southeast Queensland. This is a special part of the world. The biggest town nearby is Kilcoy. My favourite postcard from Kilcoy was an aggregation of five images: the sculpted yowie in Yoiwe Park; the Jimna fire tower (tallest of its type in the Southern Hemisphere at 47 m); sunset at Somerset dam; horse racing at Kilcoy; and the pièce de résistance — boning at the Kilcoy abattoir.

Anyway, we’re a fair way into the forest with the bright lights of Kilcoy an hour away, there’s heavy fog, the car is splattered with blood having just driven through a pile of guts where someone has recently killed a deer, and a guy pulls up driving the other way. We peer at him through the fog. It is atmospheric, to say the least.

“Have ya seen me pig dog, but ay?” he asks. “It went tearin’ off afta a boar this arvo and I never see it again.” No, sorry mate. We hadn’t seen any dogs. In our sleep deprived state, the whole combination of events was completely surreal. We drove on.

A few days later, we tell of our encounter to the forest managers in the barracks we are using at Jimna; the thought of that night still makes us laugh. The forest manager then tells us two things: Firstly, never stop at night for another car in the forest (the reason was anything but funny). And secondly, a pig dog turned up at the school camp just down the road. I hope it didn’t keep the kids too occupied.

14. If you weren’t an ecologist what would you be doing?

Well, I wouldn’t mind being an astrophysicist. I’ve got no idea if I would be good, but I think that would be really interesting.

15. Who will win this year’s AFL grand final?

As an Essendon fan, I’m claiming that you are bullying me to ask such a question, and I refuse to answer. And I’ll add that if Barry Brook doesn’t remove the hawk from his Twitter avatar soon, I’ll be forced to consider unfollowing him. 😉

Q&A with an ecologist: Professor Lesley Hughes

Next up in Q&A with an ecologist is Professor Lesley Hughes.

Lesley is best known for her work examining the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystems and is a member of the Climate Council.

Did you know Lesley has a strong affinity with wombats? I didn’t, read on!

Professor Lesley Hughes, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, NSW

Professor Lesley Hughes, Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, NSW

1. What got you in to ecology?

I started out as an animal lover and keen natural historian. I just wanted to watch animals behaving. Somehow this morphed into community ecology once I got to university.

2. Why are you still in ecology?

The unbearable thought that climate change is going to wipe out so many species on the planet, and the hope that I can do something to save them.

3. What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made?

Saying yes when asked to be a Climate Commissioner. It took a huge amount of time but was also great fun. The Commission is now dead, long live the Climate Council!

4. What’s your favourite organism and ecosystem?

Wombats. I don’t study them but I used to have a pet one, they are extremely intelligent and have fantastic personalities. I also really like weevils because they’ve got such cute faces. I love rainforests (but just to look at, too uncomfortable to actually work in them), but will always have the softest spot for dry sclerophyll woodlands.

5. What result has surprised you most in ecology?

How quickly and sensitively many plants and animals have responded to fairly modest global warming thus far.

6. What do you see as the next ‘big thing’ in ecology?

I really hope that ecologists gets serious about climate change; not just as a ‘hook’ to try and get funded or published, but because it threatens our very existence.

7. What advice would you give to someone starting out in an ecology-based career?

Follow your passion (well I would say that, wouldn’t I?), but be prepared to take some chances and follow intriguing opportunities (see my ‘best mistake’, above).

8. If you had 10 minutes with a decision maker what key message would you give them?

See my answer to the next ‘big thing’, above.

9. What’s your favourite field food?

Can’t beat a really good sandwich and a thermos of strong espressso.

10. What’s the best popular book you’ve read?

Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck (added bonus, one of the main characters is a biologist)

11. What’s the most important scientific paper you’ve read?

Peters RL and Darling JDS (1985) The Greenhouse Effect and Nature Reserves. Bioscience 35:707–717 LINK

This paper, written nearly 30 years ago, set out the implications of climate change for conservation. If policy makers had taken sufficient notice of this paper back then we would be in much better shape now.

12. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

“Maybe climate change would be a good topic for a postdoc” — Mark Westoby, 1990

13. What’s your most interesting/funny field story?

My PhD fieldwork involved following ants around the bush; I used to attract them by putting out lines of tuna. Let’s just say that goannas really like tuna.

14. If you weren’t an ecologist what would you be doing?

Epidemiology always interested me, but I’m not good enough at stats. The economics of developing countries also always intrigued me. But sometimes I think that life would have simpler if I’d been a hairdresser.

15. Who will win this year’s AFL grand final?

I live in Sydney, am completely uninterested in sport, and don’t care. Sorry!

Q&A with an ecologist: Professor Joern Fischer

Ecologists are an interesting bunch, and with that in mind I’d like to start a regular series of posts that reveal a little more about some of them. In the coming months you’ll hear from a variety of people, please note the list is certainly not intended to be exhaustive nor random in any way, but rather the one thing in common is that they are people who for whatever reason inspire me. Be it a personal connection, perhaps we’ve shared a beer or three and good conversation at a conference, or maybe I’ve admired their work from afar, they may be a mentor and close friend, or perhaps they’re just downright entertaining! There are many reasons.

So without further ado here is the first cab off the rank in Q&A with an ecologist, Professor Joern Fischer from Leuphana University, Lueneburg, Germany.

More about Joern and his team’s terrific research can be found at Ideas 4 Sustainability.

1. What got you in to ecology?
Quite simply, I like animals … and knowing that we’re losing species faster than at most other times in the history of our planet made me want to engage with this issue, and see if there is anything I can do about it.

2. Why are you still in ecology?
For the exact same reasons as above! However, I started to branch out quite a lot. If you are interested in conservation, you need to look beyond reserves. If you look beyond reserves, you can’t get around people. So, a lot of my interests today are about the interactions between people and nature. Without understanding social issues, conservation won’t work.

3. What’s the best mistake you’ve ever made?
Well, hmmmm let’s just say I ended up in Australia by serendipity. Wasn’t exactly planned like that, but turned out well in the end!

4. What’s your favourite organism and ecosystem?
I’m not sure I have a favourite — I like systems more than specific organisms. My current study system in Central Romania is certainly fascinating, both socially and ecologically. And we see all kinds of rare species quite regularly, from (signs of) bears to yellow-bellied toads to a huge variety of butterflies.

5. What result has surprised you most in ecology?
Probably that carnivores can persist in densely populated areas — people and carnivores can co-exist quite peacefully, even if they inhabit the same area.

6. What do you see as the next ‘big thing’ in ecology?
We have to do better in making our work useful to the real world. I think we need landscape-level work, which links with both stakeholders and other disciplines; and preferably is integrated across landscapes in the end. Such work is now being promoted by the Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS).

7. What advice would you give to someone starting out in an ecology-based career?
Make sure you stay grounded in real-world systems. Too much modelling, too soon in your career, probably means you’re going to end up talking nonsense …

8. If you had 10 minutes with a decision maker what key message would you give them?
GDP is a meaningless indicator of social well-being, and other alternatives should be used immediately.

9. What’s your favourite field food?
Ciorbe de legume… Romanian vegetable soup!

10. What’s the best popular book you’ve read?
The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm (bit on the intellectual side, but hey ….)

11. What’s the most important scientific paper you’ve read?
Probably Dreborg 1996, The Essence of Backcasting DOI

12. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Say “no” whenever you can or you’ll be overcommitted even faster.

13. What’s your most interesting/funny field story?
Hmmmm don’t know …. being zapped by an electric fence, nearly bitten by a snake, growled at by a bear? Those were three of the less elegant moments of my field life.

14. If you weren’t an ecologist what would you be doing?
Probably psychology, and quite possibly environmental psychology.

15. Who will win this year’s AFL grand final?
What’s AFL? 🙂