“Out of sight, out of mind”: coping with remote supervision

By: Yi Han (with contributions from Hao Ran Lai, Anna Csergo, Rob Salguero-Gomez, Nathalie Butt & Yvonne Buckley)

Remote supervision with bubbles

Don’t be a stranger: PhD candidate Fleur Maseyk (UQ, Brisbane) provides her supervisor Asst/Prof Marit Kragt (UWA, Perth) with a monthly progress report. With three remote supervisors, Fleur says these regular meetings have been essential in keeping everyone up-to-date and on track and the regular encouragement and guidance is also invaluable. Screenshot by Fleur Maseyk.

What happens when you or your supervisor goes away for long periods of time? This happens more often than you’d think, with sabbaticals, fieldwork, international students and regular travel as common features of the student-supervisor relationship. Our lab is now split between Australia and Ireland. Indeed, it would be difficult to get two locations further away. Thus, before the split, we spent some time talking through how to deal with remote supervision. We pooled our ideas about what the problems are and what we have found to work.

When you are away from your supervisors, they are typically not reminded of your existence. You don’t see them in the corridor and can’t catch up with them at morning tea or group meetings. This means your supervisor may forget to tell you about opportunities for conferences, interesting new papers or fleeting ideas that might prove valuable. It also means they may be less likely to feel the same urgency about reading/commenting on your work as they would if you were in the same place.

To solve these problems, we have the following suggestions:

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Invasive species spaghetti for dinner? A network of species interactions for managing invasive cats and rats on Christmas Island

By Yi Han


Photo: Dion Maple


Invasive cats and rats threaten native species on Christmas Island through predation and indirect changes in ecosystem processes. Management programs have been proposed to eradicate cats and possibly rats. Before an eradication program can commence, however we need to answer a number of key questions. What is the management goal? What are the alternative management strategies? What are the risks and benefits of these management strategies?

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The Great Outback

Author: Rob Salguero-Gómez

Some of the facilities at the numerous camps include: great views, spa, coffee, gourmet kitchen and open fires. Source: R. Salguero-Gómez

Some of the facilities at the numerous camps include: great views, spa, coffee, gourmet kitchen and open fires. Source: R. Salguero-Gómez

I spent the last month in the Simpson Desert (center of Australia) in collaboration with A/Prof Glenda Wardle from the Desert Ecology Research Group at the University of Sydney. During that time, two new NutNet sites were established in spinifex-dominated regions. One of them, recently burned, likely contains the lowest biomass productivity of the whole NutNet network. Together, both sites will be critical in increasing the statistical strength of global predictions on the role of nutrient addition and herbivory on grass species composition and diversity (see Adler et al. 2011 Science). Continue reading

New NutNet site at UQ’s brand new Terrestrial Ecology Research Facility

Author: Y. Buckley

Yvonne Buckley, Natalie Kerr and Rebecca Harris building fences - R. Salguero-Gomez

Yvonne Buckley, Natalie Kerr and Rebecca Harris building fences – R. Salguero-Gomez

With the help of NutNet founders Elizabeth Borer and Eric Seabloom, we marked out plots, built fences, determined species composition and collected soil and biomass samples for the important pre-treatment observational phase of the newest site in the global Nutrient Network (NutNet) initiative.  The plots are located at UQ’s brand new Terrestrial Ecology Research Facility (TERF), about 15km west of UQ.  Setting up and sampling the plots was truly a team effort so thanks to the lab members, volunteers and experts who helped out! Continue reading

New paper in Annals of Forest Science

Coutts, S., Caplat, P., Cousins, K., Ledgard, N. & Buckley, Y.M. (2012). Reproductive ecology of Pinus nigra in an invasive population: individual and population level variation in seed production and timing of seed release. Annals of Forest Science [DOI 10.1007/s13595-012-0184-5]

The full journal article can be found here

Summary provided by Dr. Shaun Coutts

In this paper we describe two aspects of the reproductive ecology of an invasive pine (Pinus nigra) in New Zealand – the distribution of fecundity within a population and the timing of seed release.

By distribution of fecundity we mean how many cones each tree produced each year. Typically, plant populations have right skewed distributions of fecundity. This means that a few individuals produce a lot of cones, while the majority produce very few. We found that P. nigra was no exception, with a right skewed, negative binomial distribution being a good fit to each year’s observed fecundity. The negative binomial distribution is the distribution of cones you would expect to see if every tree had a different ability to produce cones (perhaps due to genetic differences or fine scale environmental heterogeneity). We also found that even though trees varied a lot in their cone production from year to year, it was always the same trees that produced the most cones. This means that a few individuals have far higher lifetime reproduction than the rest of the population.

We also found that P. nigra tended to release more seeds when conditions were windy and dry, a result that has implications for the spread of this particular invasive population. Due to the mountains surrounding our study site (see attached picture), the warm dry winds tend to be far stronger than cool damp ones, and as such the pine trees preferentially release seeds when conditions favour long distance dispersal.