This is supposed to be a blog of my research life. Whether it remains so and whether I manage to keep up making entries has yet to be seen.

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Janus, of course, was the Roman god after whom January is named and looked both forwards and backwards at the same time. The end of 2013 was marked by work on a research proposal that, to be honest, is largely Aris’ idea. This is a neat idea that combines data collection on tree growth at different points in their range and modelling. We are aiming for a submission later in January. The London NERC DTP started work in December too and we are now busy advertising a large set of PhD’s into the consortium. But all of this was pushed into the small amounts of time that were available while the duties and responsibilities of a Head of School crowded into as much of the available day as they could. Having almost reached the mid point of the first month of the year, the siren clamour of Head of School activities is demanding attention. I must steel myself to ignore it for sufficient time to get some research done.

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Over a month since my last entry to this blog has seen me in one week in Boston at a personalised medicine conference and in another In Beijing at the invitation of Prof Zhang of the North China Electric Power University. Both trips were interesting. The former was really an attempt to educate myself about genomics and medicine and I came away rather depressed at the standards being employed. In particular the unscientific approach to the problem, which as far as I could see would result in anything being produced not being publishable in even the lowest rated ecology journal. In China it was me doing the talking - giving a seminar on predicting the ecological impacts of climate change. However, most of the time I was being well looked after and seeing the sights of Beijing. The Great Wall is just amazing and the cold day ensured that there were very few other people visiting it and as you can see we had it much to ourselves. We also went to the Forbidden City in the centre of Beijing - a beautiful place that did serve to emphasise the distance their must have been between the emperors and the people they ruled. We are hoping to build on this relationship over the next few years and so we will have to see what the eventual results of this trip will be.

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Where does it go? time it just vanishes and suddenly there’s the end of the month and what has been done? Luckily Aris has managed to submit one of his target papers - the tree mortality paper has gone to Journal of Ecology. As usual its just about crossing fingers now. For anyone who was wondering the grant application failed - too risky apparently. Might try sending it elsewhere. Greg and I went off to Wytham - to discover that there are very few seedlings there! and to get absolutely soaked. But Greg has his first robust results - we can now show that the change in the growing season that is expected as a result of climate change is likely to result in the loss of pine trees from the modeled forest in North America, he is checking the data now but it also looks like there might be changes in the total number of trees too. Nana Li and Liu Yu are progressing through the first stages of their data analyses and revealing some interesting things about their populations of swallows.

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The start of the new academic year has not been easy for either students or staff. Nevertheless there has been some research activity. Aris graced London with his presence and as part of his appraisal we have listed six papers that we will try to get out in the next year. I suppose that there are one or two I should be working on separately too. One of these will be another philosophy paper - conversations with Michael Weisberg and Matthew Smith have suggested that something that builds on the TREE article and reflects some of what was said at INTECOL would be useful. Based around the model fidelity versus model complexity argument. Greg has also got some good results emerging from the first climate change-forced forest model, this will be worth writing up soon. The proofs for the Proc. R. Soc. paper have arrived and that will be out very soon. All good and more than averagely busy.

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The summer is over and autumn is beginning - you can just smell it in the air. The swallows have begun to drift away and that means that the students studying them have begun to drift back. Liu Yu was back in the school at the end of last week. I had twofold good news. Firstly, Paul Craze, the editor of TREE, wrote to say that the philosophical article which technically is not yet published has become the most downloaded article in the journal for the last two years! Secondly, Proc R Soc have accepted the article that emerged from the Kavli Centre meeting - with virtually no corrections. So that is now progressing through the publication process, which in proceedings is very quick indeed. Not resting on our laurels, I have Aris’ latest draft paper to look at though - a paper based on my analysis of mortality rates of trees in Wytham.

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An ecology conference at the Excel centre - absolutely vast - with 2000+ delegates. I chaired one of the first sessions and spoke in the computational ecology session on Wednesday. Speaking in the same session as Simon Levin and Drew Purvis, both stars in their different ways. The room was packed out, all seating taken and people sitting all over the floors. The content of my talk was OK but I really should have practiced it! Not much other news really both the Chinese students have finished their fieldwork now and are meeting in Beijing to measure the colour of their feather samples. The great news though was that Proceedings of the Royal Society have accepted the review article o predictive systems ecology - fantastic news and so much easier than the TREE paper.

Back in harness

A ten day holiday is really insufficient! But it was fun and great to get away, even if it does take at least four days to stop thinking about what has been left behind and you have to fight to stop yourself thinking about what you are coming back to for the last two days. One of the things I did come back to was the news that three papers are formally published, so that makes four for the year which is not bad. My three PhD students have all been collecting data, Nana Li’s field season has concluded, Liu Yu (being further north) still has breeding swallows, while Greg has been labouring trying to get more data at Alice Holt. My main task now is to write my talk for INTECOL - halfway through right now!


Getting dressed up in full robes and a suit is not the optimal dress for the current heatwave. The reason for this nonsensical dress is of course graduation. Hundreds of our students passing through this particular rite of passage. Research-wise it has been a slower start to the summer than I might have liked. Aris has been here for the last three weeks and we have basically finished the work on badgers, cows and TB. We let Tim Benton have a look at it and he passed it on to someone in DEFRA. In an interestingly defensive email he criticized what we had done, but had to admit that they were as yet unable to do anything similar. Last week Aris, Greg and I went to Alice Holt to collect more data to make the functions linking tree growth and size to light more robust. Alice Holt is not quite as nice as Wytham and is not as well maintained, but we managed to start the exercise of collecting the additional data we need to use another ECN dataset. Greg is still working on his first manuscript, which is coming on well but still not ready for public consumption. But nothing will happen for a little while, I am off to California to ride Highway 1!

End of the academic year

The end of the academic year is always busy, lots of things that have been put off raise their heads again and need to be resolved. The main research work for the last few weeks though was finalising and submitted a NERC standard project grant, which finally got the button pressed to send to to Swindon last Monday. Fingers crossed now for a test of phenotypic plasticity in foraging behaviour as a response to climate change. Aside from that, the TREE articles proofs are done and it is out on line and the last ostrich paper was accepted by BES. Keith Kirby has sent us his long run dataset from Wytham, which I think we can use to look at tree mortality patterns. Greg is especially interested in using it to look for an effect of droughts in order to include this impact into the climate change models. I need to decide now what to spend my summer working on, there is the lecture for INTECOL of course, but I think it may be time to finish the zebra finch genomics work.

Grey days

All the PhD students have now passed their progression hurdles, rather inconveniently QM requires this to be done right in the middle of the boreal summer when ecological students should be doing fieldwork. With three in press papers and one in submission, publication is looking OK. The next papers to work on will be the Badgers and TB model, Greg has his first paper to form - this looks like it will be the first climate change forced forest model, while if I have the energy I may return to zebra finch genomics. What is taking the time right now though is a grant proposal - as usual the science is done and the peripheral stuff - data management plan, impact summary, impact plan, justification of resources, track record - just drags on. Meanwhile in the other part of my life degrees are being decided - fingers crossed for the graduating students out there.

© Matthew Evans 2015