Arctic Change 2017 – Wednesday round-up


Another day of snow in Quebec City, another day of Arctic conferencing at Arctic Change 2017. Another packed plenary, hearing from Larry Hinzman on how we can and must adapt as not only the climate changes, but many other factors as well. We heard the fascinating, and certainly complex debate around the ownership and use of the northwest passage. Finally, we stood together to celebrate the work of Dr. Michel Allard, winner of this year’s Weston Family Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Northern Research.

Team Shrub was well represented in the first session of Monitoring, Modeling and Predicting Arctic Biodiversity. Isla made a convincing case for detection of various components of vegetation change and their attribution to warming. Jeff then demonstrated the scaling issues we have when going from ground-based to satellite observations – impressing the audience with drone footage at the same time.

In this session we also heard from Paul Grogan of Queens University with a fascinating talk on birch expansion driven by a decrease in herbivory rather than by increased temperatures. Last up was Pascale Ropars (who first taught me the art of digging shrubs up many years ago), presenting a whole-food-web approach to predicting biodiversity change in Northern Québec.

After a delicious lunch (the food here!) which peaked with three helpings of profiteroles, it was time to go back to the second part of the Arctic Biodiversity session. Katriina O’Kane showed us how species move individually rather than as a community during succession at a glacier’s edge. Cory Wallace and Jennifer Baltzer from the Forest Ecology Research Group at Wilfrid-Laurier also took us on a tour of alder shrubs, topographic variation, and the factors controlling black spruce abundance.

Finally, eyes starting to itch and brains hurting from a day packed full of new knowledge, we heard from Caroline Coch on the role of small catchments for dissolved organic carbon inputs, and from Dustin Whalen on how drones are being used to map coastal erosion in the Arctic.

Haydn, Jakob and myself were still on duty by our posters in the evening. Between lively scientific discussions and running into old friends, the two hours flew by and our team set out hungrily in search of poutine. Unfortunately, my insider knowledge of Québec didn’t extend to knowing Ashton’s opening hours, so the door shut in our disappointed faces. We had to turn to (highly satisfying) falafels eaten on the street in -10 degrees C weather to get back to the conference centre in time for the first screening of Breaking Ice, a documentary that took us on the Canadian research ice-breaker the Amundsen.


I suspect Haydn, Jakob, Isla and Andy are in various stages of anticipation for their Thursday talks. Good luck all!

By Sandra


Arctic Change 2017 – Tuesday round-up: Blizzards, Biodiversity and Beluga Snot

The second day of Arctic Change 2017 hit town like the snow storm raging outside the Centre des congrès de Québec. Today the main hall was full, packed right to the edges, as we were welcomed by ArcticNet, Laval University and the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

After the welcome and official opening, Raleigh Seamster from Google Earth, and Joel Heath and Lucassie Arragutainaq from ArcticEider/SIKU demonstrated the power of remote sensing and its potential for community based environmental monitoring in the Arctic. The speakers clearly had to battle the inquisitiveness of researchers as hundreds reached straight for their laptops and phones to immediately check out these awesome tools! Louis Frontier, scientific director of ArcticNet, followed with a reminder that cutting carbon emissions remains paramount for tackling all issues around Climate Change. Anyone not from Norway or Paraguay might have left feeling a little bruised, but despite the world being only 5% of the way towards its renewable goals, there was still a sense of optimism. And indeed, the plenary closed with optimism in full swing with a touching short film on the Schools on Board project of the Canadian research icebreaker Amundsen and the potential future leaders of Arctic policy change.

Refreshed after heaps of pastries and coffee, the conference headed into the first topical sessions. Alas, we can barely scratch the surface of the vast array of talks on offer here. Justine Hudson method’s of assessing Hudson’s Bay’s beluga whale stress level using snot samples was much discussed on twitter and made an engaging talk with videos of curious belugas “donating” their snot to science. Memorable also were Benjamin Lange’s findings that multiyear sea-ice supports much more algae life than first year ice. We on Team Shrub appreciated hearing about Zoe Panchen’s research on tundra plant phenology showing that microclimate matters more than latitude or elevation for flowering in the Canadian High Arctic.  And Team Shrub was also a fan of Esther Frei’s work on plant trait change over time and her beautiful figures!  We also really liked pondering future fox housing using Florence Poulin’s new index of Arctic fox den vulnerability.

The scientific part of the day concluded with the first poster session, with legions of well designed posters (every conference should have such a great reward for poster awesomeness!) and an astonishing amount of great science. Ruminating in front of our fake log fire we remember Jeffery Saarela and Paul Sokoloff’s enthusiastic poster presentation – working with the Canadian’s Museum of Nature, they are sampling plants all across the Arctic islands to improve our understanding of high Arctic biodiversity. Also sticking out was Sarah Shakil’s poster on chemical composition of slump discharge on the Peal Plateau in the Yukon and Christine Anderson’s beautiful poster about her exciting proposed PhD research on shorebirds in a changing Arctic.

Now we are all tired from a long day of sciencing, talking at our posters, braving the still raging blizzard and running away from snow-spitting Quebecois snow ploughs on our way home to the apartment. After two exciting days, we’re looking forward the great Arctic science to come and take up Allen Pope’s challenge to kick him off the top of the twitter leader board. So keep your twitter ears pricked and see you tomorrow!


by Jakob and Team Shrub

p.s. You can also catch up here on what’s happening across the pond at the the Ecology Across Borders conference in Ghent.

Arctic Change 2017: Monday round-up

It is snowing in London. Roll on the inevitable British winter – the blocked roads, the cancelled flights, the closed schools and the queues at petrol stations. Outside our «charmant appartement» here in Québec City we look out on snow piling high on church towers, listen to the sound of crunching boots and catch our breath in the -15°C air. Winter may have arrived in La Belle Province, but the Arctic Change 2017 conference is in full swing.

We arrived this morning in the huge Centre des congrès de Québec to the chatter of Arctic researchers of all ages – from the long stockings and tartan skirts of schoolgirls to the suitcase wheeling suits of professors. Everything about a conference was soon underway. Bonding over velcro in the poster hall. Unexpected feedback in the plenary. A sudden lack of technical support at the critical moment. In a room full of excited scientists, none of it really matters.

Today was the ‘Student Day’, a chance to warm up after the main event kicks off tomorrow. The highlight for us by far was the student elevator pitches – one slide and one minute to sum up a research project. We were blown away by the quality and range of work underway across the Arctic, and the quality and range of talks! Ukelele songs and caribou cams, teabags and drones, Facebook, fishing, birdsong, belugas…the list goes on.

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One minute, one slide

The rest of the day unfolded in a series of meetings, workshops and panel discussions. We enjoyed learning about international collaboration, data management and policy making, among others. Most of all, we enjoyed the chance to catch up with old friends and make new ones (still looking for two months at sea anyone??), before retiring to the Arctic-themed pub quiz to end the day.

It’s now 10pm and the snow is still falling. Bring on tomorrow.


Enjoying snowy Québec!

If you want to meet any of Team Shrub or find out about our work, you can catch us at:


MON06 – I. Monitoring, Modeling and Predicting Arctic Biodiversity
(Wednesday, 10.30-12.00, Room 203)

10.45 – Isla Myers-Smith: Attribution of ecological change to warming across the tundra biome – a summary of recent data syntheses
11.15 – Jeff Kerby: Meso-scale Arctic ecology: Leveraging the High Latitude Drone Ecology Network (HiLDEN) to address longstanding knowledge gaps

MON05 – I. Arctic Remote Sensing: Improving Arctic Monitoring of Sea Ice, Snow, Glaciers and Permafrost for Wildlife Preservation
(Thursday, 10.30-12.00, Room 302 B)
10.45 – Jakob Assmann: Drone imagery reveals scale mismatch between satellite-observed tundra greenness and on-the-ground vegetation monitoring

ECO13. Arctic Tundra and Vegetation
(Thursday, 10.30-12.00, Room 303 A)
10.45 – Haydn Thomas: Changes in plant functional traits across a warming tundra biome: Linking vegetation change to ecosystem function

MON05 – II. Arctic Remote Sensing: Improving Arctic Monitoring of Sea Ice, Snow, Glaciers and Permafrost for Wildlife Preservation
(Thursday, 13.30-15.00, Room 302 B)
14.30 – Andrew Cunliffe: Monitoring Arctic changes with drones

ECO14 – II. Arctic Wildlife
(Thursday, 13.30-15.00, Room 301 B)
16.15 – Cameron Eckert: Identifying key wildlife movement corridors on Herschel Island-Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park

INT03. Arctic Cooperation in Action – the UK-Canada Arctic Partnership, 2017 Bursaries Programme: Aims, Results and Next steps
(Thursday, 15.30-17.00, Room 303 A)
16.45 – Isla Myers-Smith: Quantifying the drivers of rapid tundra vegetation change – increased productivity and permafrost thaw


156 – Sandra Angers-Blondin: Reading between the rings: How does competition affect the climate sensitivity of shrub growth?

158 – Haydn Thomas: Decomposition patterns across the tundra biome: Litter substrate explains more than environment.

159 – Jakob Assmann: Snow-melt and temperatures – but not sea ice – explain variation in tundra spring plant phenology on Qikiqtaruk – Herschel Island

5 Steps to Becoming an Awesome Field Assistant

Going into a field season for the first time can be a bit overwhelming. You’re about to spend a couple of months in a strange land, doing strange tasks with very strange people. You might feel like you’ve suddenly forgotten everything about science, or that you’re definitely not up to walking up that mountain. Do you have the right gear? The right attitude? Are you even the right person for the job?

To help you out, here are Izzy’s top five tips that will help you have the best and most productive field season.

1. Be prepared to work weird hours

In most cases you will be living on the same schedule as your supervisor. That means work will keep going until you’re finished. From late night trips to the lab or waking up to shrub talk, you never know when you might be needed. At first in can be overwhelming, but it’s a great way to engage with the material and experience. You also end up feeling really hardcore and proud of yourself after a long day!

2. Take advantage of every opportunity (sleep when you’re home)

Living in a new place with new people will definitely bring a lot of opportunities to take advantage of. Whether it be going on a hike or taking a tour of the nearby ice-fields, you can always find something new to try. I think saying yes to everything (within reason) is the best way to go about your field season. You will end up meeting a lot of new people and seeing a lot of new things along the way. I have to say, some key memories of my field season are things I have said yes to: going to a lecture with Charley Krebs and seeing my first grizzly bear on the way, and going on a tour of the ice-fields – absolutely amazing. Just say yes!

Related to that, you are only in this new place for a few months out of, quite possibly, your whole life. There’s no reason to go to bed while the northern lights are out – you can sleep when you’re home!


Feeling on top of the world (and a little bit cold)

3. Do things before you’re told & be confident in working independently

Often times the supervisor you’re working with has countless things to do that need to be delegated. If you really pay attention and engage with the tasks at hand, you’ll be able to help them along the way by clearing up any bits that may be left to do. Furthermore, being able to work independently will greatly improve your confidence way beyond the field. I know that for me, I was not a very confident worker and would often seek clarification more often than needed. Being in an isolated location might mean you don’t have the luxury of always asking for help, so you end up having to trust what you think is right. This is definitely frightening at first, but even after the field, I’ve noticed that I trust my knowledge a lot more. Being able to help organise tasks on your own is a great skill to work on and you’ll also be removing a bit of your mentor’s stress!


Izzy Rich (the common garden bed. Also the field assistant.)

4. Challenge yourself

Going to the field was undoubtedly one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life. I kept telling people “wow who knew I was such a city kid,” but it turns out I am. Being in a remote location, where sometimes I only saw one other person, was extremely shocking to me. It was an incredible learning experience to learn to be alone so intensely. Taking part in long hikes was another shock. Some people may say the hikes I did were not very long, but for me, I was genuinely climbing a mountain in reality and my mind. The emotional barrier of trying such drastically new things was hard to break, but everything you learn and the way you develop as a person when you challenge yourself is something that you will carry for the rest of your life.


Scaling literal and metaphorical mountains

5. Take a lot of pictures

Take a lot of pictures so it doesn’t all feel like a dream!

By Izzy

Team Shrub goes to Curiosity Forest at Explorathon 2017

At the end of September (this semester has flown by, hasn’t it?), Team Shrub took part in the Explorathon – a weekend celebrating research in Scotland in the wider context of  European Researchers’ Night. We transplanted our shrub knowledge from the Arctic to the Curiosity Forest, where the public got to experience our research from different angles: from above and inside out!



Alongside us in this inviting, cheerful woodland were our friends from GeoSciences showing fossils, molecular biologists encouraging you to take a “cell-fie” photograph of your own epithelial cells, and several other groups from the physical and social sciences showcasing their research in interactive ways that got young (and not-so-young) participants drawing, making blueprints, controlling lasers with their voices, and much more.

Our stall took people through the journey we make collecting and processing data to investigate vegetation change in the Arctic. Participants flew highly successful missions on our drone simulator, then were shown what the pictures our drones take look like. They were then invited to have a much closer look at the shrubs we see as dots on our aerial pictures, by handling wood samples and looking at thin sections through the microscope.


Before leaving, children were asked to find the ring corresponding to their date of birth on a giant print-out of a shrub stem section. Sadly I am too old to fit on this shrub!


This wee Arctic shrub was much older than most of our visitors!

Thanks to Lisa and the Explorathon Team for having us!

By Sandra


Team Shrub’s Tips: CVs & Job Applications

Last week we all applied for our own job.

Well, sort of.


In preparation for this week’s lab meeting on CVs and job applications, Isla asked us all to apply for the position of Team Shrub lab manager. The job is unfortunately fictional for all of you getting excited out there, but here is what we received in our inbox on Tuesday morning.


Data/Field Manager position on Team Shrub

Team Shrub at the University of Edinburgh, a dynamic and friendly research group focussing on global change ecology, is hiring a lab and field data manager.  We are looking for someone with data management skills including experience programming in R and using statistics such as hierarchical modelling.  Experience in version control using GitHub would be an asset.  The position will also involve fieldwork in the Canadian Arctic.  Some outdoor experience is a requirement and any background leading or providing logistics to expeditions would be an asset.  We are looking for applicants familiar with computers, scientific data and ecological fieldwork.  Diverse applicants from a range of backgrounds are encouraged to apply.  To apply please bring a 1-page CV to the next lab meeting to be discussed by the job application committee.  We will be in touch with all qualified applicants to set up an interview.  Application deadline: Friday, 3 November 2017 at 2pm.  The job will be full time at a pay scale commensurate with the experience of the recruited applicant.


And so we arrived, CV’s at the ready and slightly nervous, ready to discuss exactly what it takes to get your dream job. Here is a summary of our thoughts trying to encompass jobs from an undergraduate summer position, PhD or postdoc through to an academic job.

Some topics we didn’t necessarily all agree on – particularly with respect to the increasing importance of online content. But overall the general message applies across the board: you won’t get a job if you don’t apply, and putting in some advanced thought and work will put you in a much better position to submit a strong application when your dream job does come along.

Team Shrub’s Top Tips

1) The CV

The CV is the way that you communicate your skillsets and experience concisely to the rest of the world.  It can be a very important document making the difference for whether you get considered for a job or not.  Try to do your best to sell yourself in your CV.

  • Keep your CV/job applications as up to date as you can – because you never know when your dream job might be advertised.  You will never get a job or funding if you don’t apply, but try to put your “best foot forward” when you do submit those applications.  Sometimes it is better to not apply for everything and target your time towards the jobs you really want.
  • Update and restructure your CV/job application for every job that you apply for. Think about the key skills or set of experience that the job is looking for.  Make sure your application is tailored to those skills and the specific job.  Think about who is doing the hiring.  And use the actual words in the job ad in your application.  Make it clear that you have done your research and how specifically you are a good fit for the job.
  • When comparing CVs, we thought that the ones with the skills sets really clearly indicated on the first page were most successful for a field assistant/lab assistant type job.  This might be less important for an academic job when publications and funding might be most important.  Tailor the content of a CV and the structure and formatting to each job you apply for making sure that the most important stuff always comes at the top and on the first page.
  • You can format how you like but think about choosing an easy to read but nice font – feel free to choose something that you think does a good job of representing you!  Try to use headings, lines and formatting to cluster the text into different sections.  Use whitespace to your advantage – make sure you have a nice concise summary of your qualifications, but that you also don’t overwhelm your reader.  People mostly skim CVs so you want the important stuff to really stand out!
  • You should go back as far as seems relevant for the position you are applying for.  Try to tailor the content, but when in doubt it is probably better to include something rather than leave it out.  When you are in your undergrad, include your high school marks and awards.  When you are a PhD student include your undergrad marks and awards.  When you are a postdoc start to focus more on your PhD achievements and beyond.
  • Include the information that makes you look more impressive or will make you stand out from the other applicants.  You can include particularly high marks on courses or assignments that are relevant for the job you are applying for.  You don’t need to include everything, but you do need to sell yourself.  Never lie in a job application, but do be selective and edit your information to present the best version of you!
  • Keep your CV to the appropriate length: 1-2 pages for most jobs, but can be much longer for academic CVs depending on your career stage.
  • Don’t forget to include your name, email, address and other relevant contact information really clearly.  Your age/birth date, citizenships, whether you have a drivers license or other personal information could be appropriate depending on the job/application.
  • We thought that it is probably a good idea to include your referees on your CV, as this makes things more concrete and makes it look like you are confident about your referees’ assessment of you.
  • Do consider including some other interests or less conventional elements to your experience.  Are you an award-winning photographer?  Do you write a well-read blog?  Do you volunteer for a charitable organization?  If so include that information towards the end of your CV as that might make your application unique and allow you to stand out from the other applicants with similar skill sets to you.
  • Think about the file names for your CV and all other job application documents.  Make sure it is something that identifies you and the date and perhaps the job as well.  Submit all documents as PDFs, as the formatting of Word files can get messed up on different computers.  Try to combine multiple documents in one application package.  Include page numbers with the total pages (e.g., page 2 of 15) and put your name, the date, and other info in the header of each page, so that if anything goes missing it is easy to put your application back together again.

Shadow CVs: We all agreed that it’s very useful to look at other people’s CVs, especially as an undergraduate and early career researcher, to get an idea of what to include and what formatting to use for different types of job applications. Looking at other people’s achievements, though, can sometimes get you down, as we inevitably compare ourselves to others. A few years back, people started talking about shadow CVs as a way to show that people do fail sometimes, and that’s okay. A shadow CV is a record of all the positions you didn’t get, your unsuccessful grant applications, etc. Tenured scientists shared their shadow CVs online as a way to show early career people that failure is part of the process. Some have even went as far as suggesting we should have rejection goals – one can ask, if we are never getting rejected, are we aiming high enough?

An example of Haydn’s CV, applying to be on Team Shrub


2) The Cover Letter

The cover letter allows you to express why you are applying, why you are passionate about the job, and why you are the best candidate out there.

  • Always submit a CV and cover letter unless you are explicitly asked not to, even for applications for PhDs or Postdocs.  It probably won’t hurt your application, and it might really help!
  • Write your cover letter on letter head or format it professionally.  Include your contact information, the date and an electronic signature.
  • Always address your cover letter in a gender neutral and appropriate way.  Try to address it to the specific person who is doing the hiring.  If in doubt, use something generic like “To whom it may concern:” or “Dear Colleagues,”.
  • Start the letter off with a very short generic paragraph explaining what you are applying for.  Indicate that there are 3 (or more) reasons why you are highly qualified for the position.
  • Have a series of short paragraphs with clear numbered headings on each of those reasons (e.g., “Track record of high-impact publications, Evidence of funding success, Commitment to teaching and mentorship” or “Experience with statistical programming, Three field seasons conducting ecological research, Evidence of leadership and independent working”, etc.).  You don’t have to follow this structure, but it is an effective way to structure a cover letter that can be easily skimmed for key content.
  • Finish with a short paragraph indicating your enthusiasm for the position and your willingness to answer any questions.

3) The online profile

A lot of the information about you that an employer, award committee or future colleague will access is now online. From LinkedIn, Google Scholar, Twitter, Facebook, and more we all have some sort of online profile now. Make sure you are in control of that online profile somewhat, putting out the content that you want people to associate with you.

  • Google yourself. Your web presence might surprise you. Make sure to put private browsing on, so that your search engine is not pre-trained to find content about you. Some people are more Googleable than others because their names are more unique or they have a larger online profile. Think about what content you want to be linked with your name and whether your different websites or social media sites do justice to you.  It is up to you how visible you want to be online with your own website and social media such as twitter.  Over time slowly work towards making your online presence stronger to sell your skills and career niche better.
  • A shout out to LinkedIn: we discussed LinkedIn and how it is a must for much of the business world, but isn’t used much in academia.  Therefore, it is probably worth maintaining a LinkedIn page if you don’t know what career you will end up in or just to be on the safe side.

4) The website

Websites are critical if you are aiming for an academic career and are thinking of applying for fellowships or academic positions.  We had some discussion about it, but some Team Shrub members feel that websites are now replacing the business card as the way people can find out your contact information and a bit about your job profile.  Alternatively, for careers with large companies, you might want to keep your online presence quite minimal.  If you are thinking about doing any independent consulting, starting your own business, getting involved in a start up, or going into communication in some form, your online presence is what will or will not get you the job/contract. Make sure to think about what you are putting on your website and online in general.  Many (if not most) people will google you when hiring, they are looking for content that will impress them about you, but might also be influenced negatively by what they see online.

The Academic website is becoming a more and more important part of your profile as a researcher.  I think that you should be looking to start to build your online content during your PhD, but potentially before.  Think about how you are branding yourself and your research interests. Make sure to format your website in an eye catching and not too busy manner.  Use beautiful photographs to illustrate the text.  Keep things simple but relatively comprehensive.  A website is always a work in progress.  It doesn’t have to be perfect when you first post it. Build your branding, profile and online content over time.

  • About page/team page: When building an academic website include a page about you with your professional contact information and a brief description about your research interests.  Include a photo that is recognisably you, but make sure it isn’t too large or overwhelming or too small and unidentifiable.  People will start to make assumptions about you from looking at your website, so you want to leave the right impression.  Include any other members of your research team if appropriate.  You want your website to appropriately reflect your career stage and to demonstrate the trajectory that you are on.  For example, if you co-supervise dissertation or PhD students, put that on your webpage.
  • Research: Include a page about your research interests – update this overtime to reflect your current interests.  Think about how you want to pitch your own research.  A lot of academic websites start with the statement “I am generally interested in a broad range of topics in ecology (and evolution).” This is a throw away statement.  If you weren’t generally interested, then you probably shouldn’t be in the field.  Start with a statement that is specific to you and sets you apart from other ecologists.  Don’t include too much text here and do include pictures, conceptual diagrams, etc.  Make it easy for someone skimming your webpage to know what your research is all about.  Indicate your funding somewhere, particularly if you applied for that funding yourself.
  • Publications: Include a page of your publications – try to provide some additional content here if you can about your papers and provide a link to your Google Scholar and ResearcherID/Orchid accounts, etc.  Try to make it easy for someone visiting your website to get to know what your research is all about and also your publication stats, particularly if they are impressive for your career stage. Consider making in prep or submitted manuscripts available via your website using pre-print archives such as BioRxiv (
  • Code/Data: In the world of open science, you will get bonus points for making your code and data publically available. I am always looking for evidence that people are participating in open science best practices when assessing job applications or research grants.  Use your website to share this information with the world, though it is best to host your code in approved repositories (e.g., and your code in a version control platform such as GitHub (
  • Teaching/Outreach/Media/Social Media: Include a page or more than one about your outreach, engagement and teaching interests.  These are becoming more and more important parts of the academic profile.  If this is an area you have invested time in, make sure you do justice to that on your website, as it could set you apart from the other applicants for a job.
  • Links/Networks: Consider providing links to relevant other groups that you are associated with – try and illustrate your professional network.  Link to your collaborators or large research projects that you are associated with.  Put your own track record into a larger academic context.
  • Other stuff: Consider including other stuff on your academic website that isn’t strictly academic.  If you do photography, if you make films, if you do art or music this can feature on your professional website if it contributes to your academic/professional profile.

5) Making contact

If appropriate, get in touch with the person doing the hiring in advance to ask about the position.  Set up a Skype call if appropriate to introduce yourself or meet in person for a quick chat.  Show your enthusiasm and demonstrate that you have thought carefully about the position and how you might fit into the group/business/organisation.  Always get in touch via email before applying for PhD positions or postdocs that you are well qualified for – this will put you at a major advantage and most academics are expecting some sort of contact in advance of the actual application.

Think about that first email contact and make sure you demonstrate your specific interests in the position, but keep things brief and to the point for the first contact.  Expect with busy people that you might not hear back right away.  Feel free to contact them once again if you hear nothing after about a week, but if you still don’t hear back, perhaps this is not the job for you.  Think about other ways to network with potential employers – like talking to people at conferences, meeting with the seminar speaker, getting in touch with lab members in the group, etc..  People are more likely to hire people they have met before or have some sort of established connection.


In summary, it is never too soon to start thinking about your academic or job profile and trying to put together that dream job application. There is still some debate out there about how best to sell yourself in our increasingly online world, but many things such as how to format your CV haven’t really changed much over time.  If you have put some thought into your job application in advance, you are in a much better position to apply for that dream job when it comes along!

Oh, and we all got the job.

By Team Shrub compiled by Isla Myers-Smith and Haydn Thomas

The start of a new chapter (or many)

Autumn has arrived in Edinburgh – leaves are turning bright colours, students are returning to the campus, some chapters have ended, whilst others have only just began. It’ll be an exciting year for Team Shrub as new students join in and we put our curiosity and love for science into practice.


Inspiring words as we go up the stairs every day

Team Shrub welcomes two new PhD students! After a field season in Northern Scotland and a field season in the Arctic, Gergana is back in Edinburgh to delve into the world of biodiversity change and its drivers. Her project aims to quantify the effects of land use change on global and local patterns of species richness, abundance and composition, and develop a computational framework to facilitate answering ecological questions using big data and global synthesis of long-term observations. In particular, she will investigate whether: 1) changes in species richness, abundance and composition can be attributed to land use change over recent decades, 2) land intensification and land abandonment are both causing species homogenisation, and 3) biodiversity change processes are more pronounced in areas of high land use change rates.

Mariana comes to us after spending almost four years working in Brussels at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), where she worked on different biodiversity conservation-related projects, with her main focus being the assessment of species’ extinction risk as part of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. With her PhD project she aims to inform conservation action through science, specifically by modelling how plant species distributions will shift under climate change at two extreme biomes – the tundra and the savannah. In addition, she will research which traits make species more susceptible to population change and extinction, and whether the responses to climate change are generalizable or biome-specific.


First day of being a PhD student for Mariana and Gergana!

We also have three new honours students joining Team Shrub!

Claudia spent her summer in the Peruvian mountains studying plant traits, which inspired her to think about how biodiversity and species traits vary not just across latitudes, but also with different altitudes. It’s very cool to see how species change from tropical to more Mediterranean-looking to tundra-type ones! Snow in the tropics is not something we often imagine, or see! Claudia will aim to answer the research question: “How do traits and biodiversity change across altitude in the tropics and in the Arctic tundra?”

Matt had an exciting summer being a field assistant first in Honduras, and then in Kluane.  He collected data on bird species along elevation gradients in both regions, and will be investigating how feeding guilds vary across the tundra and rainforest, and along the elevation gradients.

In his honours project, Sam will focus on quantifying the above-ground carbon stored in Arctic ecosystems, in particular on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island Territorial Park. Over the summer, we collected biomass samples for Sam from several different species, we dried them over the fire in the Community House, and now that we are back in Edinburgh, Sam can start with his carbon and nitrogen analyses!

We have also led the first Coding Club workshop – exciting to see Coding Club back for a second year of coding and statistics inspiration and knowledge sharing! With Coding Club, we want to create a friendly environment in which we can learn about quantitative analysis together. Coding Club is for everyone – all students and staff are welcome to come along and participate, regardless of their current R knowledge. We were thrilled to see people returning to our workshops, as well as many new faces – with new students come new ideas, new research projects and new data presents to open. Ah, imagine the graphs!


The Coding Club cookies, featuring some pipes we piped!

Coding Club will soon celebrate its first birthday – in one year there have been many lines of code, the majority of them working, plus many workshops, posters and emails to spread the word. Every week there is a little pocket of R magic in our university building, though with over 50 people coming to our two workshops last week, the pocket doesn’t feel so little anymore! We have ambitious plans for developing Coding Club further, sharing what we have learned so far, and forming new collaborations. You can check out our tutorials on efficient data manipulation, data visualisation, mixed effects models and more on the Coding Club website. We are also very happy to have other people use our tutorials to deliver Coding Club workshops around the world, and would also love to have more people contribute online tutorials. If you are interested, you can get in touch with us at ourcodingclub (at)

A particularly great aspect of Coding Club’s first week back was that the workshops were lead by Sam and Claudia – two of Team Shrub’s new honours students. We hope to spread inspiration and motivation to learn through our workshops, and we were definitely inspired by Sam and Claudia’s great work! Coding can be scary and intimidating, but among the occasional fear and many R errors, we are glad that there is a place where we can brave the errors together and get better at finding the answers to our research questions.

And so begins a new chapter and a new year here at Edinburgh. We’re excited about what’s in store and looking forward to sharing our successes, setbacks, and many many shrubs with you over the next year.

Team Shrub Lab Meeting 2

The end of a chapter (and the drafting of many)

Perhaps it was when I was waving to someone with a rusty hammer across a dusty runway, dragging a sledge full of dead leaves. Or perhaps it was when digging sunflower seeds out of the snow at 6am, while listening out for birdcalls and watching for bears. Or maybe when burying teabags on a wet mountainside, hoping they didn’t blow away in the wind. Whenever it was, I came to the realisation that this mad adventure called a PhD is soon to be over.

Version 2

After a total of six months, spread out over three different years, my time in the north is drawing to a close. The final measurements are taken, wet pages of my field book filled up with tiny scribbles. Mountains have been scaled and sampled, boots have been worn through, bags have been torn to tatters. Shrubs carried, cut, caressed, planted and replanted, grown and died and grown again. The last scraps of data have been pulled out of the ground and worked through the night that never grows dark.

In some ways this is a celebration. After three years of hard work, from my desk in Edinburgh to the snowy mountainsides of Canada, an end is in sight. The experiments have been successful, the science exciting, the chapters and manuscripts drafted. I can reclaim my summers: the friends’ weddings, the chaos of Edinburgh fringe, the lost time with my wife. This time, though it has been my shortest season yet, there is a real sense to homecoming. A departure with no promise of return. A clearly defined, bold and underlined, full stop.

Yet there is no doubt that I will miss this ridiculous and fantastic part of the world. The mountains that stretch from trees to sky, with the tundra almost (but not quite) out of reach. The endless expanse of…everything, as if the Yukon has simply never heard of the word ‘moderation’. The endless days, and occasionally dark nights lit up by the promise of the northern lights. I’ll even miss the mosquitoes, but not for very long. Most of all I’ll miss the people that have made me feel so welcome here, especially Sian and Lance at Icefield Discovery and the Yukon Parks Rangers on Qikiqtaruk.

And so I will sign off for this year, and leave you with the words of another that could say things far better than I ever could.

“I am one of you no longer; by the trails my feet have broken,
The dizzy peaks I’ve scaled, the camp-fire’s glow;
By the lonely seas I’ve sailed in — yea, the final word is spoken,
I am signed and sealed to nature. Be it so.”
Robert Service


By Haydn

The tundra is cold

August, 2017

Up in the Ruby Range, beyond the treeline and where even the shrubby birches and rugged willows struggle to grow, it is snowing. The clouds are low, unfurling over the mountaintops, and thick snow is falling in fat flakes that rapidly turn the rocky ground white. Everywhere around the peaks have disappeared into a milky haze, earth and sky no longer distinguishable. It is a beautiful sight. Or at least, it would be if we didn’t still have eight hours of fieldwork to do.


The tundra is cold. Perhaps that is stating the obvious just a little bit, but after two weeks working in blazing sunshine and working on our tan lines, it is helpful (though not at all pleasant) to be reminded of the fact. Right now Team Kluane is camped out in the Ruby Range to the east of Kluane Lake, and it is very cold indeed. We have to brush the snow off the tent to open it up, and leave a deep trail of footprints as we walk to ‘the pod’, the white (and growing ever whiter) dome of comfort left over from when Pika Camp was a bustling hubbub of research activity. Even as the kettle whistles and fills the room with a column of steam (or is that just our breath?) we realise that our research for the day is in jeopardy as the seeds Matt and Cameron have to find for Anna Hargreaves’ herbivory experiment are soon to be completely lost under the blizzard.

Up here there is little time to rest, and when you do it gets even colder. The solution is simply to get on with it. We warm up as the day does, and the snow gradually recedes from the mountainside as the sun climbs just a little higher. Soon the leaves emerge once more and it is simply chilly. I even take off my hat. Briefly.

There is respite in the afternoon as we rest against the pod wall watching the cloud billow through the passes and listen out for snowy owls on the hillside. But all too soon the evening creeps up – not quite day but not quite dark. We retreat inside where the wind can’t reach us and mugs of hot chocolate await.

When we wake the next morning things are looking up. Peeking out of the folds in the sleeping bag there seems to be no snow on the roof of the tent. Nor is the wind that somehow pierces our many layers blowing. In fact, the tent doesn’t seem to be moving at all. As we open the tent, a snap and crackle of crystals soon tell us why – it has frozen solid. As I said, the tundra is cold.

By Haydn

Qikiqtaruk Book Club Part IV: Theory and high-level processes in the Arctic

August, 2017

Page after page, we have been pondering patterns and processes in community ecology under the sounds of gusting winds and heavy rain. From one storm to the next, when our field days were cut short, we could sit by the fire in the Community Building (the oldest building in the Yukon) and delve in deeper into Mark Vellend’s “The Theory of Ecological Communities”.


The Pauline Cove settlement with the Community Building reflecting in the water of the Arctic Ocean late at night in the transition from sunset to sunrise.

We talked about selection and the many selection-focused hypotheses of shaping and maintaining ecological communities, and singled out the ones most relevant to the tundra and our work. We then considered speciation, dispersal and drift, which still influence communities on the island, though they might not be as important relative to selection.

We have now wrapped up our field season and returned to Vancouver. Along with mailing away samples and inventorising equipment, we have also turned the final pages of Mark’s book. Here, we will share our final book club thoughts, with a particular focus on the theories, which relate most to our work in the tundra.

We see our study of vegetation change in the Arctic as being detective work – you figure out a question, gather evidence, open the data present, and interpret what it means. For us, explanation and prediction in ecology go hand in hand, and we aim to do both – you can’t make predictions without knowing how your system works. Although theory development is perhaps not the main motivation of our work, we don’t shy away from reading about different theories and seeing how they can inform our research. In fact, we go as far as playing “Guess the ecological theory” at breakfast – a stimulating start to the day!

We think of theory as a way to simplify complex ecological phenomena in order to make them generally applicable. The same rules don’t apply everywhere, though, and our goal is to find which rules are relevant for the tundra biome, not necessarily to extrapolate across the entire world. The same global change drivers have different impacts across the world’s biomes, making the drawing of universal conclusions even harder. Nevertheless, sometimes theory works, and here, we will present the Arctic edition of when that happens.

Table 1. Theories we consider relevant to tundra vegetation change and our work.

Theory Links to the tundra biome and our work
The competitive exclusion principle (Gause 1934) and R* theory (Tilman 1982) Competitive exclusion likely exists within the tundra biome with species competing for the limited resources of the tundra environment. Species have specific adaptations from forming tussocks to outcompete other species and form their own microclimate to having evergreen leaves allowing them to start photosynthesis as soon as the snow melts in spring. Each plant species has its own combination of traits to deal with the short growing seasons of the Arctic and those different traits likely promote coexistence. Each species likely does have its single resource for which it can survive at the lowest equilibrium level (R*), but figuring out which species are best adapted to exploiting which resource is a bit of a challenge.
Temporal and spatial storage effects (Chesson 2000b) – Selection spatially variable and negatively frequency dependent The spatial and temporal storage effect is likely at play in a major way the Arctic.  Species are specifically adapted to the harsh environmental conditions and can store resources for reproduction or growth during hard times that they can then use when conditions allow.  Some species are adapted to thriving under snow patches, others to coping with drought conditions, others to dealing with flooding and soil saturation yet all can cope with the cold.  These different sorts of adaptation can promote species coexistence and diversity across the tundra landscape.
Enemy-mediated coexistence (Holt et al. 1994) Enemies do exist in the tundra.  We have been monitoring herbivory sign for the past four years on the island and have found the rates of herbivory to be relatively low.  But the herbivores are out there and are a selective pressure in the landscape.  From leaf herbivores from caterpillars to lemmings to caribou, seed and fruit herbivores from fly larvae to humans, herbivores can take a bite out of the carefully allocated resources that tundra plants have invested in growth and reproduction. Likely herbivory is a bigger deal in places like the European Arctic or Northern Quebec where large herds of reindeer or caribou roam around munching on shrubs.  The main Porcupine Caribou heard doesn’t make it out to Qikiqtaruk and large animal herbivory rates are lower. How important is herbivory at sites across the Arctic?  Well that is something that the Herbivory Network is trying to figure out.
Priority effects (reviewed in Fukami 2010) Do initial colonists get an advantage in the tundra? Perhaps this is particularly relevant in the Herschel vegetation type where disturbance rates are lower and the species that invade first might be able to persist longer.
Multiple stable equilibria (reviewed in Scheffer 2009) Are there multiple stable states in the tundra?  This theory is probably quite relevant for the transition from sedge- or herb- to shrub-dominated tundra as tundra shrubification occurs as can be seen in repeat photographs on Qikiqtaruk.
Succession theory (Pickett et al. 1987) Succession is at play across the tundra biome where disturbance is likely the major factor shaping ecological communities.
Intermediate disturbance theory (Grime 1973, Connell 1978) The intermediate disturbance theory can be tested with our data – check out our plot of bare ground (a proxy for cryoturbation, a type of disturbance ) vs species richness at the plot level in 2017 (Figure 1).  Depending on how you look at it we either do or don’t see the expected hump-shaped relationship of species richness in relation to disturbance – in our case cryoturbation.
Metacommunities: species sorting (Leibold et al. 2004) – spatially variable selection, different species are at an advantage under different environmental conditions Species sorting and spatially variable selection due to different environmental conditions might explain the different plant communities that we see on the island. See the Book Club II blog post for more thoughts on selection.
The species pool hypothesis (Taylor et al. 1990) Different species pools sizes on the island or at a larger spatial scale within the tundra biome likely do influence local richness.  Through the ArcFunc project we can test this theory further. You can also check out our species-accumulation curves (Figure 2).
Island biogeography (MacArthur and Wilson 1967) Island Biogeography can be tested using breakfast cereal, so it probably is at play in the tundra biome with distance from glacial refugia being a key factor.  Isolation could explain the species richness and ecological communities on Qikiqtaruk relative to the adjacent mainland.  And certainly, island isolation creates barriers limiting the expansion of tall shrub species within the Arctic at the biome scale.



Figure 1. Species-accumulation curves for the Herschel and Komakuk vegetation types. Distance refers to the distance away from our community composition plots. In Herschel, most of the species are found close to the plots, and the relationship quickly saturates, whereas in Komakuk, as we move further away from the plots, we continue to find new species.


Figure 2. Species richness and bareground cover in the Herschel and Komakuk vegetation types of Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island. Points represent mean species richness for 12 plots monitored from 1999 to 2017 ± standard deviation. Darker colours represent overlapping points. The Herschel vegetation type has very little bare ground (apart from that one plot!), whereas in Komakuk, bare ground is a defining characteristic of the vegetation type.

Our work on tundra vegetation change spans across several different levels of analysis, which together will hopefully shed light on how communities in the Arctic are responding to global change drivers. We are monitoring particular individuals for phenology, and surveying 12 x 1 m2 community composition plots on one Arctic island, four pairs of 100 m2 plots for our drone surveys (in the Herschel and Komakuk communities), large-extent sites part of the HiLDEN network, and finally the tundra biome, which we can study as a whole thanks to the ITEX and ShrubHub networks. We are investigating how community composition is changing by studying species and traits in collaboration with the Tundra Trait Team. Along the way, we often come across what Mark calls the “three-box problem” – there will probably always be silent or ‘lurking’ variables we fail to account for, and drawing the line between causation and correlation is rarely easy.

Do we observe different species in a particular place because the environment is different, or is the environment different, because the species are different? What is the trade-off between diversity and invasibility? This year, we recorded the same number of species (32) in both the Herschel and Komakuk plots, but the Komakuk plots are probably more susceptible to invasions, since with more bare ground patches, there is more room for new species to germinate and establish. Alopecurus alpinus has already taken advantage of this opportunity, and more species might follow soon, as from our species pool survey, we found that there are many more species found close by to our plots in both the Komakuk and Herschel vegetation types.

Having read “The Theory of Ecological communities”, spent many hours out in the field and conducted preliminary analyses of our collected data, we think that species sorting  and the metacommunity framework, applies best to Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island. Here, we can observe very strong spatially variable selection, leading to the establishment and presence of distinct vegetation communities. Although of relatively less importance, patch dynamics could also be at play – spatial and temporal variation in selection could cause local extinction, and dispersal could lead to (re)colonisation of certain species. Such is the case with the grass species Alopecurus alpinus that colonised our Komakuk community composition plots between 2004 and 2009. The neutral framework, on the other hand, has little application in the Arctic context, because drift is not a dominant force shaping ecological communities here. Mass effects, whereby selection is spatially variable and not strong enough to prevent immigrants from establishing sink populations, is also likely of little relevance to the tundra, since selection here is very strong, potentially preventing new immigrants from establishing in the first place.

The Theory of Ecological Communities

Isla’s copy of The Theory of Ecological Communities that looks like it has been eaten by a polar bear! But it was actually partially eaten by a dog. Clearly a book you can really chew on – some ecological theory you can bite into… photo credit to Cameron who is reading the book next!

We thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Theory of Ecological Communities” whilst on fieldwork at our remote field site in the Canadian Arctic. There is particular charm in reading about a certain ecological process, be it high- or low-level, and then observing it in action moments later in the field. We look forward to continued discussions of the synthesis of ecological theory, but definitely agree with Mark that four high-level processes do shape community composition – selection, speciation, dispersal and drift.

By Gergana and Isla


This blog post was written on Qikiqtaruk-Herschel Island in the Western Canadian Arctic as part of Team Shrub’s island book club, aiming to read and discuss Mark Vellend’s 2016 book “The Theory of Ecological Communities” while we are out in the field, right next to the communities we study.  Team Shrub are a group of plant ecologists who often work in high-latitude tundra ecosystems on topics in community ecology.

The team’s book club discussions are summarised in four blog posts: