Our one thousandth post!

(Wikimedia Commons, with an edit by jby)

About six months after The Molecular Ecologist‘s tenth anniversary, we’ve hit another round-number milestone — this post is the one thousandth published on the site. I’ll refer you to that anniversary post for a rundown of highlights from the nine hundred and ninety nine that precede it. For this one, I thought I’d turn the focus outward — to our readers, and to what we’ve got to offer in the new year.

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Yikes. This year has been a doozy, and while we all know that the hand on the wall (if you have one of those old fashioned things) that strikes midnight on December 31st will not put out the dumpster fires that we are living amongst, we can hope that 2021 will (maybe….possibly) bring something good… yes, I’m knocking on wood.

I know I’m not alone, but I’ve recently heard a bunch about viruses. Maybe it’s fitting to end this chapter of what has turned out to be a completely wild year, by learning even more about viruses…of the giant variety.

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The Molecular Ecologist Podcast: Science and scholarship in the pandemic year

A new episode of The Molecular Ecologist Podcast is now out on Anchor.fm. In this episode, Stacy Krueger-Hadfield, R Shawn Abrahams, and Jeremy Yoder chat about their experiences managing research, teaching, and scientific conferences in the year of COVID-19.

(This episode was recorded back in October, but production’s been delayed because of, well, everything. It’s still a pretty good retrospective on a strange and challenging year!)

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Happy Thanksgiving: COVID-19 style

It was the Ides of March in 2020 when I moved from California to Europe. Thanksgiving marks March 271st. I was still a postdoc in Jonathan Eisen’s lab at UC Davis and my contract would have ended in the end of August 2020. In March 2020, my husband and I were in the process of booking a container to bring our belongings through the Panamá Canal to Europe. He was applying for jobs in Germany, I had already an offer, and we were looking at schools for our children. I was in the middle of analyzing my data I had collected during one of the many field trips to Central America in the months before, when my mom from Switzerland called and told us we have to come now. Switzerland is closing its borders in the next few days and many European countries are already closed!

Graphical abstract for Thanksgiving methods. Idea by Grace Ho @Gracegusta. Sorry Canadians, that this idea comes a bit too late!
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GEOME is putting genetic data in its place

Records for sequenced mollusk samples along the southern California coast (GEOME)

Infrastructure to make genetic data widely available for research beyond its initial publication has been a theme of the genomics revolution, from GenBank to the Sequence Read Archive. For molecular ecologists, though, genetic data is only half of our field — the other half is the ecological context in which that data is collected. This month, Molecular Ecology Resources highlights an initiative to bring that ecological context to genetic data archiving: the Genomic Observatories Metadatabase, or GEOME.

Led by Cynthia Riginos at the University of Queensland, Eric Crandall at Penn State, Libby Liggins at Massey University, and Michelle Gaither at the University of Central Florida, the GEOME collaborators present the case for creating yet another data deposition service: although there are a number of established databases for public deposition of genetic and ecological data, no one repository linked both types together. GEOME, which launched in 2017, offers a single metadata framework to link DNA sequence or marker data to sample locality and ecological measurements.

GEOME allows researchers to create records linked to sequence data they’ve already posted to a public repository — or, now, to upload samples to the International Nucleotide Sequence Data Collaboration SRA alongside ecological data through a single unified portal. Datasets are then searchable through the GEOME website, which includes multiple levels of search control alongside a useful map visualization, or through a new R package that interacts with the GEOME API.

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Fieldwork in the time of COVID

Life as we knew it came to a screeching halt back in March. Almost a year ago, how is that possible??? Yet, at the same time it feels like several lifetimes have passed …

At a recent editorial meeting, we were talking about TME posts and in the past, I’ve written about fieldwork. I always felt fortunate to be able to travel to far flung places, but I don’t think I truly appreciated how much being out in the field really meant to me. In between bouts of existential dread and complete overwhelmed-ness over the last 9-odd months, I’ve realized how much I took for granted. Fieldwork was one thing that was simply part of the fabric of my life.

Our time in the field entails long days of driving hither and yon, sampling (often in hot, humid weather or the freezing rain – we like extremes I guess), and then processing late into the night. At some point Cher, Céline, or some other guilty pleasure musician make an appearance to get us through the slog – whether in the lab or on the road. Sometimes, we’re processing samples in a nice lab. Other times, we’re sitting backwards on a toilet in a Motel6 using the tank lid as a makeshift bench. We eat too much McDonald’s, go back for more and regret it immediately. Yet, these are the times of the year I find myself anxiously awaiting, counting down the days on my calendar until we are on the road.

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Join the Molecular Ecologist team in 2021!

Blue skies and white clouds mirrored in a broad bay
One of Kelle Freel’s fieldwork nostalgia photos, from Kāneʻohe Bay, Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi

The Molecular Ecologist is seeking two new regular contributors for 2021! Join us in blogging about “ecology, evolution, and everything in between.”

Ideal candidates should have expertise and experience in our core topic, the use of genetic data to understand the past and future of the living world. We’re particularly interested in senior graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and other working scientists who can discuss basic science on a level that engages research biologists, as well as explaining fundamental molecular ecology concepts to the general public. The two contributors in the 2021 cohort will receive small stipends for their first year with the blog, in exchange for committing to posting on a monthly basis, helping to manage social media for TME — either our Twitter account or our presence on Facebook — and contributing to the Molecular Ecologist Podcast.

In addition to the direct compensation, blogging for The Molecular Ecologist can be an excellent way to hone familiarity with current molecular ecology research, establish connections within the scientific community, and build a portfolio of science writing for a broader audience. In light of this, we are particularly interested in applications from candidates whose racial, ethnic, sexual, or gender identities are underrepresented in science careers.

To apply, please e-mail Jeremy Yoder at jbyoder@gmail.com with a brief cover letter explaining (1) why you want to write for The Molecular Ecologist and (2) what topics you would write about for the site, along with (3) an appropriate sample of your writing. Applications should be received by the end of the day on 11 December, 2020 to ensure consideration.

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Hosts select symbionts for greater mutual benefit, an evolutionary experiment shows

The roots of a barrel medick plant, with pink nodules housing rhizobia. (Wikimedia Commons: Ninjatacoshell)

Who’s in charge of a symbiotic mutualism? You might think the host organism, whose body is the venue for an exchange of nutrients or services with a microbial symbiont, is running the show, able to evict or punish symbionts that don’t play nice. However, there are many examples of hosts making do with symbionts that aren’t particularly good partners, and some evolutionary theory has suggested that competing symbionts can gain the upper hand. Results from an evolutionary experiment recently reported in the journal Science lend support to the host-in-the-driver-seat view, though — bacterial symbionts selected by five generations of hosts evolved to be better mutualists.

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Take the Molecular Ecologist reader survey!

Following up on this being our tenth year of blogging operations, we thought it was past time to check in with you, our readers. To that end, we’ve put together a brief survey about how you read The Molecular Ecologist, what kinds of posts you follow us for and what you’d like to see more of, and who you are — in terms of career stage and scientific interests. There’s also an open-ended suggestion box, to tell us what we should have asked about but didn’t think to.

In total it should take less than ten minutes, and if you’ve got the time to spare, it’ll be very helpful. You can fill the survey form in right here on the blog, or follow this link to the Google Form. Thanks in advance!

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Marmots, seasons, and climate change

I love when nostalgia for a project, place, or species intersects with a current interest, as happened this week for me with a paper by Cordes et al. 2020, about the contrasting effects of climate change on the seasonal survival of yellow-bellied marmots in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

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