A blog post by Maria Paniw
Take a look at recent publications in peer-reviewed journals or popular science magazines and you cannot miss the two big trends: big data and comparative analyses. Recent reviews suggest that future groundbreaking, socially relevant science will be achieved through large collaborative efforts bringing together multiple datasets for a global comparison of ecological phenomena. Recently (April 2016), a group of researchers working on various topics related to life-history strategies got a taste of how open-access outputs of such collaborative efforts can be used for comparative analyses. And using the COMPADRE and COMADRE databases, together with other (see below) open-access data repositories was a big part of the experience.
Young academics from around the world met in the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, Germany for a week-long workshop titled “Comparative Approaches in Ecology and Evolution” as part of the programme of International Advanced Studies in Demography. The course was a unique opportunity to learn how to extract information from various open-access databases. The teaching was done, via lectures and, importantly, lots of R code (!), by an impressive number of instructors – all experts in functional ecology, demography and/or phylogenetic analyses. All work had one goal: examining global drivers of life history strategies using robust statistical tools on large datasets. In the process, participants were introduced, among many others, to CLOPLA, a database on clonal traits in plants, or DATLife, providing mortality and fertility data for numerous species.
The COMPADRE Plant Matrix Database, along with COMADRE Animal Matrix Database, played a central role throughout the workshop. Of course, the fact that the core team of both databases organized the event played a part in this. At the same time, it was evident that the hard work put forth to make COM(P)ADRE easily accessible to researchers – including the ease to download the data and the detailed manuals – paid off. Working in groups, participants were encouraged to develop projects related to life-history analysis using open-access data – and several groups decided to work with COMPADRE/COMADRE. These projects included investigating environmental drivers behind demographic variability, correlating matrix projections of extinction probability with the IUCN Red List, or tracing phylogenetic signals in life-history traits. Preliminary outputs of these projects were promising – stay tuned to read about papers that will surely come out of these projects.
To sum up, the workshop was a great success, despite the “spring weather” in Rostock, and will hopefully be repeated in the future.
PhD candidate at the Universidad de Cádiz, Spain