Our research focuses on the population dynamics of plants and how they are influenced by impacts of natural disturbances and global environmental change. We are particularly interested in the interactive effects of fire, grazing and drought in grasslands and woodlands in southern Australia, and how climate change, fragmentation and shrub encroachment affect ecosystems.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Ecology Apps.....for Christmas?

I've just upgraded my mobile phone and got myself a smartphone. My Grad Students would perhaps say it's about time I got into the year 2012 (which is not so great given it'll be 2013 in a little over a week). It's not that I don't like technology; rather, I'm a slow adopter. My current phone works fine, and I do hate the idea of consumerism.

But, I've bitten the bullet. One of the reasons was that Nick Bell, a Summer Research Student working on our long-term ecological plots examining alpine vegetation change, recently showed me how useful smartphones can be for the average field ecologist. While he was talking to me about technology stuff that seemed to be based on the English language, he showed me two simple Apps that I might find useful.
Nick talking to John
(thanks to Calvin & Hobbes)

One was an app to help measure tree heights (Smart Measure). Having recently done this with Nick in the field the old fashioned way - tape measure, compasses, pythagoras' calculations - this seemed really simple and effective. Then, he showed me how you could ghost an image on the screen while trying to re-take the same image. This would be awesome for my re-photography work that I am currently undertaking, comparing photos from the 1930s with the current day.

Measuring tree height is easy. Right?
Source: http://www.nativetreesociety.org/measure/tree_measuring_guidelines.htm

I went away and started to do some research. Not on getting a smartphone, but on the apps that I could use in ecology. Very quickly, I was thinking "hmmm, there's a lot of technology available that is cheap, accessible, and that I've totally overlooked".

One of the sites I found was Emilio Bruna's excellent 'Mobile Ecology' webpage. This page lists a bunch of apps for research, teaching and outreach (with a US emphasis, so I guess I'll have to look for the Australian equivalent). If you're interested in such things, it is well worth a look. My favourite was the app called RInstructor - this looks like something that will really facilitate my learning and use of R, particularly how to customise plots.

So, with Christmas coming up, I might just have to treat myself and upload (or is that download) a couple of these apps to see whether my investment in a new phone was actually worth it! In any case, I can see great potential in this technology to help me facilitate my data collection and efficiency in the field.

Merry Christmas, and best of wishes for the New Year. I look forward to writing more about plant ecology in southern Australia in 2013.  JOHN