Saturday 5 September 2015

Latest issue of New Journal of Botany coming soon

Apologies to our members that publication of your August issue of New Journal of Botany has been unavoidably delayed. We are very sorry that you are having to wait a little longer than expected, but the new issue should be available on-line by the end of the week and in print soon after. 

Simon looking pleased: could it be
because his paper is finally being published
in New Journal of Botany?
Image courtesy of S. Smart
In the meantime, we can offer you the inside story of how a long-awaited paper in the next issue of New Journal of Botany came to be published. 'Common plants as indicators of habitat suitability for rare plants; quantifying the strength of the association between threatened plants and their neighbours' is co-authored by S. M. Smart, S. Jarvis, K. J. Walker, P. A. Henrys, O. L. Pescott and R. H. Marrs. 

It's quite a long tale which starts over a decade ago, then hits what seemed at the time to be an insurmountable problem, until help came along in the form of BSBI's project to... but I'll let lead author Simon Smart tell you the whole story:

"We are proud to present this paper in the next issue of New Journal of Botany. It has been a long time in the making. It all started in 2003 when I led a DEFRA-funded project looking at ways of modelling the impact of atmospheric nitrogen deposition on plant species and vegetation. We had begun developing regression-type niche models for many common plants; a system later to become the MultiMOVE package also reported in the forthcoming issue of New Journal of Botany!"

[You will also be able to read 'Niche models for British plants and lichens obtained using an ensemble approach' by P. A. Henrys, S. M. Smart, E. C. Rowe, S. G. Jarvis, Z. Fang, C. D. Evans, B. A. Emmett and A. Butler in the new issue of New Journal of Botany.]

Back to Simon and the problem he was chewing over: "Basically this means coming up with a numerical way of describing where a species tends to live in terms of those environmental factors that affect it. So a plant species niche model quantifies for example whether a species likes a drier climate, grows in short vegetation and at low fertility but high soil pH. 

"Simon realises the wonderful import
of his idea, and, for a moment, forgets
 to give the world his normally
ever-present smile"
Caption: Oli Pescott
Selfie with Skunk Cabbage: Simon Smart
"An outstanding question was how to model the niches of rare plants. The big problem was a simple lack of data. What we needed were quadrats that recorded both rare species and the common species with which they grew, but with enough quadrats to meaningfully represent the species’ ecological range across Britain. 

"As part of the Nitrogen Impacts Project, Mark Hill and David Roy initially trialled a method based on the association between common and rare plants. 

"The idea is that rare species tend to grow with particular groups of more common or even other rare species. I think the first person I heard talk about this was Phil Grime referring to these faithful neighbours as ‘pals’ of the rare plant. 

"The big problem was simply lack of data to carry out a meaningful test across many species. At the time it seemed that there must also be a way of factoring in the commonness of the species growing with the rarity but without including endless numbers of plots in which the rarity was never likely to grow. 

"Mark Hill described a situation for example in which you might think of including plots without the rarity, but where should you draw the line? Plots from, say, a rainforest in Borneo wouldn’t be likely to sample a British rare plant yet these absence data would appear to increase the accuracy of your model! But is it really sensible to include them?"

We need to leave Simon at this point, wondering where to draw the line and with his excellent idea shelved due to lack of data. Tune in tomorrow to find out what happened next, the role played by BSBI members and how the paper finally came to be published.

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