Biodiversity Discussion Group 


The Biodiversity Discussion Group meets weekly to discuss recent research papers and topics in biodiversity from both ecological and evolutionary perspectives. 

Any interested undergraduates, graduates, postdocs, and faculty are welcome to join the discussion. This is a friendly place - the question you have is probably a fundamental question many are wondering about. So speak up. 

Time: Mondays noon to 1 pm (bring a lunch)

Location: Rm 225 Biodiversity Research Centre (2nd floor; Sinclair Room). 

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Please e-mail Benjamin Freeman if you have questions.

Fall 2019 Schedule



Readings, tasks etc.


Sep 9

Set schedule for fall 

1. Show up & say hi

2. Eat lunch (bring your own) & snacks (I provide)

3. Share what topics/papers you want to discuss in BDG this fall. 

4. Discuss & come to consensus about highest priority topics/papers.

5. Set schedule for BDG fall 2019.

Ben Freeman

Sep 16

The Science of Doubt

Topic: We do science to understand what is true. But there are multiple sources of error that can lead us astray. 

What to do: Watch Mike Whitlock’s American Naturalist lecture (starts at around 11 minute mark, or take a look at his slides (link). 

To start the discussion: Think about the sources of error Mike describes, and the degree to which these apply to your research. Then think about Mike’s proposed solutions. Would you adopt his suggestions for your next research project? Which suggestions do you think are the most important for the ecology/evolution research community to adopt?

Ben Freeman

Sep 23

We should all be theoretical biologists

Read this paper (link). 

The argument is that we should all be (to some degree) theoretical biologists. Agree? disagree? let’s talk about it.

Ken Thompson

Sep 30

Insect declines

For BDG, I'll lead a discussion on the so-called 'insect apocalypse'. For context, in early 2019, Sánchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys published a paper claiming that "dramatic rates of decline may lead to the extinction of 40% of the world's insect species over the next few decades".  This paper was picked up by media all over the world, including The Guardian ("Plummeting insect numbers threaten collapse of nature").  The paper was also widely criticized, eg. Simmons et al 2019, Thomas et al 2019, and Ed Yong's column.

Please read the two short commentaries (Simmons et al 2019, Thomas et al 2019) and if you are interested you can take a look at the original paper (Sánchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys).

I'll share some new data from an undergrad in my lab that quantifies trends in insect species richness over time. I'd also like us to discuss our responsibilities as scientists in calling out bad science, despite what seems to be increased distrust in science.

happy reading,


Michelle Tseng

Oct 7

Patches & chemical defense

Read this paper (link). 

The question is: Why do plants have such variable defenses? The authors argue for a novel explanation focusing on data showing that herbivorous insects change their gut when they eat plants with different defenses, that such gut changes carry costs, and that these costs make it harder for herbivorous insects to defend themselves.

Juli Carrillo

Oct 14


Canadian Thanksgiving

Oct 21

Land sparing, land sharing & ecosystem services 


Read this paper (link). 

The authors take on the land sharing vs. land sparing debate, and argue that bringing ecosystem services into the picture is a helpful angle to move the field forward. In particular they focus on connectivity at the landscape level. What do you think? Are you convinced?

Jared Grummer

Oct 28

Spectral diversity

Read this paper (link).

Some questions to consider:

Is how we think about light in nature misguided? 

How can we incorporate spectral diversity measures into experiments? 

Could we ever understand how spectral differences among species may have evolved? 

How can spectral diversity help us better understand ecological and evolutionary patterns of species distributions? 

Does spectral diversity force us to think about light differently (in experiments where only UV ranges are measured)?

Darwin Sodhi

Nov 4

 Information in ecology & evolution

Read this paper (link).

Try this exercise:

List all the different types of information your focal study organism (pick one) is responding to

Some questions to consider:

What isn’t information?

What novel insights can this perspective provide?

How would experiments and data analysis look different for tests of information theory than the usual?

How do you decide what kind of information is important to account for?

Rachel Germain / Chelsea Little

Nov 11


Remembrance Day

Nov 18

The biodiversity - disease debate

Read this paper (link).

1. what relationship do you think there is between disease and diversity in your system?

2. what mechanisms might be driving the relationship between spatial scale and the biodiversity-disease response?

3. are there other aspects of biodiversity that should be considered for predicting disease responses that aren’t discussed in this paper?

Alyssa Gehman

Nov 25

assessing the Impact Assessment Act

The office of the Chief Science Advisor (Mona Nemer) is developing a policy that will shape the third-year review of the new Impact Assessment Act (formerly the Environmental Assessment Act), specifically with respect to the use of scientific evidence and scientific integrity.

I have been asked to convene a discussion group at UBC to read over the draft policy document and provide feedback.  Of particular interest to the person developing the document (Scott Findlay) are the following questions:

(1) Are the evaluation criteria (s. 4) appropriate?

(2) Is the scoping (s. 9.1) of the initial review appropriate?

(3) Are the performance indicators in Appendix B adequate? Should some be added?  Subtracted?

If you are interested in participating in this special BDG on Monday November 25 (noon, Biodiversity 225), please email Sally Otto otto AT for the draft policy.  Note that the draft is confidential and is not meant to be circulated outside of the discussion group.


Sally Otto

Sally Otto 

Dec 2

prediction in climate science (and biology)

read this paper (link).

climate science is successful because climate scientists have built models that generate good predictions for how climate is changing. we biologists are far behind in our ability to make good predictions for biological responses to climate change. 

Do you think the analogy of climate: biological systems for prediction is a good one? 

When (if ever) will biologists be able to make good predictions for biological responses to climate change in the same way that climate scientists make good predictions for climate change? 

Patrick Thompson