The researcher and his research:
Roy got his scientific start at Ulster University, in his native Northern Island, where he completed a Bachelor of Science. Just a short time later he moved on to Bangor University in Wales, where he finished a PhD, before crossing the Atlantic and accepting a post-doctoral position with the University of Western Ontario. He joined faculty at the University of British Columbia in 1977, where he was based for the next 37 years until his retirement in 2015. Roy is foremost a plant ecologist who has conducted field research in a wide variety of ecosystems such as the Kluane region of the Arctic, the Garry Oak meadows on Vancouver Island and the grasslands of interior British Columbia, but also stretching further abroad to the Negev Desert in Israel and the forests of Southern China (Fraser et al. 2016). His many years of research have been in pursuit of ecology’s fundamental question: What determines which species we find in certain locations, and how do the communities they produce function? To answer this and related questions, he has combined surveys with manipulations in field plots (some as large as 1 km2) to test the main determinants of community structure such as competition, stress and disturbance.
The dataset and the rescue operation:
The dataset involved in this project is a compilation of nearly 20 years of data, on an experiment designed to tease apart bottom up vs. top down controls on understory plants in the Yukon. One of the main herbivores in this system is the snowshoe hare, famous for its cyclical population dynamics. For the first decade of a factorial experiment, fertilizer was added to half the plots, and snowshoe hare herbivory was excluded. After 10 years, each plot was permanently divided in half where treatment was stopped, enabling Turkington’s team to measure recovery of the communities. The data consists of species richness and percent cover data for nearly 80 species of understory plants at two sites, each with 16 plots. At the beginning of the Living Data Project internship, the data was in multiple spreadsheets for each year. As you can imagine with a long-term experiment, there were many technicians involved in collecting data, each with their own way of recording and entering data. The main task behind the data rescue was to re-format each file into a readable, tidy, long format and eventually joined into a single dataset. A second large challenge was the method used to record species’ names: sometimes as just a genus name, other times a common name like ‘other grasses’, and, occasionally, just a number – which was eventually discovered to correspond to a species name recorded in a log book. Data checks were built into the code to make sure there are no discernable data entry errors. Rank abundance plots were also made to visualize the change in species abundance over time; this step allows us to be confident that various field technicians were identifying species correctly.
Sources used in this project description:
Fraser, L., Cahill, J., & Lortie, C. (2016). Roy Turkington and his legacy to the science of plant ecology. Plant Ecology, 217. doi.org/10.1007/s11258-016-0661-2