Meet our new PeerJ Section Editor – Richard Schuster

by | May 20, 2022 | Announcement, sections

We are delighted to welcome Dr. Richard Schuster as our newest Section Editor for PeerJ Life and Environment’s Biodiversity and Conservation Section.

Richard is the Director of Spatial Planning and Innovation at the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and an Adjunct Research Professor at Carleton University, studying the ecological impacts of human activities and developing novel techniques to prioritize conservation areas and strategies. Within his role as Director at the NCC, he is responsible for the development and implementation of NCC’s conservation planning framework, strategic conservation planning research efforts and new conservation technology initiatives. Richard also provides leadership to improve best practices and skills for spatial planning practitioners, and to creatively respond to new and emerging conservation questions. His work incorporates a range of strategic conservation plan development, research, managerial and technical responsibilities.

Richard has a theoretical and applied background in quantitative ecology and statistics and spatial big data analysis. In 2014, he obtained his PhD from the University of British Columbia, with his research focusing on systematic conservation planning in human-dominated landscapes and developing novel techniques to maximize efficiency in biodiversity conservation via carbon sequestration and land management.

We caught up with Richard to find out more about him, his research and his hopes for PeerJ’s Biodiversity and Conservation Section.

Hi Richard, thanks for agreeing to be a PeerJ Section Editor. Please can you tell us a little about yourself?

I used to be a software developer. After vocational school in electrical engineering (in Austria), I created games for casino machines using C++. The industry was crocked, but I loved coding. I got to a point that I could not recall what happened during my 30-minute commute to and from work. All I did was think about the code.

This preoccupation didn’t seem healthy to me, so I decided to change careers. My love of the outdoors drew me to Biology, and later that year I started university for the first time, studying animal behavior and ecology.

Ecology really seemed to be a good fit, as I was able to spend time outdoors, collect data and also had a lot of fun, just running through the snow chasing animal tracks. But of course, my past caught up with me. For one of my undergrad projects, I started to code again. I developed the graphical user interface for a cricket movement tracking device. I also really enjoyed digging up the Lego blocks I used in my childhood to create a low-cost calibration gadget for the device.

I really got back into coding when I started my PhD and learned to use R. I eventually started developing analytical tools for researchers and practitioners to use in conservation planning and outreach, ranging from data visualization to complex decision support tools.

What research are you currently focusing on?

The main area of research we are currently focusing on is “Prioritizing resources for conserving biodiversity in Canada”. This project is a partnership between NCC, Carleton University and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). Together with our Carleton and ECCC partners we are developing evidenced-based, decision-support tools that help us prioritize resources for biodiversity conservation. This is important because over 700 species are at risk of extinction in Canada. If we lose them, the aesthetic, economic and cultural values they provide us will disappear forever. Threats to species at risk are often most acute in southern areas of our country, where our highest biological diversity overlaps with our largest human populations. In these areas in particular, partnerships to protect and steward both private and public lands will be necessary to prevent extinctions. However, given development pressure and limited resources, it is crucial that decisions for conserving and stewarding lands are made as effectively as possible. To this end, we are developing tools and methods to make better conservation decisions.

Our goals are to produce user-friendly decision support tools for land acquisition, stewardship and monitoring, and to develop methods that ensure the potential of these tools is fully realized. The tools will exploit recent developments we have made in optimizing conservation decisions, including decisions of where and when to manage, and where and when to monitor to reduce uncertainty. They will be used by NCC and ECCC to help set national priorities for land acquisition, stewardship and monitoring.

We will also consult outside of our partner agencies, to ensure that our tools are compatible with the needs and values of Indigenous land managers and local land trusts. In addition to these tools, we will develop methods for more effective collection and use of data for conservation decisions, specifically to understand how connections among habitats should be considered in conservation decisions, and to better integrate community science into monitoring programs to inform management. We will also develop better ways of incentivizing community science and community-driven land stewardship activities. Finally, we will use our tools as virtual laboratories to examine thousands of potential conservation scenarios and derive general guidelines that land managers can use when they do not have the time or resources for detailed prioritization activities.

What persuaded you to become a PeerJ Section Editor?

Ever since I heard about PeerJ I was fascinated by the journal and its approach to publishing scientific papers. I published my first paper with PeerJ in 2013 and wrote about the experience in a PeerJ Blog post. One of the answers I gave there still rings true for me today: “I first read about PeerJ in a Nature article talking about Open Access. As I am very interested in Open Access and the availability of scientific results to the general public, I was very interested to look PeerJ up. What I found was an outstanding new venue in terms of innovative publishing, and the more I read about PeerJ the more I thought I should try to support this new journal and publish my work there.”

Since that first experience, I have published two more papers in PeerJ, submitted one Preprint, and reviewed two manuscripts. As a way to contribute to PeerJ’s efforts, I also signed on as an editor and have so far handled twelve manuscripts, ten of which have since been published in PeerJ.

When PeerJ approached me about becoming a PeerJ Section Editor recently I saw this as a great opportunity to further contribute to PeerJ’s mission. One part of the “What we believe” section of the PeerJ website that really stands out for me is: “Academics are our customers. We treat authors, reviewers and editors with the utmost respect. We work in the service of academia, not the other way round.” As a PeerJ Section Editor I am happy to further contribute to this effort.

Are there exciting areas of research you’d be particularly interested in seeing submitted to the journal?

I’m excited about all things Biodiversity and Conservation. I personally am always keen to read more about the use of community science information in conservation work, but that’s just me. It would be great if we would see more manuscripts on conservation success stories submitted to PeerJ. Learning from others what has worked well for them and the biodiversity where they work is always very encouraging.

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