Author Interview – Richard Schuster

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Richard Schuster is the first author of the recent PeerJ article “Using multi-scale distribution and movement effects along a montane highway to identify optimal crossing locations for a large-bodied mammal community”. He is currently finishing his PhD at the Centre for Applied Conservation Research at the University of British Columbia, Canada. His research focuses on maximizing biodiversity conservation in high human impact areas, using carbon credit sales and incentives for land owners to make conservation more affordable. He has a background in ecology and software development, which is why he is also interested in advancing methodological approaches in ecology, especially species distribution models. We were very interested in hearing about his experience with us.

PJ: Richard, tell us a bit about the research you published with us, and what is the take-home message of your article?

RS: In this paper we used a multi-scale approach to independently identify preferred road approach (up to 1km) and highway crossing areas, for a multi-species mammal community. This combined strategy could help improve animal movement across barriers such as roads, by prioritizing both areas along the road where mammals may approach and ultimately cross it. We further contrasted multiple modeling scales (e.g., 500m, 1km, etc.) and found that a method that explicitly incorporated several scales is in most cases superior to single scale approaches. Lastly, we compared predictive models using variables obtained from a labour and cost-intensive method (hand digitized air photos) versus freely available remote sensed predictor variables and found that using remote sensed variables outperformed costly ones in direct comparison.

PJ: Your study was conducted along Highway 3 in south-eastern British Columbia, Canada. Why did you choose this area?

RS: The study area was chosen for its ecological importance as a trans-boundary priority area identified by the Yellowstone to Yukon conservation initiative that connects small populations of carnivores such as grizzly bears and lynx south of the Canada – United States border, with more robust populations on the Canadian side. Highway 3 bisects this important corridor, possibly leading to negative effects on the connectivity of this movement corridor for mammal populations. As an added benefit it’s a beautiful region that makes fieldwork very enjoyable.

PJ: Do you think your study might be applicable to other areas where roads bisect wildlife habitat?

RS: Yes. We were trying to provide a method that is widely applicable and one important result of this work was that freely-available remotely-sensed habitat landscape data were better than more costly, manually-digitized microhabitat maps in supporting models that identified preferred crossing sites. We used LANDSAT based remote sensed data in our study, which is a dataset that is freely available worldwide, which would allow others to apply our approach in their region easily.

PJ: What challenges did you face while doing this research?

RS: This research started as my master’s project at the University of Graz, Austria. As I conducted the fieldwork in Canada, I got very little support from my home university, because this study was not conducted at an established research site or with institutional collaborations, but out of my own initiative. This meant that logistics and supplies were my responsibility and when the research vehicle I used broke down in the beginning of the second season I almost had to give up the data collection as I did not have the funds to pay for repairs. Luckily it all worked out in the end though and I am very happy with the end product.

PJ: What a great story! And did you find anything surprising or unexpected while conducting your research?

RS: When collecting the data I was really surprised with how few carnivore tracks I found. Over two data collection seasons I didn’t find any tracks of lynx or wolverine and only tracks of one wolf pack, but no crossing attempts for that species. And even though I recorded several tracks of cougars away from the highway, only one highway-crossing attempt was made. These findings are somewhat reflected in the very low highway permeability scores for carnivores, but as we recorded tracks relatively close to the highway we likely overestimated permeability in certain cases by not considering the density of animals in areas further away from the highway.

PJ: Where do you hope to go from here? What is next in your research?

RS: I am currently working on maximizing biodiversity conservation and securing carbon as investments in habitat and biodiversity conservation are critically needed to counteract the effects of climate change and unprecedented rates of ecological degradation and species extinction.  New approaches to conservation include maximizing the resilience of native communities to human-induced environmental change by promoting stewardship at landscape levels. Carbon payments can help mitigate the negative effects change by making conservation more affordable. We are trying to show how carbon payments can be used offset land acquisition costs, optimize conservation outcomes for native bird communities, and create landscape-level conservation area designs that are resilient to climate change.

PJ: What is the audience that you wish to reach publishing with us, and what kinds of lessons do you hope the public takes away from your findings?

RS: We are hoping to reach both researchers and managers working on road mitigation issues, as well as non-scientists who have an interest in the negative effects highways and roads can have on animal populations. We hope that our findings will help increase the public awareness that road crossings are important for many species and that a systematic approach should be taken to help increase highway permeability to allow populations to cross these barriers.

PJ: How did you first hear about PeerJ, and what persuaded you to submit to us?

RS: 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.

PJ: What was your experience of the PeerJ submission process?

RS: The submission system is great. Everything is very easy to use and it’s a very refreshing improvement to many other submission systems I’ve had to struggle with in the past. I started the submission a while ago to see how your system works. After a while, where I didn’t make any progress with the submission I was even contacted by PeerJ asking if I needed any help or was experiencing problems. This was something I have never experienced before and made me appreciate PeerJ even more (if I wouldn’t have been set on publishing here before, this friendly email would certainly have helped convince me). And if that’s not enough there is also the PeerJ philosophy to have scientists worry about their science and not the citation style, which is a very welcoming change to many other journals, which are often very picky about the style. To quote from the Author Instructions: “Styles will be normalized by us if your manuscript is accepted.”

PJ: And what was your experience of the review process?

RS: We had a great experience with the review process. Our editor (Gavin Stewart) was great and provided very helpful comments. The three reviewers (one of which made his name public) provided great feedback and helped improve the paper quite a bit. The entire process was fast and efficient.

PJ: PeerJ encourages Authors to make their review comments visible. Why did you choose to reproduce the complete peer-review history of your article?

RS: I think sharing this information will help readers to better judge the validity of our research and also allow them to see what some experts in the field thought about our study. It further allows readers to track how authors responded to reviewer’s comments, and allow them to get a better picture of how authors wanted to present their work. It is also a great way to give credit to editors and reviewers (especially if reviewers make their names public) who spend a lot of time reading and thinking about the manuscripts they review. For people who are fairly new to the peer review process this also allows them to see what types of feedback others received and not get discouraged if one of the reviews on their own submission might seem a bit harsh or discouraging. 

PJ: And what was your experience of the production process?

RS: This was outstanding and I was amazed at how fast this process can be completed. From acceptance to getting the article proofs it only took about one week, in comparison many other journals takes months to send proofs. We even got feedback after we submitted the proofs, which helped the presentation of the results.

PJ: What did you think to the overall speed of the process?

RS: Outstanding. All parts from submission to publication were speedy and everything worked smoothly.

PJ: What do you think of the HTML view of your published article and the appearance of the PDF?

RS: I like the HTML version of the article a lot. The layout is well thought out, the left panel provides useful information and links, and the visitor metrics are a great feature. I very much like the blue color theme of the PDF, but at first I thought the 1 column setup was a bit strange, but my guess is that this is just because it is different from the style I am used to.

PJ: Would you submit again, and would you recommend that your colleagues submit?

RS: Yes, I am already thinking about the next paper I want to submit to PeerJ and hopefully I can get this submitted by 2014. After the great experience we had with PeerJ, I am currently recommending it to everyone I talk to about publications.

PJ: Anything else you would like to talk about?

RS: I just want to say that PeerJ is doing a fantastic job and keep up the excellent work!

PJ: In conclusion, how would you describe PeerJ in three words?

RS: Innovative, open, fast.

PJ: Many thanks!

If you like what you hear about PeerJ, then try us for yourself. PeerJ is open for your submissions at https://PeerJ.com.

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