In 2013 and 2015 ecologists Davis, Carlson, Bradley, Warner, and Caselle, set out to study two different island sites. Their goal was to measure feeding rate and size of the feeding territory across the two islands for parrotfish. Additionally, they sought to measure direct interference competition by herbivore competitors as well as responses to predators. They used this data to construct models in order to evaluate the driving forces of herbivore foraging behavior. Throughout the paper, the authors meticulously outline their methods and procedures, describe their reasoning for certain choices, and provide a thorough discussion of their findings and results. The overarching theme of this paper is to inform readers of the research study findings. The authors also hope to make the reader aware of the issues surrounding the research questions and give the audience insight into the study and all of the discussions and choices that went into the painstaking processes. Another goal of the paper is to motivate the reader about the study and spark thoughts and discussion about the topic.
The authors, very early in the paper, clearly state the mission of the study and the factors they are evaluating. They mention how they were seeking to measure and determine the driving forces of herbivore foraging behavior. They also go into great detail about each of the factors they are looking at in order to make these determinations.
The motivation behind writing the paper is to, of course, share the findings of the study with the scientific community. By sharing the findings, the researchers open themselves up to a discussion, questions, and critiques about their work. Aside from contributions to the scientific community, the authors are clearly passionate about their topic which is another motivation behind composing the paper.
The first thing stated in the introduction is that herbivore grazing influences algal and plant community structures within terrestrial and marine ecosystems. This clearly connects the goal of the paper with previous background knowledge and research of the topic, again reinforcing the passion the authors have towards learning more of the subject. The whole of the introduction is littered with such background knowledge, not only to inform the reader but also to provide the reasoning behind choosing the study topic. It is this knowledge that inspired the authors and motivated them to conduct the study and share their findings in the form of a scientific paper. Assumptions in this study are underlying and somewhat difficult to identify.
In the introduction, the researchers mention they use the “landscape of fear” model of animal foraging behavior. They also state this model has its own assumptions. It assumes that “prey alter their foraging behaviors in response to spatial and temporal heterogeneity in predation risk. This particular assumption does not seem to pose much bias to the study. As mentioned in the paper, the “landscape of fear” model has gained much traction within terrestrial and marine literature, meaning it is widely used and accepted: making it less of a biased choice. In the methods and materials section, the authors state that their data was logged in order to satisfy assumptions of normality. The assumptions of normality mean “that you should make sure your data roughly fits a bell curve shape before running certain statistical tests or regressions”. This is not a biased assumption either for similar reasons. Normality is extremely common when assessing statistical data and therefore accepted as unbiased.
As in every study, there are many assumptions in collecting data and analyzing results. For example, the researchers assumed that their presence during the study had no influence on fish foraging behavior. They also assumed that fish did not treat them as predators and instead behaved normally. These assumptions may have had drastic effects on the data. If the fish did interact with the researchers as though they were predators, all of their data would be skewed towards predators constantly affecting foraging behavior. This would then be a biased assumption. There were other assumptions made such as assuming nearby human activity had no influence on behavior. Most of these assumptions are necessary, otherwise, it would be impossible to conduct a completely unbiased, non-assumptive, perfect study. Assumptions like these have to be made in order to produce any studies at all.
As previously mentioned, the introduction does an adequate job of integrating previous research and sources in order to provide pertinent background knowledge on this topic. The authors go into detail about each important variable in their study and the background information associated with that variable. They cover spatial interactions between herbivores and their resources, herbivorous fishes and their effect on competition between coral and algae on reefs, territoriality and its relation to competitor population density, the “landscape of fear” and other animal foraging models, the factors of structuring reef herbivore space use, and states of the drivers under different variables. Although it may seem like a hefty amount of information, and while it was not the easiest information to digest so quickly, it all plays an important role in providing the reader with sufficient background information about all of the features the researchers deemed necessary. The most important part of the introduction is where the authors define the need for such studies such as their own and the lack of knowledge in certain crucial areas. When discussing coral reef resilience, the researchers mention that there is so little known about the drivers that lead to the variation in density and distribution of grazers.
Later in the same paragraph, they discuss how “there is an urgent need for a more comprehensive understanding of the various factors affecting spatial foraging behavior”. These statements are crucial for the reader to understand the necessity of this study. By outlining faults and gaps in current research, the authors relay the insistence of developing and executing new studies, such as their own, on these topics. The materials and methods section of this paper delves into a select few areas of their procedures. The authors, in detail, discuss the location of their study sites and paint an accurate mental picture of what each island site looks like. They describe the topography, human influence both past and present, and possible hindrances associated with the sites. Each of these details is important to the reader so they may have as much insight possible about the sites. In having this insight, the audience can better understanding of how the study was executed and multiple factors that may have affected it.
The authors provided much information about data collection including units used, how and whom the data was collected by, time intervals between measurements, and observations conduction times. This information is necessary to the reader so they can easily follow the data collection process as well as pinpoint any possible sources of error. The researchers also describe the models used in data analysis which is also beneficial for the audience to look for possible sources of error. Although the information provided in the materials and methods section was pertinent and informative, there are some items that should have been included. For instance, there was no mention of possible sources of error until an error is actually described in the results section. Additionally, there should have been more information about data analysis rather than just about data collection. The main problem with this section is repeatability. If another researcher were to attempt the same experiment, there are not sufficient descriptions methods for accurate reproduction. This is a very crucial element to a successful scientific paper, and this paper falls short of it. Since there were several questions being asked in this scientific paper, there were multiple findings in the results section.
The first of the major findings is that “the differences in piscivore identity seen at the study sites are not strictly due to biogeography” (Davis). This was determined by observations of piscivore biomass differing in places where fishing is discouraged and tourism visitation is high. Yet another series of results came from the observations of competitive chases between herbivorous fishes and the focal individuals. It was observed that chase rates on Palmyra were twice as high as those on Mo’orea. They also observed which species at each island site were involved in the most chases. The researchers discovered that acute reactions to predators were rare at all sites. When looking at behavior metrics, the authors observed that Mo’orea had bite rates higher than that of Palmyra. They discussed, however, that core use areas were larger in Mo’orea. In examining bite rates, the time of day was positively correlated with bite rates and chase rates were negatively correlated with bite rates. Many other elements were cross-examined in this table such as body size, residual bite rate, herbivore biomass, and space you.
The overall results show that the factors affecting foraging rates were direct interference competition and levels of chronic predation risk. These findings appear to be very logical and reasonable. The data is represented well in all of the charts and tables throughout the paper. This enables the reader to interpret the data themselves and see how the researches made their conclusions. By seeing the data in the form of graphs, this is another way the audience is able to look for sources of error. The explanation and representation of the findings are fairly straightforward to understand and validates the results. The discussion had quite a few elements and for the untrained reader, may be an overwhelming amount of information. The first thing the authors do in the conclusion is acknowledged their results play an important role in their discussion. Linking the discussion directly to the findings and results is imperative when trying to connect the audience from the study to real-world applications.
Another thing the researchers did effectively was finally accounting for sources of error. They mention the possibility of predator-prey behavioral responses during times when observations were not being collected. This information is useful to the reader for further interpreting the data results themselves. When the researchers are able to disprove their hypotheses, this an effective method to add validity to the study and respect for the researchers themselves. Yet another effective attribute of the conclusion was how the authors talked about some of their surprises in findings. However, the most meaningful part of their discussion was their call-to-action. The researchers explain that when trying to do reef and habitat restoration, knowledge about global and local stressors is extremely important. In this section, they also mention how their results and findings can be used for such restoration projects. The final effect message is when the authors issue a word caution in applying their strategies without adequate understanding of the complex interactions that take place during the study.
Overall, the discussion and conclusion is well executed. Each important finding of the study is covered thoroughly with interpretation and real-world applications. Feeding rates and space use seem like complicated figures to study and asses in wild and changing environments. This study accomplishes this task and does quite a few things rather effectively. The best part of this study was the aforementioned call-to-action. Every successful scientific paper should include how their findings can be used in the real world and why their study is important. It should urge readers to conduct their own studies and bridge the gaps in knowledge. It should motivate the audience to be concerned about the researchers’ topic. This study and paper do all of that. The final paragraph of the discussion sections talks about reef restoration and the importance of understanding these ecological interactions in order to do the best restoration job possible.
A second well-executed component of this paper is the integration of previous research and studies in the introduction. This paper reflects on dozens and dozens of sources in order to provide the reader with the most up-to-date and relevant information on the topic. Not only do the authors include all of this research, but they are also sure to give necessary credit when due. Yet another strength in this paper is the graphs and tables. To the average reader, a handful of numbers and observations may be difficult to visualize or interpret. By providing these visual aids, it is much simpler for the audience to understand the data. This is also an effective way to keep all data organized and neat. The researchers made captions to help guide the reader even more into interpreting the numbers. All of the previously mentioned features have aided in making this paper a successful display of research findings as well as easily interpretable to most audiences. While this scientific paper had numerous strong qualities, there were a few areas where it fell short. The most prominent example of this is reproducibility. As mentioned before, a strong paper would have detailed methods and procedure that anyone could follow and accurately perform the same experiment.
This paper did have many details within the methods section, but not enough for effective reproducibility. This was an unfortunate shortcoming of this paper. Another weak aspect of this paper was the sheer amount of information in the introduction. This downfall is not necessarily a negative for each reader, however, for the more uninformed reader, it may pose some challenges. Even when composing a scientific paper, it is essential to keep in mind all possible audiences that may be reading it. This paper did not effectively take into consideration audiences that are not as well versed in scientific readings. One final weakness of the composition is abstract. While the abstract indeed contains most of the imperative qualities, the statement of the hypothesis should be much more clear and concise. The authors successfully mention the results and introduced some background information. However, they do not explicitly state each of their hypotheses, which would be an important addition in the abstract. Though the paper did have a few weaknesses, it did not detract from the researchers’ clear passion about the topic or the complexity of the questions they sought to answer. As discussed before, there are only a few aspects of which the authors could improve. These mostly being the previously mentioned reproducibility, amount of information, and weak abstract. The editor should have suggested to the researchers to make the paper accessible to multiple different audiences. This is the largest critique of the paper. The authors successfully reach mature and educated audiences within the scientific community.
On the other hand, the paper does not meet the needs of most outside of that category. The amount of information and description of the experiment itself, make navigating the reading challenging for novice analyzers. It should also be suggested to add meticulous details about procedure methods in order to make the experiment reproducible. Another suggestion is to cut out any possible irrelevant information not only for audience accessibility, but also to condense the paper to only the most important information. This would help with paper organization and easability of reading. A final suggestion the editor should have made is to include all crucial information in the abstract: including clear hypotheses. The abstract should be a short summation of all pertinent information contained in the paper. The abstract is therefore unsuccessful if it does not explicitly outline the hypotheses. Once again, even though there are a few suggestions to be made, it does not take away from the overarching accomplishment of this paper. This study highlights areas where current research lacks. This opens the door for possible future studies to be conducted in this area. As the paper mentions, when looking at reef restoration, knowing the interactions and relationships of those important factors is essential. The focal study deals with these interactions specifically with parrotfish.
Future experiments may consider conducting similar research with different species. By collecting this data on a multitude of reef species, we can piece together a more complete understanding of interactions on the reef as a whole. This will then lead to much more successful restoration efforts. The authors also mention a need for research in the area of spatial foraging behavior. Possible experiments could be geared towards learning about space use on the reef: both by predators and by herbivorous fishes. Most research in this field would prove to be beneficial since our reefs are at such a critical stage. The more knowledge we can gain about the reef and its inhabitants, the better equipped we are to restore them to their original capacities.