In this special new-years post we interview the Chief Editor of MER Shawn Narum. Shawn, based at the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission and the University of Idaho, has been chief editor for over 5 years. In this interview we get his perspective on the journal and the field in general as well as his advice for early career researchers.
What are some of the main changes you have witnessed in the field of molecular ecology since you became Chief Editor of MER?
The advancement of molecular and statistical methods have driven the field of molecular ecology to new heights. Questions that were previously out of reach can now be addressed for most non-model species with careful study design.
What methods and resources do you think the field needs in the future?
Advances in sequencing methods have lead to fascinating discoveries of candidate genes associated with local adaptation and phenotypic variation many species, but development of candidate markers for intensive testing and validation is lacking. For example, bioinformatic resources are needed that efficiently and accurately develop primers/baits for specific subsets of markers that can be genotyped cost effectively in many individuals (e.g., Meek & Larson, 2019).
What are some of your favourite scientific discoveries from the past two decades?
Genomic islands of divergence are real! These islands often occur as inversions with low recombination that drive life history variation in organisms ranging from plants (Hoffmann & Rieseberg, 2008), birds (Lamichhaney et al., 2016), and fish (Jones et al., 2012)
As a fish geek, I also very much enjoyed the discovery that there is a warm blooded fish! It has long been known that some species like tuna and swordfish exhibit partial endothermy in brain tissue, but discovery of whole body endothermy in Opah living in cold, deep seas makes me smile (Wegner et al., 2015).
What advice would you give students wanting to develop a career in science?
Establish close collaborations with colleagues that you trust and nurture those relationships for the long-term.
What advice would you give to your younger-self about science and life?
Seize opportunities to work with others in a team environment, but it is OK to turn down some opportunities when there is already too much on your plate. “Too much” is when you can’t keep up with expectations that you have for yourself or projects substantially interfere with spending time with the people you love
What is your writing style like? Do you have some favourite writers that inspired you earlier on during your career?
My writing tends to be structured following a mental or written outline for clearly defined study questions. I have always been inspired by papers coming from Louis Bernatchez and have been grateful to have co-authored a few recent articles with him.
What are some of the aspects of your job as a scientist that you enjoy the most?
Two of the most rewarding aspects of my work are being involved with the development of young scientists and making new genomic discoveries that contribute towards conservation and recovery of naturally occurring species.
Outside of sequencing, what is your favourite methodological advance in the last five years?
Statistical advances that improve signal to noise in order to reduce false positives are critical to our field. One such approach called “Local score” was developed by Fariello et al (2017) to account for linked SNPs from high density genome scans to yield strong candidates (after Bonferroni correction). This is a powerful approach to detect adaptive genetic variation.
Meek, M. H., & Larson, W. A. (2019). The future is now: amplicon sequencing and sequence capture usher in the conservation genomics era. Molecular ecology resources. 19, 795–803.
Hoffmann, A. A., & Rieseberg, L. H. (2008). Revisiting the impact of inversions in evolution: from population genetic markers to drivers of adaptive shifts and speciation?. Annual review of ecology, evolution, and systematics, 39, 21-42.
Lamichhaney, S., Fan, G., Widemo, F., Gunnarsson, U., Thalmann, D. S., Hoeppner, M. P., … & Chen, W. (2016). Structural genomic changes underlie alternative reproductive strategies in the ruff (Philomachus pugnax). Nature Genetics, 48(1), 84.
Jones, F. C., Grabherr, M. G., Chan, Y. F., Russell, P., Mauceli, E., Johnson, J., … & Birney, E. (2012). The genomic basis of adaptive evolution in threespine sticklebacks. Nature, 484(7392), 55.
Wegner, N. C., Snodgrass, O. E., Dewar, H., & Hyde, J. R. (2015). Whole-body endothermy in a mesopelagic fish, the opah, Lampris guttatus. Science, 348(6236), 786-789.
Fariello, M. I., Boitard, S., Mercier, S., Robelin, D., Faraut, T., Arnould, C., … & Gourichon, D. (2017). Accounting for linkage disequilibrium in genome scans for selection without individual genotypes: the local score approach. Molecular ecology, 26(14), 3700-3714.