Alex Evans – Conservation Conversations

alex-evansToday I’m so excited to share another episode of conservation conversations. My guest today is completing his PhD at the University of Leeds in the energetic’s of animal locomotion. Alex Evans has been focusing on how birds and beetles fly. Something that I happen to think is pretty cool. Anyway here are his answers to my questions!

  1. Starting off with something simple, what is your favourite species and why?

My all-time favourite species is unquestionably the secretary bird. As a large terrestrial raptor with long legs and fancy crest, the secretary bird is iconic throughout Southern Africa for hunting snakes and kicking their skulls in. I first saw a secretary bird at San Diego zoo about 7 years ago, and I was instantly fascinated by it. Since then, I’ve become a bit obsessed with them – I have a secretary bird on my phone wallpaper, my work desktop and I’ve even got a LEGO secretary bird on my desk watching me work at all times. (Stunning) There was some great research done by Steve Portugal last year on the force and speed of their kicks and it further confirmed how awesome they are. Unsurprisingly, I’m also a big fan of seriemas and their ‘terror bird’ ancestors, a group of giant prehistoric flightless birds that ran around South America gobbling up horses. I have a thing for big carnivorous birdies.

  1. So now I’m going to quiz you about your career in this sector, firstly why did you decide to get into conservation?

From secondary school onwards, I knew that I wanted to get involved with the life sciences, largely due to many visits to natural history museums and many more David Attenborough documentaries. I started off doing my undergraduate degree in Biology, but switched to Zoology after the first year to focus on animals and went on to do an MSc in Biodiversity & Conservation. Following on from my MSc, my PhD project was initially an investigation into the ecophysiology of migrating birds, but has since developed into a wider exploration of how effectively animals can convert the energy from their food into physical movement. It’s become less focused on conservation and more focused on fundamental research, but I feel that the more we learn about how energy from the environment is utelised internally by birds for foraging, migrating, hunting or escaping predators, the more we can understand about their behaviour and ecology.

  1. Sometimes working in conservation or the environment sector can be difficult, what inspires you to keep going in your career?

There’s still so much to be done. Once I’ve finished my PhD, I know that I’ll have started to ask more questions than I’ll have answered, and that’s good motivation to keep exploring the field.

  1. What’s next on your career bucket list?

Getting my first scientific paper published! I am just about to send a paper based on my MSc dissertation back to a journal following reviewer’s comments, so I’m very excited for that to go ahead! Fingers crossed!

  1. What’s been your career highlight so far?

I recently won an award for giving the best PhD summary talk at a research symposium organised by my funding body. It was so nice to feel appreciation for the hard work I’ve put into the last few years and it definitely felt good to share my research with people from outside the bubble of my department.

  1. Our world is pretty amazing with lots of wonderful things happening in the natural world. What natural phenomenon would you like to see or have seen?

There’s so many exotic locations and wild animals I would love to see first-hand, but there’s still loads to see here in the UK. I’ve never seen a live badger, largely because I’d usually rather be tucked up in bed when they’re out and about, but that’s an animal I would love to see here in the wild. For Christmas I got a book with the 100 best bird-watching spots around the world, so I may or may not be planning my honeymoon with a few of those in mind as well…

  1. If you could let the general public know one thing about conservation what would it be?

Everyone can do their small part to conserve the natural world. Making your garden hedgehog-friendly or building solitary bee hotels are two quick and easy ways you can improve the availability of habitats for local wildlife in a time when natural spaces and green corridors are dwindling.

  1. Now if you could change one thing about how the world works what would you change and why?

I would put an end to any discussion that climate change is not happening. The fact that it has become a political issue is beyond absurd. It is happening, we’re causing it and we can all help to do something about it if we’re not too busy fighting over its existence. (I completely agree!)

Now for some favourites!

  1. Favourite sound?

When I finish up a plate of mac n’ cheese and think it’s all gone, then my wife says “there’s more in the kitchen…”. Pure music to my ears.

  1. Favourite fact?

Hmm, not sure if I have a favourite – but animal penis facts are always a winner. Echidna penises are like little trees, with one shaft and four heads, which they alternate between when bonking. Look them up, you won’t regret it.

  1. Favourite snack?

I love me a good cookie.

  1. Favourite word?

I always used to like ‘cornucopia’ but I don’t think I’ve had a reason to say it for years.

  1. Favourite curse word? 

I’m a fan of immature mashups like pissfart and shitdicks.

  1. Least favourite word?

Ugh, I know it’s not really a word but I can’t stand people saying “at the end of the day” to justify doing anything they want, it just grates on me.

And finally…

  1. What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to do better for the environment?

I think the first and most important step is to inform yourself and don’t just rely on the news as your only source of information about the environment. There are plenty of great science websites, social media forums, blogs, podcasts, YouTube videos and many more forms of media that share the latest conservation discoveries and discussions. A lot of important conservation issues often go overlooked (take the EU referendum as an example) because people are unaware of the environmental impact of their choices.

Thank you so much to Alex for answering these questions. I feel like I now know all I need to about echnida penises! If you want to hear more from Alex and his tales of living that PhD life then I strongly recommend you following him on twitter at @alexevans91. Or you can find more of him at his blog Bird Brained Science.

ThatBiologist Everywhere!

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