Member Spotlight

Dr. Marten Winter

Scientific Coordinator of iDiv’s Synthesis Centre

Our ‘spotlight’ biogeographer has been a member of the society since 2009, is a regular conference attendee, and enthusiastic ambassador as one of the Regional Coordinators for Germany.

Interview by Toby SantaMaria (IBS Social Media Intern)

Q.  First, congratulations on your Ted talk! Give us a glimpse of what it is like to prepare for a TED talk: what was it like to distill your research down to a TED audience? What was difficult, and what was easy about it?

Thanks. I give a lot of talks representing sDiv or iDiv in general or for the general public and also still some scientific talks but preparing the TED talk was a totally different story. I started to think about everyday on my bike ride to and from work, which of the many interesting aspects of alien species I would like to focus on. It took a while until I saw it 🙂 As a researcher you might find everything important or exciting but I knew from my experiences from other talks for the general public or media interviews that it’s not. I think the hardest part was focusing on a few interesting aspects and a kind of not mentioning uncertainties and details.

[…] Mine was no inspirational talk about life experiences and what to learn from it so I did not know what to expect from the audience. Anyhow, it was a very interesting experience. I don’t know if the people enjoyed the talk but I think I have the chance to reach many more than with my few papers or other media appearances.

Q. What is the biggest takeaway that you wanted audiences to understand from your TED talk?

As the title implies, we are everywhere and always surrounded by the consequences of our daily life and the history of millenia of human actions: alien species are everywhere and we often don’t know about them or that they are not native here.

Q.  Your twitter says that you are a ‘wildlife ecologist in a macroecology shirt with invasion cap and macroevolutionary hanky”. In reality, how do you combine macroecology and macroevolution–two large scale fields– with wildlife ecology? To you, what is the binding that holds these disparate things together?

I think I should change this 🙂 […] macroecology and macroevolution are fields which were more and more tightly linked in the past decade. If you look at distributions of e.g. evolutionary diversity across large scales you inherently have to think about how is this information generated or evolved; what are the reasons for those patterns. The binding is my interest in wildlife (I’m a trained mammal ecologist), the reasons why and how their evolutionary aspects are distributed over large scales and how this changes due to human action.

Q.  You get to see a lot of interesting research as head of the Synthesis Center of iDiv–what excites you the most about up-and-coming research in your field?

True. Being here is like having every 3rd week a room full of a great mixture of exciting, supersmart young people and a handful of similarly exciting senior keynote speakers of conferences. What excites me most is the neverending curiosity of researchers for ecosystems in general. And here specifically of microbes. Super diverse, many “species” still unknown to science, not to speak about the role in ecosystems and an urgent need to protect even before we know why and what we actually protect. What I also like are those projects where researchers come together working on very similar questions but never spoke to each other or met before but realize that they have so much in common. Not always but often these groups start new exciting research or bring together where everyone thinks “Why did this not happen before?”.

Q. Speaking of upcoming research–is there anyone in your field, or in another research area, that you would love to collaborate with?

I thought about this a lot.[…]I looked back and thought about what I always wanted to do but just haven’t managed to do because I’m so slow and overwhelmed with other tasks. I’ve never actually worked in a small 2-3 ppl project with my good “old” macro friends Christian Hof, Susanne Fritz and Albert Phillimore…

Q.  You and I met at a networking lunch at #IBSTucson17 and you are a very prominent presence at the meetings–what, if anything, would you change or add to International Biogeography Society meetings?

Everyone, really everyone I spoke with loves the IBS meetings. If I think long enough I can imagine that the IBS could maybe also offer small media training workshops or targeted science-policy workshops. Its not the core field of biogeography but conservation topics were always relevant parts of IBS meetings […] IBS topics could transported & “translated” into policy relevant arenas – might be interesting. But honestly if the meetings stay as they are they will be great as always.

Q.  You’re really active on Twitter–do you view Twitter as an effective way to communicate science, or as just a convenient way to speak about research? To help you think about this question, consider: do you think it is important for laypeople to see the person behind the science, or just the science?

Good question! First I use it to inform myself, of course to spread sDiv related research and very little for private matters. I actually don’t know how many laypeople use Twitter. I don’t see many. I try to be connected with some journalists and local politicians but I really don’t see many laypeople close to me. I think “knowing”/seeing the person behind helps to build trust or at least to get an idea of the level of honesty and enthusiasm the person has for the topics she/he speaks about. I’m interested in the people behind.

Q.  Now for a fun question. You’ve become an incredibly successful ecologist, but if you could re-do your PhD in another field, what would it be and why?

Thanks, […] I always wanted to become a biologist, but back when I was younger I wanted to be a marine biologist or a forester. I grew up in Eastern Germany and we could not travel to exotic places and I love hiking in forested areas. So marine biology was for me always linked to nice places and the curiosity about the many unknown aspects or marine life. Forester because I love hiking in/through forests. Its the habitat I feel most linked with and get most inspiration from.

Note:  Some responses have been edited for clarity or length.

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