Dani Rabaiotti is currently studying for her doctor of philosophy with the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London and the Centre for Biodiversity and Environmental Research at UCL, funded through the London Natural Environmental Research Council Doctoral Training Partnership. Her research interests include global change biology, behavioural ecology, movement ecology and spatial ecology. She is also a New York Times best-selling author and she has a keen interest in, and experience of, science policy and science communication.
Dani is taking part in a Soapbox Science talk, which takes place on 21st July 2018, as part of the Bluedot Festival. The title of her talk is: “Hot dogs: using technology to unravel climate impacts on the African wild dog”
From foxes to bees to bats to wild dogs
It sounds incredibly clichéd but I have loved the natural world since I was a child. I used to watch natural history programmes with my grandma, and by age of four I had decided I wanted to be a marine biologist. From there it was a fairly straightforward route, studying zoology at undergraduate level, biodiversity and conservation at master’s degree level before starting my Ph.D. on the effect of climate change on African wild dogs in 2014.
Throughout this time, I have undertaken a lot of other ecological jobs and field courses, including looking at fox territory use and pollinator numbers in Bristol, bat flight speed in Costa Rica, bat diversity in Kenya and working as an ecological consultant alongside my studies.
These days most of what I do is mathematical modelling at a computer. It is fairly ironic, as I hated maths at school and felt like I wasn’t any good at it. I really enjoy the problem-solving element – taking data on African wild dogs from the field and using those numbers to build a model of how wild dogs respond to different environmental variables such as temperature.
On top of that I do a lot of science communication work – I am active on Twitter and I published my first popular science book, along with my co-author, Nick Caruso – Does It Fart? The definitive field guide to animal flatulence last year.
Impact of climate change on African wild dogs
My current research is on the impact of climate change on African wild dogs – an endangered species of carnivore that live, unsurprisingly in Africa. My field site is in Kenya, although I have been working with data from across the species’ range.
What I aim to do is work through from how temperature affects individual behaviour, reproduction and survival and use that to investigate how the species as a whole will respond as temperatures rise across the African continent. This is really important as African wild dog populations are struggling – the species is only found in 7% of its historical range, and there are less than 700 breeding pairs in the wild.
Finding out how climate change will impact them can help inform future conservation efforts and ensure the species survival. It can also tell us how we can go about modelling similar impacts in other species.
Taking to my soapbox
Soapbox Science is run by women at both of my research institutions, and I think it is a great initiative so have been meaning to volunteer for some time!
I think the best advice I have received in my career is make sure you put yourself out there, so participating fits in with this. If people know your name and face it opens up a world of opportunities!
My talk is about how we can use technology to predict the impacts of climate change on the African wild dog. I don’t like to over prepare for these things, but I will definitely be rewriting some material from other talks I have done for a less technical audience – sometimes scientific talks can be pretty dry so I am excited to make this one a bit more fun!
True or Poo?
I am currently writing up the follow up to my first popular science book – the sequel is called True or Poo? and takes a look at some gross facts and yucky myths about animals, asking the reader to guess if they think they are true or false.
Other than that, I have the next 12 months to get my Ph.D. finished and find a job! I am hoping to stay in science but a lot of wonderful, very unexpected, things have happened during my Ph.D. so far so who knows where I will end up next.
African wild dogs image credit: By Bart Swanson(Bkswanson) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], from Wikimedia Commons