An underwater photo of tadpoles seemingly flying across a bright blue sky has won first place in the inaugural Royal Society Publishing photography competition, launched to celebrate the power of photography to communicate science. Scientist and photographer Bert Willaert captured the winning shot while snorkelling in a canal in his native Belgium.

Royal Society Publishing photography competition
Category winner, Ecology and Environmental Science and overall winner: Tadpoles overhead by Bert Willaert, Belgium. 'Tadpoles of many anuran species come in high numbers, but not many make it to adulthood. Here a group of common toad (Bufo bufo) tadpoles is seen from below'Bert Willaert

Willaert, who is a biologist of amphibian evolution and an environmental adviser, said: "Clear water is hard to come across in the part of Belgium where I live, as a consequence of eutrophication. Algae grows from the nutrients flushed down the drains in detergents and sewage, clouding the waters and suffocating other oxygen-dependent life. When I noticed these common toad tadpoles in the crystal-clear canal I wanted to capture the chance encounter from their perspective.

"The underwater world is only accessed by a limited number of people, and snorkelling in the fresh water in Belgium I was surprised by the beautiful scenery and the silence. To conserve the natural world I think drawing attention to the beauty of these ordinary moments in our own neighbourhoods, including our own backyards, is particularly important. I believe people will only conserve things when they know it exists — and how often will people have snorkelled in their own garden pond?"

Willaert's photo was chosen from more than 1,000 entries by a judging panel of expert scientists, including Professor Alex Badyaev, a multiple winner in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. He said: "To me the winning photo communicates the power of a common biological phenomenon visualised in a new light, and from a perspective that emphasises the other half of the ecosystem; the half we usually miss when looking down at a tadpoles' puddle, but one that is very much part of the tadpoles' own view — the clouds, the trees, and the sky."

The category winners and runners-up will be on display at Life Through a Lens, a free event at the Royal Society on 26 November 2015, at which wildlife photographers and editors will discuss their experiences of capturing nature and the importance of images in communicating science.

Royal Society Publishing photography competition
Runner up, Ecology and Environmental Science: Ancestry. Dominance. Endangered. by Martha M Robbins, Germany. 'This photo shows the strength and power of gorillas, one of our closest living relatives, yet also shows their vulnerability due to the pressures put on their world by humans. I observed the gorillas walking to the eucalyptus trees outside the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and watched them strip the bark with their teeth. Within a few minutes, the silverback of the group sat down to eat bark and faced out towards the farmland – almost as if he was contemplating the human society that lives next to the gorillas' habitat'Martha M Robbins
Royal Society Publishing photography competition
Special commendation: Caribbean brain coral by Evan D'Alessandro, USA. 'The deep and abundant mysteries of reef building corals – their systematics, genetics, and phenotypic plasticity (variability in form possible within a single genetic individual) – are only just now yielding their secrets to modern science. This image of what appears to be a single colony of the giant Caribbean brain coral Colpophyllia natans hints at the virtuoso abilities of corals to assume a wide range of different forms and appearances. This photo raises many important questions regarding this species of coral. Are the four distinct zones in this photograph really genetically identical? What spurred the colony to grow in this strange and beautiful manner?'Evan D'Alessandro
Royal Society Publishing photography competition
Special commendation: A baboon gets lost in his thoughts by Davide Gaglio, South Africa. 'This image was taken at Cape Point Reserve, South Africa. I was taking photos of a group of baboons, trying to capture some interesting action shots. The baboons were not very active as the sun was up and most of them were just resting. I noted this baboon sitting and facing the sun with his eyes closed, once I got close enough, without distracting him, he put one hand under his face, posing as though he was lost in his thoughts'Davide Gaglio
Royal Society Publishing photography competition
Category winner, Evolutionary Biology: Fern with a drysuit by Ulrike Bauer, UK. "Plants have evolved elaborate surface structures to modify the wettability of their leaves. The leaves of the water fern Salvinia molesta are covered with whisk-like hairs. The leaf surface and all but the very tip of the hairs are extremely water-repellent, keeping the leaf perfectly dry even when it is submerged for several weeks. The hydrophilic tips of the whisks 'pin' droplets in place. This further helps to prevent the water from entering the space in the between the whisks. In recent years, plant surfaces have repeatedly inspired the design of biomimetic ("nature-mimicking") applications for human use, most famously the self-cleaning paints based on the lotus leaf. The photograph was taken in Bonn Botanic Garden (Germany)'Ulrike Bauer
Royal Society Publishing photography competition
Category winner, Behaviour: Going with the flow by Claudia Pogoreutz, Germany. 'A school of tropical clupeid fish exhibit synchronised behaviour to keep a healthy distance from a teenage black-tip reef shark. Sharks would cruise placidly for hours without so much as looking at the smaller fish, until, all of a sudden, they would strike and gobble up a mouthful of clupeids. The picture was taken on a shallow reef flat on Kuramathi Island in the Rasdhoo Atoll, Republic of Maldives'Claudia Pogoreutz
Royal Society Publishing photography competition
Runner up, Behaviour: Smashing by Luca Antonio Marino, Italy. 'An adult wild bearded capuchin monkey uses a stone tool to crack a very resistant palm nut in Fazenda Boa Vista (Piauì, Brazil). These monkeys habitually crack open palm nuts on hard surfaces using stones as percussive tools. This behaviour is considered one of the most complex forms of tool use by non-human species seen in nature. The alpha male, weighing 4.2kg, picked up a big stone (3.5kg) and lifted that above his head to crack a piassava nut. Capuchins’ actions are very fast so it is hard to capture the decisive moment. In a matter of milliseconds I shot and took the photo that I wanted: the representation of capuchin monkeys' strength and beauty'Luca Antonio Marino
Royal Society Publishing photography competition
Special commendation, Biology Letters publisher’s choice: Runs at Dawn by Jose Juan Hernandez Martinez, Spain. 'In the Canary Islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, after every winter rains Canarian Houbarabustard (Chlamydotis undulata) males begin their impressive courtship displays. From dawn onwards these males display at their favourite places and from there scamper around showing their plumage in all its glory'Jose Juan Hernandez Martinez