I’ve been to quite a few BES meetings and, for me, this was by far the best! Three days of exciting talks and posters where everyone could discover the latest news in their own field but also mind-broadening and engaging stories elsewhere that are relevant to all of us.
My favourite of the first day was the session on ecological and evolutionary risks to agriculture and food production. We heard great examples of how seemingly basic ecological research and evolutionary theory can help answer pressing questions in environmentally sustainable agriculture and inform policy and practice. Even better, Lynn Dicks came on stage with good news: scientists, industry and government generally agree what the priority areas are, so it seems that scientists are being heard as never before. Will we make the most of this opportunity? Jonathan Leake concluded the session with powerful images of our dependence on finite soil resources in a talk that should certainly help to mobilise the crowds. As a counterbalance to the good news, Paul Johnson’s talk reminded us how ill-equipped our research is to give a good advice: due to low (but sometimes also excessive) statistical power, much research probably produces misleading results. But it seems that we are reluctant to do anything about it. My New Year’s resolution will be to learn more about power analysis! The day ended with a fun talk by Bob O’Hara on what exactly we mean by biotic interactions. His presentation can be found online (http://www.slideshare.net/oharar/what-exactly-is-a-biotic-interactions), so have a look.
The highlight of the second day for me was definitely the thematic topic session Digging Deeper-Advancing Our Understanding of How Soil Biota Drive & Respond to Plant Invasions, which has already been mentioned in previous blog posts. I’m really looking forward to seeing this session presented as a special feature in Journal of Ecology!
For those who had to leave the meeting early, the third day was full of exciting talks. I tried to run between different sessions in the morning to get a taste of what was going on in different rooms. In the Global Change Ecology session, Camille Parmesan gave an excellent talk and you could feel the weight of responsibility when faced with difficult decisions – as climate change is steadily wiping out suitable habitats for different species and subspecies, are we ready to decide whether to let species go extinct, to assist their movement to remaining suitable habitats and/or let them hybridize with other species? I popped into the Hidden Herbivory thematic topic session and heard the exciting story of how Mario Schumann and colleagues searched for a novel biocontrol to manage wireworms on potatoes; it turns out that behavioural ecology came in handy. Last but not least, exciting results and novel approaches in the field of plant-soil feedback were presented across different sessions. I particularly enjoyed the talk by Reagan Early who took a novel approach of looking at climate data, species ranges and fungal pathogens in native and naturalised ranges and found that climate may not directly affect species range shifts as much as it does via biotic interactions.
Three massively enjoyable days in Edinburgh, and I’m already looking forward to Liverpool 2016!
Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology