Reflecting on ESA2016 ‘Novel Ecosystems in the Anthropocene’: Three Ecologists Provide Contrasting Perspectives.

Traveling back from the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America, I was struck by how well the meeting theme ‘Novel Ecosystems in the Anthropocene’ resonated through the presentations (a second theme was seafood – see below). Not all, but a large number of organized sessions and symposia were organized around the meeting theme such as ‘Rising Novelty in Ecosystems and Climates: Looking to the Past to Understand a No-Analog Future’, ‘Novel Ecosystems and Adaptive Management: Sustainability in the Anthropocene’, and ‘Ecological Novelty in the Anthropocene: Are Novel Communities Novel Ecosystems?’.  I didn’t get to most of these, and my own presentation on weed seedling emergence was clearly off-topic, but the social media buzz was all about the theme. All of this sharpened my thinking and awareness of the topic, and, as I listened to presentations, it became clear that while a full understanding and appreciation of the theme among ecologists is emerging, a consensus on how we can apply knowledge from studying and characterizing modern and past ‘novel ecosystems’ is still unclear. Are novel ecosystems systems unique (i.e., ‘no-analog’) only to the recent human-characterized past (i.e., the Anthropocene), or must they have never existed in the deeper past? Do we characterize novel ecosystems by their species assemblage, functional traits, or ecosystem services (or some combination)? Do we manage for novel ecosystems, or are we to accept that they are characteristic of the current biosphere that we have to ‘live with’? 

Here we present interviews with three ecologists that I ran into at ESA. All are Journal of Ecology Associate Editors so each has a good sense for some of the best research being conducted and published. Charlie Canham and Emily Farrer are also co-authors on a couple of the papers that the British Ecological Society included in a Virtual Issue made available to celebrate the ESA meeting theme. I asked the same set of questions to each, albeit with unique follow-ups, but, as you’ll hear, heard a distinctly different, but informed, take. Clearly, the meeting theme is important and relevant, and it’s very interesting to learn how different ecologists view it.


Interview with Charlie Canham


Interview with Jacquelyn Gill


Interview with Emily Farrer


Now, about that seafood theme:


JEcol Managing Editor Emilie Aimé tackles crab legs

David Gibson
Executive Editor, Journal of Ecology

4 thoughts on “Reflecting on ESA2016 ‘Novel Ecosystems in the Anthropocene’: Three Ecologists Provide Contrasting Perspectives.

  1. Pingback: Interview with BES and Journal of Ecology Virtual Issue | Emily Farrer

  2. An excellent series of interviews. One interesting addition is that when Bryan Norton and I did one of the later symposia on adaptive management, we found our talks ended up meshing well with the one given by Carolina Murcia on Friday morning. An interesting discussion ensued wherein one of the hidden issues in the debate around novel ecosystems and the whole Anthropocene notion is that not only are there cultural differences in the perspectives on the topic but even language nuances can prevent mutual understanding – the ideas don’t translate well in all cases. Given we ecologists are not trained or often comfortable with that social-natural science intersection, no wonder our opinions can get entrenched.

  3. Stephen, I’m pleased that you enjoyed the interviews, and thanks for your comments. You’re absolutely right, good communication between ecologists and social scientists is absolutely needed.

  4. Pingback: The Journal of Ecology Blog: 2016 Success and 2017 New Challenges | Journal of Ecology blog

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