The BES meeting 2016 in Liverpool is now over and what a great meeting it was. Don’t worry: if you could not make it this year, you can hear all about it in the new blog post below from Jane Catford, our new Associate Editor. Jane kindly accepted to share her thoughts with you on the best moments of the meeting.
Blog Editor, Journal of Ecology
My first time in the home of The Beatles, my first time dodging owls at a poster session, and my first time being serenaded by a rotund frog in a bar. Clearly this was my first BES meeting, and – safe to say – it did not disappoint.
I’ve heard a lot about the BES meetings from colleagues all over the world. Being field season in Australia (my home until five months ago), I’ve never actually made it to one of these meetings before. I can see I’ve been missing out though – so, looks like regular BES meetings will be another benefit of moving to Southampton!
The second largest annual meeting of ecologists after the Ecological Society of America, this really is an exciting place to be for those partial to thinking about the natural world. At 1,200 attendees and 850 talks, it is large enough to have heaps to choose from – and for there to be a sizeable ecological buzz. But it’s also small enough to frequently bump into people, so that there is plenty of opportunity for those all-important chats. Though most attendees are local, 28% are from other countries, adding to the diversity of speakers, topics, and systems and organisms discussed.
I’ve seen some incredible talks and posters over the last three days, too many to write about here, but below is a brief snapshot of some of my personal favourites:
- Sally Street presented some lovely work on the role of trade in shaping invasions of birds, reptiles and amphibians, with a particular nod to traits related to species introduction, establishment and spread.
- Ron Bassar got us thinking about species coexistence and the importance of competitive asymmetry.
- Rachel Standish shared her insights on what experiments can tell us about ecosystem resilience.
- Julia Koricheva spoke about the need to consider trophic interactions when thinking about biodiversity and ecosystem function.
- Carly Stevens drew on a large body of work to illustrate the impact of nitrogen deposition on plant communities, but noted that key knowledge gaps remain.
- Lindsay Turnbull took a step back and asked the seemingly simple question: how do other plants in a community respond if individuals of a dominant species are removed? Will the remaining plants fill this now empty space, or will the hole from the species removal remain? Turns out that this question isn’t as simple as it seems…
- Javier Puy spoke to us about transgenerational effects in plant competition. He included some pretty comical images (now etched in my brain!) illustrating what transgenerational actually means.
- Ellen Fry gave us a taste of the role of above and below ground traits in mediating ecosystem function and plant community responses to drought.
- Lars Gamfeldt challenged the status quo by arguing that biodiversity cannot directly affect ecosystem multifunctionality.
- Björn Rall showed us the power of using models to examine multitophic interactions and effects of disturbance frequency vs strength on biodiversity.
The session on Ilkka Hanski’s Legacy to Ecology and Conservation was a major highlight of the academic program. Chris Thomas started this important session by providing an overview of the impact that Hanski and his work have had on the field. I urge people to view these talks when they become available through the BES.
As engaging as all of the presentations have been though, nothing has been quite as entertaining as the Science Slam…
Five INCREDIBLY courageous ecologists faced off at the Liverpool Comedy Club on Monday night. Each of these brave souls had ten minutes to entertain the crowd with their ecological mastery, hidden talents and storytelling skills. Expertly hosted by the hilarious local standup, Sam Avery, we travelled through stories of sushi and bacteria posing as sweets, to long horn beetles chowing down on chocolate logs, to the trials of getting a date in African savannah (it’s all about the fragrances of your exes apparently), to the sad tales of Big Russ, the Growling grass frog who’s serenades are drowned out by cars, finishing up with a suggestion for Cinder – the Tinder for people who care about conservation (move aside, Mark Zuckerberg).
After a nail biting clap-off, Kirsten Parris, aka Big Russ, took home the gong – but it was far from an easy victory. Stiff competition all round.
Massive thanks to Mahasweta Saha, Moya Burns, Rosie Woodroffe, Kirsten Parris and Zac Baynham-Herd for providing such a fantastic evening of entertainment and education – and to all of the organisers of this fabulous event. As I was loading my talk Wednesday morning, members of the tech support crew were waxing lyrical about it [“really awesome night”, “you are so lucky to have colleagues like that”, “I would have studied science if I knew it could be that fun and interesting”]. Sounds like we could sort out the STEM bleed pretty quickly if we could get the five of you into schools. Lovely work!
Though Monday night was hard to match, the Gala Dinner on Tuesday was heaps of fun too. They say a picture speaks a thousand words, so I’ll let a photo do the talking (and yes, that is Planet Earth being projected behind the band. Very classy!).
Finally, and on a more practical side, I’ve been hugely impressed by the organization of the whole conference, both in the lead up to the event and during it. It has all been incredibly professional and, from the perspective of an attendee, seamless and super easy [I’m a big fan of the signage, guides and websites – some terrific graphic design]. I really can’t think of a better conference from that side of things, so a huge thank you to the conference organizers for all of their hard work – it showed.
As my train rumbles homeward, I’m already looking forward to the next one.
Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology