We didn’t have the blizzard of the Ghent meeting or the grandeur of a conference dinner in the Titanic (Belfast 2019) or in the shadow of Tower Bridge (London 2013). Nevertheless, the Festival of Ecology offered the expected wide range of presentations, posters, plenaries and other activities as usual but in a new, virtual setting. Huge kudos to the entire BES team for pulling it off.
From the enticing portal we were invited to participate in all the events on offer in an easy-to-navigate manner. Because of the virtual format, delegates from around the globe were able to tune in, interact with speakers and other delegates, and ask questions of presenters. Based in the US, I joined in for the afternoon sessions, but could go back to recorded plenaries, and access posters and lightning talks at any time. As usual with any meeting of this size, I was overwhelmed with the choices on offer. The BES journals and many of the Special Interest Groups offered up playlists to help us choose. I’m still working my way through the Journal of Ecology playlist.
I’ll mention a few of my personal highlights.
Celebrations of the life and work of Bob May and Georgina Mace who we lost this year were wonderful with fascinating personal anecdotes. These anecdotes included accounts of May’s athletic ability in running sub-6 minute miles and Mace’s jokes causing one colleague to snort red wine. Humour aside, the comments of their colleagues illustrate how two inspiring leaders advanced our discipine.
The plenaries were amazing and I learned a lot from Anurag Agrawal’s insights on plant evolution. I was inspired by the work of ECRs as they tackle interesting and important ecological issues, and I read many of their posters and listened to their on-demand talks. For example, Gergana Daskalova gave a wonderful in-demand talk on how land abandonment is reshaping European ecosystems. Our recent 2019 Harper Prize winner Maria Leunda offered a fascinating account of her work on using plant remains in ice caves to assess climate change.
There were workshops every day, and I learned about a whole new approach to community ordination in the session on Generalized Linear Latent Variable Models. Does this mean I’ll stop using distance-based methods of ordination and migrate to #GLLVMs? Perhaps.
Overall, the virtual format was a success and suggests, to me, that future meetings should adopt a hybrid format allowing participation by delegates unable to travel to the host site. It would be helpful to have a counter of some sort on the posters and talks to allow authors to assess the level of engagement (beyond posted comments) with their work. I missed seeing friends and colleagues, and meeting new ecologists, and missed end of the day mixers and dinners. On the plus side, I didn’t have to endure convention centre tea or coffee, travel delays, or driving rain or snow as I hiked to the meeting each morning.
Senior Editor, Journal of Ecology