Reflections on Ecology Across Borders 2021 (In person)

With the ever-evolving COVID-19 situation in the UK and across the world, the in-person part of Ecology Across Borders 2021 was even smaller than expected. Despite it’s small size, there was an incredible range and quality of ecological research on offer and it definitely had that welcoming ‘BES annual meeting’ feel. Huge congratulations and thanks to the entire BES team for pulling off an excellent conference in very challenging circumstances, and to everyone in Liverpool for carefully following the measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission during the event.

I (like everyone I spoke to during the event) was really glad to have the opportunity to attend Ecology Across Borders, which was a joint meeting with the French Society for Ecology and Evolution (SFE²), in person. Last year’s online Festival of Ecology was excellent, but there’s still something inspirational about face-to-face conferences. Sadly, many in-person sessions had to be cancelled and moved online, but there was still a lot to keep attendees occupied.

Ecology Across Borders 2021, held at the Liverpool ACC. Photo: Rhosanna Jenkins.

There were plenaries from Sandra Lavorel exploring how people can work with nature to adapt to global change, Sir Partha Dasgupta on the economics of biodiversity and Vanessa Ezenwa on social behaviour and parasite infection. Pierre-Henri  Gouyon gave the ’12 (or 24 in this case) Months in Ecology’ talk, which discussed the impacts of pesticides on bees and got the audience thinking about whether it really is the case that every problem is multifactorial and more research is always needed. Attendees can listen back to the plenaries via the conference platform Whova for another 3 months.

Sir Partha Dasgupta answering questions after his plenary. Photo: Rhosanna Jenkins.

Another highlight was Professor Jane Memmott’s very entertaining and informative introduction to the Awards session, which was titled ‘The Natural History of Prizes and Prize Winners’. For those with access to the conference platform, I really recommend watching the recording if you missed it on the day. Approaching the topic as a true ecologist, Jane gave a breakdown of the species and abundance of prizes, as well as prize network structure and looked into the traits of prize winners.

After her talk and a statement from John Bennett from the Marsh Charitable Trust, the BES prize winners that had made it to the Liverpool conference were invited on stage, while names of other prize winners cycled through in the background, including our 2020 Harper Prize winners. Our 2020 Harper Prize winners, Blanca Arroyo-Correa and Atul Joshi, have both written blog posts about their research.

BES award winners on stage. Photo: Rhosanna Jenkins.

On the first full day of the conference, I was involved with the session on Promoting Your Research, where we gave top tips on writing press releases, plain language summaries and blog posts. If you missed it, you can see a summary of the session on the Functional Ecology blog here.

A common theme that emerged from different sessions I attended was about the need to establish baselines and really understand these. The importance of this was clearly illustrated in Lizzie Jones’ talk on addressing ‘shifting baseline syndrome’, in which she discussed each generation interprets nature and landscapes and how that can affect restoration efforts; and Sam Turvey’s talk on incorporating historical baselines into conservation which showed that the we must decide which ‘past’ we want to restore. This is something we can all keep in mind in our research.

Overall, the in-person part of Ecology Across Borders 2021 was a great place to be. Despite the smaller conference size, there were still times I wanted to be in two talks at once and I really hope to get the chance to listen to a couple of the sessions I missed while I was speaking at another. I still have a lot of online posters to check out on the Whova platform. I hope that the hybrid format can continue in the future and allow bigger audiences to engage without worrying about travelling.

Rhosanna Jenkins Associate Editor for the Blog

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