British Ecological Society annual meeting 2016

bes_new_logo_2016The British Ecological Society (BES) annual meeting for 2016 has come to an end. It has seemed like a long week (and it is only Thursday) because it has been so action packed. For me it commenced on Sunday when I helped out with the introduction session for early career researchers (MSc, PhD and post-docs), and the marathon council meeting. I think the length, and intensity, of the council meeting highlighted the need for the structural review that our president, Sue Hartley, has just initiated. The main program commenced on Monday and has been mainly a mix of workshops, posters and talks, with a side order of special interest group meetings, carol singers, and a gala dinner.
I would like to highlight two of the scientific talks that stuck in my head in particular:

  1. Steven Sylvester “Shifting perspectives on natural ecosystems in the high Andes”; showed how remote regions of the high Andes may still contain the vestigaes of ‘pristine’ ecosystems dating from before human arrival, and
  2. Stefano Allesina “Higher-order interactions stabilize dynamics in a generalized rock-paper-scissors game”; showed (theoretically) how ecosystem complexity plays a role in ecosystem stability.

Nick-thumbAn excellent and exciting meeting was capped for me by my PhD student Nick Loughlin for being awarded the BES Public Engagement award! Well done Nick (@PalaeoNick).

REFERENCES

Sylvester, S.P., Sylvester, M.D.P.V. & Kessler, M. (2014) Inaccessible ledges as refuges for the natural vegetation of the high Andes. Journal of Vegetation Science 25, 1225-1234. DOI: 10.1111/jvs.12176

 

Tropical Botany in Belize: Part 2 – Las Cuevas

Tropical Botany in Belize

By Nick Loughlin

Las Cueavs Forest Reseach Station (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)

Figure 1: Las Cueavs Forest Reseach Station (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)

As mentioned in my last post I have recently returned from a 2 week field course in tropical botany run by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in conjunction with their MSc course on the ‘Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants’. The field course allowed for 10 NERC funded PhD students in relevant fields to accompany the MSc students out to Belize to learn a host of valuable skills in tropical botany and ecology.

To find out what we did read on…

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Tropical Botany in Belize: Part 1 – An Introduction

Sunrise in Belize (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)

Sunrise in Belize (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)

Tropical Botany in Belize
by Nick Loughlin

Getting back to the UK after fieldwork is always jarring and this time is certainly no different, the change from 32°C days walking through the savanna and lowland forests of Belize to the -2°C early mornings walking through snow in Milton Keynes is an abrupt transition. I have recently returned from a 2 week field course in tropical botany run by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in conjunction with their MSc course on the ‘Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants’. The field course allowed for 10 NERC funded PhD students in relevant fields to accompany the MSc students out to Belize to learn a host of valuable skills in tropical botany and ecology. During our time in Belize we visited 2 main locations, Las Cuevas Research Station within the Chiquibul forest reserve and the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area (RBCMA), in my next two posts I will briefly cover the places we visited and the botany we learned.

A very small selection of the plants we sampled and identified during the course (Photographs by Anna Turbelin and Nick Loughlin)

A very small selection of the plants we sampled and identified during the course (Photographs by Anna Turbelin and Nick Loughlin)

Before I get going I would just like to thank all of the staff from the RBGE who led the field course, (David, Louis, Tiina, Becky, Chris and Helen) their ability to teach the major characteristics of 70+ tropical families to many of us who are not botanists or taxonomists in an engaging way was astounding, although I don’t believe I will ever be able to identify a Euphorbiaceae from its vegetative characteristics. Also thanks to the students from the MSc course who were great fun, if any of you move away from botany and taxonomy and want more of an idea about the world of tropical palaeoecology, give me a shout.

On our way to see the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)

On our way to see the Mayan ruins at Xunantunich (Photograph by Anna Turbelin)

In the news:

First Farmers Were Also Sailors, by Michael Balter in Science.

John Bostock: The man who ‘discovered’ hay fever, by Justin Parkinson in BBC News Magazine.

DNA study shows yeti is real (sort of) – and Oxford scientist prepares expedition to find it, by Adam Withnall in The Independent.

Tibetan altitude gene inherited ‘from extinct species’, by Paul Rincon BBC News Website

Scientific articles:

Bonatelli, I.A.S., Perez, M.F., Peterson, A.T., Taylor, N.P., Zappi, D.C., Machado, M.C., Koch, I., Pires, A.H.C. & Moraes, E.M. (2014) Interglacial microrefugia and diversification of a cactus species complex: phylogeography and palaeodistributional reconstructions for Pilosocereus aurisetus and allies. Molecular Ecology, 23, 3044-3063.

Bush, M.B., Restrepo, A. and Collins, A.F. (2014) Galápagos history, restoration, and a shifted baseline. Restoration Ecology, 22, 3, 296-298.
Summary (Nick): A concise and pithy look at how a robust long-term ecological system can be transformed rapidly by human impact. The paper demonstrates how the fossil pollen record is fundamental if a near-natural vegetation state is to be restored to the Galápagos islands, to avoid restoration to a shifted baseline.

Froyd, C.A., Coffey, E.E.D., van der Knaap, W.O., van Leeuwen, J.F.N., Tye, A. & Willis, K.J. (2014) The ecological consequences of megafaunal loss: giant tortoises and wetland biodiversity. Ecology Letters, 17, 144-154.

Giguet-Covex, C., Pansu, J., Arnaud, F., Rey, P.-J., Griggo, C., Gielly, L., Domaizon, I., Coissac, E., David, F., Choler, P., Poulenard, J. & Taberlet, P. (2014) Long livestock farming history and human landscape shaping revealed by lake sediment DNA. Nat Commun, 5

Gillson, L. & Marchant, R. (2014) From myopia to clarity: sharpening the focus of ecosystem management through the lens of palaeoecology. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 29, 317-325.
Comment (Will): For a good example of feeding palaeoecology into management see Bush et al. above.

One short story and five scientific papers thinking about different aspects of ecological change through time.

Chekhov in 1889

Chekhov in 1889 (http://tinyurl.com/ny2msd9)

Short story:

Checkhov, A. (1889) The Pipe

SUMMARY (Will): People have long been concerned about environmental change. Observations of phenological shifts, degradation of ecosystem services and climate change are clearly presented in Checkhov’s “The Pipe” (1889).The key difference is today we have a better idea of why these things are happening!?

Scientific papers:

Garcia, R.A., Cabeza, M., Rahbek, C. & Araújo, M.B. (2014) Multiple dimensions of climate change and their implications for biodiversity. Science 344 1247579
SUMMARY (Phil): This review highlights the alternative metrics used to quantify climate change at different spatial scales, each with its own set of threats and opportunities for biodiversity. It’s a very relevant paper for palaeoecologists, with implications for how we think about climatic estimates we generate, how we interpret ecological shifts in the assemblages we study, and for demonstrating the importance thinking spatially as well as temporally. It also shows how important palaeoecological data is for setting baselines and putting projected climatic change into context.

Garzón-Orduña, I.J., Benetti-Longhini, J.E. & Brower, A.V.Z. (2014) Timing the diversification of the Amazonian biota: butterfly divergences are consistent with Pleistocene refugia. Journal of Biogeography, early online.
SUMMARY (Will): Butterfly species diverged in the Neotropics during the Pleistocene (probably).

Mitchard, E.T.A. et al. (2014) Markedly divergent estimates of Amazon forest carbon density from ground plots and satellites. Global Ecology and Biogeography, early online.
SUMMARY (Will): It is difficult to work out how much carbon is in a tropical forest.

Stansell, N.D., Polissar, P.J., Abbott, M.B., Bezada, M., Steinmann, B.A. and Braun, C. (2014) Proglacial lake sediment records reveal Holocene climate changes in the Venezuelan Andes. Quaternary Science Reviews. 89, 44 – 55.
SUMMARY (Hayley): A study of three lake sediment records in the Venezuelan Andes to look at patterns of glacial variability, and how glaciers might have responded to changing climatic conditions during the last c. 12,000 years.

Still, C.J., Foster, P.N. & Schneider, S.H. (1999) Simulating the effects of climate change on tropical montane cloud forests. Nature, 398, 608–610.
SUMMARY (Nick): The paper attempts to model the impact of climate change on a number of cloud forests around the world by simulating atmospheric parameters at the last glacial maximum (LGM) and at twice today’s CO2 level. The models agrees with palaeoecological data of a downslope migration of the cloud forest at the LGM, while the 2xCO2 model shows reduced cloud cover and increased evapotranspiration, which results in a significant reduction in cloud forest supporting land area.

The Anthropocene: A governance perspective

EarthSystemGovernanceNick Loughlin on:

Biermann, F. (2014) The Anthropocene: A governance perspective. The Anthropocene Review, 1, 57-61.

This comment piece looks at the Anthropocene as a political construct and a tool to constrain the concept of ‘Earth System Governance’ within the social sciences. To quote the author ‘the Anthropocene is political’ and this is indeed the case when attempting to organise disparate and often conflicting bodies into a global community that can guide society to a way of working within nature, but it is also a biological, ecological and geological term and as such a scientific rational to understanding our Anthropocene is required not just a political one.

The writer succinctly demonstrates the interdependence of countries, social groups and global organisations within the modern era along with the intergenerational aspect of a range of social and environmental issues. However it places the Anthropocene as a marketing tool targeted at a political audience rather than a scientific term that denotes a currently unverified chronostratigraphic unit.

It is in no doubt that humans are a significant driving force behind changes to the biosphere and the concept of ‘Earth System Governance’ as described within this paper demonstrates the wide ranging global issues that require consensus.