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

 

Scientific methods in archaeology

Preparing my lecture for the new Scientific Methods in Archaeology course for VU Amsterdam and University of Amsterdam students studying a minor in Geoarchaeology. The focus will be on detecting human activity in the past, to illustrate this I will include Easter Island/Rapa Nui as a case study. We will focus on how palaeoecological evidence can be used to gain insights into past human activity. Whilst putting this together I discovered these nice documentaries looking at humans and their environmental impacts on Easter Island/Rapa Nui which I wanted to share, they show how much effort people would have had to put into altering their landscape:

For further information see also:

Rull, V., Cañellas-Boltà, N., Saez, A., Margalef, O., Bao, R., Pla-Rabes, S., Valero-Garcés, B. & Giralt, S. (2013) Challenging Easter Island’s collapse: The need for interdisciplinary synergies. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 1, DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2013.00003

European Conference of Tropical Ecology 2016

ECTE-logo

European Conference of Tropical Ecology
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
23-26 February 2016

This is my first time attending the European Conference of Tropical Ecology and my second visit to Germany. The conference attracted c. 350 delegates; big enough to have plenty of interesting science, and yet small enough to find everyone you wanted to. The keynote speakers chosen to head the days provided some exciting insights into various new developments across the tropics, including: the importance of biogeography (Richard Corlett), metabolism and carbon cycles (Yadvinder Malhi), diversity and resilience (Lourens Poorter), tropical peatlands (Sue Page), agricultural landscapes (Ravi Prabhu), and mutualism of figs and fig wasps (Martine Hossaert-McKay).

From the many other interesting talks five in particular grabbed my attention, these were:

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Past environmental change on Samoa

Zoe and William just after the graduation ceremony (UvA)

Zoe and William just after the graduation ceremony (UvA)

Two students (Zoe van Kemenade and Tessa Driessen) have recently completed projects looking at past environmental change on Samoa working in the Research Group of Palaeoecology & Landscape Ecology at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). Zoe’s project, part of her BSc Future Planet Studies (major Earth Sciences) at UvA, was entitled “A multi‐proxy analysis on the effect of climate and human activity on the environment of Samoa during the Holocene” and investigated charcoal, macro-fossils, and algae. Tessa’s project, “Biodiversity, fire and human dynamics on Samoa over the last 9200 years”, was completed as an internship during her MSc in Environmental Biology at Utrecht University (UU) that was co-supervised by Rike Wagner-Cremer. Tessa focused on the fossil pollen record to reconstruct past vegetation change. Both projects were conducted in cooperation with Jon Hassel and David Sear (both University of Southampton) who provided access to the Samoan sediments; for more on the Southampton Pacific Islands projects check out their blog Palaeoenvironmental Laboratory at the University of Southampton.

The results from both projects, and work by the University of Southampton team, will be presented at this years GTO conference (European conference of tropical ecology) in Gottingen next week.

William giving his personal view on the work of Tessa at her gradation ceremony (Utrecht University)

William giving his personal view on the work of Tessa at her gradation ceremony (UU)

 

Netherlands Annual Ecology Meeting 2016 – day 2

NAEM_0Netherlands Annual Ecology Meeting (NAEM) 2016
10 February 2016
Conference Centre “De Werelt”, Lunteren

Day 2 of the NAEM breakfast 07:30, first lectures at 08:30… Two keynotes today thinking about ecological stoichiometry the first by Stan Harpole (Martin-Luther-Universitat-Halle-Wittenberg) focused on resource ratio theory, and then Martin Wassen (Utrecht University) thinking about N and P limitations. I also attended, parts of, three sessions today “Linkages between fire, vegetation, soil and ecosystem services”“Novel ecosystems”, and “Scaling from trait to environment and back”. My top talks for today were:

  1. Elmar Veenendaal (Wageningen University) Fire effects on tropical woody vegetation structure have been exaggerated?
    Working on long-term fire study plots (Kokondekro since 1932) suggest that for forest-savannah transition zones fire alone is insufficient to mediate a change between states; human manipulation of ecosystems is required as well to trigger the change.
  2. Frank van Langevelde (Wageningen University) Feedbacks between fire and patches of woody vegetation in tropical grassland savannah
    Examination of tree distributions and fire within the Kruger National Park shows that landscapes contain more clustered tree populations when fire frequency is higher.

Plus today I have done lots of talking and made many new contacts. I have lots of follow up emails to write and promised papers to send around! Overall this has been a super meeting for meeting people – perfect for expanding my network of Dutch based ecologists – in a nice location, with good food and beer. Looking forward to next year already.

Netherlands Annual Ecology Meeting 2016 – day 1

NAEM_0Netherlands Annual Ecology Meeting (NAEM) 2016
9 February 2016
Conference Centre “De Werelt”, Lunteren

The annual Dutch ecology conference is being held over two days at the in “remote” Lunteren and I am pleased to be able to attend all of the conference this year. The conference was kicked off this morning with a recognition that this year is 150 years since the birth of ecology as a science (Haeckel, 1866). The opening two keynotes focused on aspects of ecology which have sometimes been overlooked firstly, parasitism (Peter Hudson, Penn State University) and secondly, immunology (Irene Tieleman, University of Groningen). Following these I focused on just two sessions in the morning “linking diversity to function”, and in the afternoon “ecosystem cascades”. From the range of excellent talks in the sessions I have picked one from each as my favourite:

  1. Masha van der Sande (Wageningen University) The role of biodiversity and environment on productivity in tropical forests; evidence across scales
    By examining long-term tropical forest monitoring data van der Sande demonstrated that through time ecosystem traits changed significantly. She hypothesised that the lack of stability in ecosystem traits was due to past disturbance; although it is unclear what caused this disturbance (climate or humans), or when it occurred.
  2. Dries Kuijper (Mammal Research Institute, Poland) Landscapes of fear in Europe: Wolves and humans shaping ungulate top-down effects
    By tracking Wolf pack distributions in the Bialowieza forest (Poland) Kuijper showed that ungulates avoided Wolf pack  “core areas” for fear of predation, that the exclusion of ungulates lead to reduced browsing of the vegetation, and so consequently forests regenerated faster in Wolf pack core areas.

The evening lecture was given by Bart Knols (in2care) who gave an impassioned talk on the importance of communicating science beyond the academic sphere. Arguing that now is the time for ecologists to have an influence on policy making, politics and business, as well as showing us how he has done this.

Great day.

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BES annual meeting: Top talks

I am just back from a fabulous British Ecological Society (BES) annual meeting in Edinburgh. Both the city and the science were interesting and exciting. The Science Slam was certainly my highlight “fringe” event and I believe all the slams will be avaliable to view soon on the BES Youtube channel. But you can watch the winner, Rosie Woodroffe, now…

Of the many great science talks I would like to highlight just four here which I found particulalry interesting, by: Stephen Prentice (Queen’s University Belfast), Althea Davies (University of St. Andrews), Tom August (Cente for Ecology & Hydrology), and Kimberly Simpson (University of Sheffield).

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