Friday, 30 August 2013

Happy Birthday BES!

Celebrating 100 years of the British Ecological Society
By Dr Lindsey Atkinson (@LJA_1)

This year the British Ecological Society is 100 years old. It is the oldest ecological society in the world and its aims are ‘to advance ecology and make it count‘.  To mark the occasion there have been a series of events celebrating ecological science and research and promoting public engagement through the Festival of Ecology The celebrations also included a major international conference: ‘Ecology: into the next 100 years’.  

This was the 11th International Congress of the International Association for Ecology (INTECOL 2013) bringing together about 2000 ecologists from around the world (including myself and two GEES colleagues) to give 1000 talks and present over 500 posters.

So why are we talking about an ecology conference on GEESology?  One thing that came across at this conference was the sheer diversity of the topics covered by the broad umbrella of ecology.  The themes ranged across theoretical and applied ecology, conservation management and public policy.  Specific topics included sustainable agriculture, sustainable cities, biodiversity, ecosystem function, biogeography, climate change ecology and public policy, poverty alleviation and much more, linking in to many of the interests of GEESologists.

In the introductory session Professor Georgina Mace, President of the BES, welcomed the delegates in the Capital Auditorium of the ICC London ExCel Centre (last year the venue for the Olympic boxing, wrestling and fencing).  She was followed by the President of Intecol, Professor Alan Covitch, who outlined challenges for ecologists for the next 100 years emphasizing the vital role of communication between disciplines.  Finally, Professor Ilkka Hanski of the International Scientific Committee of the Congress emphasized the need for ‘solid ecological knowledge’ to inform ‘well-educated decision makers’.

The conference then got under way with an excellent first plenary lecture given by Professor Sandra Diaz of Cordoba National University in Argentina.  Professor Diaz discussed using a plant functional trait approach to describe patterns of diversity at a global scale.  The aim is to provide a framework for predicting the response of ecosystems to environmental change and the impact that this will have on the services those ecosystems provide.   Another highlight of the conference was Professor Mace’s Presidential Address ‘Looking forwards not backwards: biodiversity conservation in the 21st Century’ – you can read a summary of her talk on the BES blog.

The Sex & Bugs & Rock 'n Roll Roadshow has been touring
 music festivals this year to tell people about ecology
The opportunity for everyone to get involved in ecology was highlighted during the week through sessions about 'citizen science'.  No need to be an expert as the information you will need is provided, often via the internet or an ‘app’.  The data contributions are validated and interpreted by scientists.  Examples include the Treezilla project which aims to map all the trees in the UK and shows how they benefit the local environment and Conker Tree Science, mapping the spread of an invasive moth which is damaging our horse chestnut trees. There are citizen science projects monitoring birds, pollinators, ponds and hedgerows and many others – perhaps there’s one to spark your interest!

Over the next few days we listened to more plenary talks from leading scientists as well as talks by scientists at all levels from graduate students to emeritus professors, participated in workshops, discussed our posters, caught up with old friends and met new people.  Even with the help of the ‘app’ to negotiate the programme it wasn’t possible to go to everything of interest.  At times it felt a little too busy with so much going on but the advantage of going to such a broad-ranging conference is being able to dip into other sessions to learn something about a new topic area and making connections with colleagues in other disciplines.  We went home tired but inspired to explore new work directions!

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