ESA Thursday review: a few final thoughts

My ESA meeting is over, I’m leaving early Friday morning. A few final thoughts:

  • Except for today, I didn’t have too many time conflicts between talks I wanted to see. But there are always some. I hear Deborah Goldberg and Nathan Kraft were really good, I’m sorry I had to miss both of them. Ben Bolker too. And there are others I’m sorry I had to miss.
  • I haven’t been highlighting specific talks I liked, just because I don’t have the energy at the end of the day. But I want to highlight one from today, because it was just sooo good: Jennifer Gremer’s talk on optimal bet-hedging in desert annuals. She used a long-term monitoring dataset to show that desert annuals “hedge their bets” by not germinating all their seeds in any given year, thereby avoiding “putting all their eggs in one basket”. But then she went much further, building and parameterizing a model to predict optimal germination fractions and comparing those predictions to the observed values. The match between model predictions and the observed data was spectacularly good, with just a small systematic deviation (for which there could be various explanations). And she was a fine speaker too. Just an outstanding talk.
  • Mark McPeek’s talk was a very good overview of his many years of work figuring out how damselflies coexist. I was struck by his passing remark at the very end that he’s applied currently-popular phylogenetic approaches to inferring contemporary coexistence mechanisms–and found that they fail abysmally. I suggest that this should really worry anyone who uses those phylogenetic approaches. Their failure to recover the known coexistence mechanisms in this case isn’t a matter of a bad phylogeny, or other problems with the data, or anything like that. At least in Mark’s damselfly system, the approach apparently just doesn’t work as advertised, period.
  • I saw lots of other good talks, today and on the other days. Which I lack the energy to mention, sorry.
  • The beer lovers among you should’ve taken Jeremy Yoder’s advice and tried the Bulldog Downtown. I went there Wed. night, it was half-full and there was only one table of ecologists in there. It looks like a nondescript bar, but the beer list is great (40 taps! a bunch of Belgians on draft! even including a Flemish sour ale!) and the food is good. Don’t get me wrong, I like Brit’s Pub (Fuller’s on the hand pump! Takes me back to my postdoc in London…), but the massive concentration of ecologists there compared to their rarity in the Bulldog just a couple of blocks away was an example of suboptimal foraging in my view. 🙂
  • Ended my meeting by taking a taxi over to St. Paul and having dinner with a pair of old friends at another of Jeremy’s recommendations, The Happy Gnome. It’s a bit pricey, but boy was it worth it. Food was outstanding and the beer list was even better than the Bulldog’s.

That’s it for me from the ESA. See you in Sacramento next year!


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