This year I attended INTECOL instead of ESA. INTECOL is the conference sponsored by the International Association for Ecology (which has national ecological societies as members). This year INTECOL is holding a joint meeting with the British Ecological Society annual meeting (celebrating their 100th anniversary this year). INTECOL is held only once every four years. Many North American’s attended INTECOL 8 years ago when they held a joint meeting with ESA in Montreal but might not have known it. FYI the next meeting is in 2017 in Beijing, so start saving up!
I’ll save a comparison between ESA and INTECOL until after I’ve been here a bit longer. For now, I’ll note there are about 2,000 attendees so slightly smaller than ESA (4000-6000).
There were two great plenary talks. Sandra Diaz talked about her work on plant functional traits and the worldwide effort to build a trait database (TRY). Although there was nothing profoundly surprising to those of us who follow the trait literature (as you would expect in a plenary), I felt like it was a nice summary of the state of trait research. I increasingly hear people say that trait research is a bandwagon without deep research happening. This talk showed nicely that there are some big questions being asked and answered in the trait literature. The other plenary was Joel Cohen who gave a very thorough look at Taylors Law (variance is a power function of mean in population size) with plenty of interesting ideas and encouraged students to collect more data on this topic. All questions for the plenary speakers are being submitted by Twitter only. As someone who doesn’t carry a cell phone it doesn’t really work for me. You might think it would bias the questions to the younger crowd which would be a good thing, but not sure it has worked that way so far.
I spent most of my time jumping between three symposia on elevational gradients, biogeography and plant traits. Lots of good talks, but for me the most interesting was the synergy between Rob Colwell, Christian Korner and Christy McCain in the elevational gradients talk. They all discussed how microclimate is extremely variable on mountains (due to the rugged topography and also the highly varying insolation due to shading by the mountain itself). They pointed out that for small organisms be they herbs or insects or small mammals the temperature variability at the scale of meters is just as great as the mean temperatures difference at the scales of 100s of meters vertical (requiring many kms of dispersal on the ground). The simplistic notion of organisms chasing climate up the mountains doesn’t fit these organisms. In contrast large organisms (be they trees in Christian’s talk or caribou in Christy’s talk) are part of the well-mixed atmosphere instead of the poorly mixed soil surface and so to a much greater degree experience these mean atmospheric temperatures and cannot exploit the microclimates and therefore will have to march up the mountain with climate change).
In the biogeography session, Naia Morueta-Holmes gave a nice talk comparing two hypotheses on causes of range edges. Bottom line temperature is really important in high latitudes, water is really important in the desert (i.e. in the New World the southwestern US and Mexico) and other factors are most important elsewhere. The other talk that stands out in my mind is a talk by David Storch who really hammered home how well his work with John Harte on predicting beta diversity simply as a function of N/S (i.e. mean species abundance) works. To me this indicates how much beta diversity at the scales being discussed is driven just by sampling effects.The more research I see, I begin to wonder whether habitat affects macroecological patterns at all. Eric Garnier gave a nice talking showing how plant traits can be used to predict an ecosystem function other than productivity! Indeed a rather applied trait – plant palatability with obvious relevance to livestock grazing. They were able to produce maps of plant palatability across France.
Apologies to all the great talks I missed or didn’t have room for! (see EEB & Flow for a completely different set of talks except for the plenaries)