Friday, August 12, 2011

Day 5 in Austin

The ecological community in Austin assembled for the final morning of talks today, and despite the advanced stage of the conference, the 8 o’clock talk I was at was surprisingly well-attended. There was only a morning worth of talks, but frankly, the Community Pattern and Dynamics session I attended had some of the most interesting talks I’d seen all week.

I started out in the Aquatic Terrestrial Linkages section, where Tiffany Schriever introduced me to the concept of spatial subsidies (the transfer of energy from one system to another), and described her system-temporary ponds in Ontario, Canada-in which the dual aquatic and terrestrial nature of the pond amphibian and insect life cycles couple aquatic and terrestrial systems.

Although I arrived late for Rafael D’Andrea’s talk in this session, it seemed that he did an excellent job of presenting ecological models, making his question and results both clear and interesting. He examined how tradeoff models, such as Muller Landau’s seed tolerance vs. seed fecundity model, predict far less diversity can be supported when the tradeoff changes smoothly rather than abruptly.

Nathan Sanders then explained his shift from primarily place-based research to global, macroecological studies. However, Sanders acknowledged the common criticisms of the macroecological approach, in that patterns are not necessarily evidence of mechanism, and has attempted to reach a compromise between the benefits of the two approaches. To balance place-based with global approaches, Sanders and his collaborators form a global network of researchers who are carrying out the same manipulative experiments (looking at resource limitation in ants) across different systems worldwide, and the results promise to be exciting.

In the final talk in the session, Steve Walker from the Legendre lab presented his approach to dealing with the “fourth corner problem”, that is relating species traits to environmental conditions. Rather than developing new approaches for analysis, Walker has focused on approaching this problem via data management. In particular, he has developed an R package (beta available here) called multitable in which data with different dimensions (such as a site-by-species matrix and a trait-by-species matrix) can be subscripted simultaneously, and coerced into a single data frame for use in standard R functions.

All in all it was a great week, and I’m excited to get back to work and feed off the energy of the conference. ESA gave me a chance to meet some of my favourite ecology bloggers, including Ethan White and Morgan Ernest from Jabberwocky Ecology and Jeremy Fox from the Oikos blog. It made me wonder whether there might be room next year for a more formal meeting of these online colleagues, whether in a loosely organized sense, or even as a workshop or symposium focused on the how ecologists can use (and are using) new technology—especially the internet—to communicate their science. If anyone has any comments or thoughts about whether there would be a role for something like this at ESA, I'd be happy to hear them.

See you in Portland, one year from now!


jabberwocky said...

We really enjoyed meeting you as well. We would definitely be interested in something either formal or informal at ESA next year. In addition to the bloggers there is also a growing list of Twitter folks who would have something to contribute. We definitely think that it would be useful to remind the ESA in general about the importance of modern (rapid) tools for communication.

P.S. We just noticed that at least one of your favorite blogs appears to be missing from your blog roll :)

chandra said...

Wonderful article, thanks for putting this together!
Thanks for Support