With day 1 over, ESA 2013 was off to an excellent start. Minneapolis seems like a very friendly place, and I enjoyed perhaps the most chatty bus ride I've ever experienced. As always, I failed to determine the best point on the trade off plot between cherry-picking certain talks based on topic, speaker and friends, and staying put in a session with an interesting topic. Nonetheless I managed to see some really good talks.
Among them, I saw Lauren Shoemaker in the Theoretical Ecology section, who illustrated how to model the four metacommunity paradigms (I.e. species sorting, mass effects, neutral, and patch dynamics) with the Chessonian framework of equalizing and stabilizing forces. She illustrated how both deterministic and stochastic models could replicate dynamics from the four paradigms. This suggests that rather than the usual description of the neutral paradigm as stochastic and the mass effect and species sorting paradigms as niche-based and therefore deterministic, the terms niche and deterministic and neutral and stochastic should not be synonymous. Rather, in the Chessonian framework, fitness differences drive neutral-type dynamics and spatial niches structure the species sorting and mass effects paradigms. More importantly, the results show how the paradigms are just a few sets of points on the much broader set of parameter values that could describe metacommunity dynamics.
It must be funny for Peter Chesson to follow up a talk in which his name is used as an adjective. After the talk on the Chessonian framework, he spoke about the fact that environment is fluid and non-stationary, yet models of communities have almost always treated it as being at equilibrium. Since it is not, ideally models of community dynamics would begin to incorporate environmental variation, and ask questions more relevant to non-equilibrium systems. For example: when is long-term persistence expected, given this non-stationarity and can communities in a non-stationary system still be stable? He showed that including environmental fluidity into models doesn't mean that communities are necessarily unstable, for example, when spatial and temporal trends of environmental variation match, communities may be stationary.
In another of many good talks about temporal variation (seemingly a popular topic of late), Colin Kremer showed that altering the basic characteristics of abiotic temporal variation (amplitude, means, periodicity) changed the amount of diversity present as communities evolved over time. Temporal variation isn't a simple concept anymore than spatial variability is - it has different characteristics with different effects on ecological dynamics and needs to be considered in greater depth.
My biggest disappointment was that I had a time conflict and couldn't attend a talk titled "Significant changes in the skin microbiome mediated by the sport of roller derby". No doubt I would have learned a lot.