Monday, August 11, 2014

#ESA2014: Day 1, just getting started

First off, apparently I wrote that I would be 'live blogging ESA'. Actually, all that means is that, I'm alive, I'm blogging, and I'm at ESA. :-)

Secondly, several other people will be giving snippets from their days this week, including Lauren Shoemaker, and Geoff Legault (below).

The first day is always more about the experience than the content: you are often lost, have no firm idea of where you need to be, and are constantly running into friends and acquaintances. It's great, but not conducive to settling into talks.

For that reason, I'll just mention the experiences that I found most exciting today. First, I saw a number of Ignite talks. These are a recent addition to ESA and are basically 5 minute talks using slides that advance every 15s. This requires a certain ability on the part of the speaker to be brief and yet informative, minimalist but not inaccurate, practiced, but not robotic. I thought that many of the speakers in the Ecosystems in the Third National Climate Assessment achieved this. One speaker, Linda Joyce said -  "if you want to feel like a graduate student again, sign up for an Ignite talk." Presumably because it makes you feel nerves like you haven't felt in years!

Joyce gave a great talk, as did others. Some of the conversation around the ecosystem assessment fell into the discourse that ecosystems provide services, and services imply people. Are ecosystem assessments only about people? Obviously this is too challenging a topic for a 5 minute talk, but it certainly sparks to further discussion on the topic, as it was meant to.

The second session of interest to me was an organized symposium in which early career scientists gave talks about their work. The central thread was simply that all of the speakers were pre-tenure academics. This really worked as a theme to tie the session together. At the end, the speakers answered questions briefly about their careers, advice, and research. Their best advice was really very good, if in line with what you here on attempting a job in academia. Find mentors. Set boundaries between your personal and private life. Say no sometimes, if it means maintaining some sort of sanity (e.g travel less, have more time with your family). A point that came up multiple times was simply, you have to have passion for science, have to love talking about your work. Having something you're passionate about is better than having ten things you are lukewarm on. And always find people to collaborate with, to talk with, to support.

Finally, there are many paths to success. And failure is universal, but not final.

(My favourite quote - someone who mentioned measuring effort in 'undergraduate work hours')

#Lauren Shoemaker

ESA had some excellent talks to start the 99th conference in Sacramento, California. I stayed in Community Assembly and Neutral Theory for several talks before running back and forth between the Hyatt, Sheraton, and conference center (missing the first few minutes of several talks).

In Community Assembly, Maria Stockenreiter gave a fantastic talk on community assembly in phytoplankton communities while building on the theory of Miller et al. (2009) examining the role of unsuccessful invaders in shaping communities. Even unsuccessful invaders within a community can alter environmental conditions or species distributions such that an unsuccessful invasion can exclude a current or future potentially successful invader. Maria tested this theory using two phytoplankton communities—a lab strain with no shared ecological history and a Gull lake community with shared history. While all invaders were unsuccessful in the experiments, they had large effects on community diversity. Unsuccessful invasion decreased diversity in the lab strains but increased diversity in the Gull Lake community, showing both the “ghost effect” of competition and the role of shared ecological histories.

In Paleoecology, Matthew Knope examined the functional diversity-taxonomic diversity relationships for marine animals during the past 500 million years. It was fun to think of a relationship I only consider in current-times over such a long timescale. Matthew categorized marine mammals according to their location in a discrete 3-dimensional niche space (tiering on sea floor, feeding mode, and motility). The data show that the amount of functional diversity was far lower than expected based on taxonomic diversity until only recently. Additionally, I was amazed to see a consistent trend (from 3 different mass extinctions in the dataset) that mass extinctions promote functional diversity 10-20 million years post extinction leading to even higher functional diversity than pre-extinction.

Back at the convention center in the Biodiversity I session, Pascal Niklaus examined if interspecific vertical canopy space partitioning promoted productivity in subtropical forests. While light is a directional resource, creating a large advantage for being tall, Pascal found that vertical niche partitioning still occurred when comparing monocultures to multiple species assemblages. Species in higher diversity communities also had narrower niches, and similar species shifted their vertical leaf biomass niche, but only in shaded treatments. Vertical niche partitioning did, indeed, promote higher ecosystem function.

#Geoff Legault
I arrived in Sacramento this afternoon so I did not get a chance to see many talks (though I did enjoy Meghan Duffy’s talk about possible hydra effects in Daphnia). I did, however, see a number of excellent posters, particularly one by Nick Rasmussen on the interactive effects of density and phenology on the recruitment of toads. I was impressed by his use of mesocosms to directly manipulate these factors and found that he made a compelling case for the idea that the degree of synchrony in hatching can determine which form of intraspecific competition dominates recruitment.


David Bapst said...

"marine mammals during the past 500 million years"

What?! I presume you mean animals (Metazoa) not mammals...

Caroline Tucker said...

Ha, unless it was *really* a groundbreaking talk, I'm sure that's what Lauren meant :)