Sobering thoughts from Baltimore, 100th annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America

The 100th ESA annual meeting was a great experience! It was an opportunity to present our work, of course, but what I really enjoyed was the breadth and depth. The breadth of ecological topics represented was exceptional – speak about biodiversity!- and the depth of the talks and of the understanding within each subfield was phenomenal.

I would like to highlight three researchers and their talks. There were many other remarkable ones but these actually tie well together in what I would call a list obstacles for our societies to deal effectively with the biodiversity crisis and with ecological issues in general.

P1030421Stephen Jackson from the University of Arizona, USA, presented five major challenges for ecology. Among those, three could be labelled as governance challenges within ecological research – whether within academic institutions or in the way academics interacts with decision makers and land managers.

Two others were more directly related to our science. Stephen notably put an emphasis on the difficulties related to defining nature in a context of ever-changing conditions – and in a context of omnipresent human pressure.

This last point was further developed by Jens-Christian Svenning from Aarhus University, Denmark. It was divided into three categories: disequilibrium dynamics, novel ecosystems and trophic cascade. These three ecological phenomena remind us how much ecosystem function in a complex way. As a result of this complexity, ecosystems have futures that are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to predict.

Jens-Christian presented several compelling examples to illustrate his talk and I would refer anyone interested to his publication list.

Finally, Shannon Hagerman, from the University of British Columbia, Canada, provided a wider framework explaining the origin of these institutional and ecological challenges.

Shannon’s work focusses on the values underlying expert opinion in biodiversity science and claims that today’s novel impact created by human activities not only threatens biodiversity in a direct way (as we all understand it) but it also deeply questions the values that have hitherto guided conservation actions.

It can be postulated that this crisis of values within the field of conservation at large creates obstacles for us to deal effectively with the biodiversity crisis itself and with ecological issues in general.

This is a very simplified synthesis of these three talks, that certainly does not do them justice, and the opinions expressed are mine. Ambroise, Sheffield, UK, August 27th 2015

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One thought on “Sobering thoughts from Baltimore, 100th annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America

  1. Pingback: Lake BESS preliminary results presented in Liverpool | Lake BESS

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