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

Lake BESS to present results: 100th Ecological Society of America annual meeting, Baltimore, USA

Lake BESS is looking forward to going to the 100th Ecological Society of America (ESA) annual meeting in Baltimore! We have a talk scheduled Friday August 14th 2015 during the session “COS 142: Habitat Structure, Fragmentation, Connectivity”.logo

This is a very exciting opportunity to present our work asking the question: Does connectivity increase resilience of biodiversity against eutrophication in networks of shallow lakes? Our talk will be the only one focusing on freshwater in an collection of oral papers otherwise dedicated to ecological connectivity.

We will be using aquatic plant surveys conducted between 1983 and 2014 in our two study areas: The Broads, England, UK, and the Upper Lough Erne area, Northern Ireland, UK, and we will identify the relative importance of:

  • connectivity between lakes,
  • local water chemistry
  • lake morphology
  • and other factors

to explain the aquatic vegetation patters in the two lake districts during two time periods.

The comprehensive programme of the conference is available here online program and our abstract can be read there.

LakeBESS start-up

Lakes are inspirational places for people enjoying outdoor activities and they are cherished by local communities and holiday-makers alike. However, lake ecosystems are threatened by environmental change and loss of biodiversity that can have cascading and catastrophic effects.

The LakeBESS project, run from the Environmental Change Research Centre (ECRC) at UCL, is focussed on two lake districts, the Broads in East Anglia and the Upper Lough Erne district in Northern Ireland.

debarcadaireWe are looking into how biodiversity regulates ecological balance within lakes and would like to assess the consequences of biodiversity loss for the provision of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services from lakes are extremely diverse: recreation, tourism, water purification, flood prevention, provision of fish for anglers and fisheries and other supporting services such as carbon storage for climate mitigation.

Because of this variety, changes in lake ecological functioning may affect the different services in different ways, rendering best practices for restoration and management difficult to establish.

One aspect we are particularly interested to develop in LakeBESS is the importance of ecological connectivity between lakes for their biodiversity. Connectivity may be a major factor determining lake ecosystem resilience because it counter-balances the negative effect of local extinction by increasing species re-colonisation.

Another aspect of interest is the consequences of biological invasions by organisms such as zebra mussel and Canadian pondweed.

We have just started this project as part of the Biodiveristy, Ecosystem Services and Sustainablility (BESS) research programme funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Our team is composed of Carl Sayer, Helen Bennion, Jorge Salgado and Ambroise Baker at UCL, Tom Davidson at the University of Aarhus (Denmark), Beth Okamura at the Natural History Museum and Nigel Willby at Stirling University. We are looking forward to a field campaign this summer and to presenting the result of our work to the numerous stakeholders in both lake districts.

We also would love to hear your take on how changes in lakes, or in a particular lake, can affect people’s lives.