British Ecological Society and Société Française d’Écologie Joint Annual Meeting 2014: An Overview

This year marked the first ever joint annual meeting between British Ecological Society and Société Française d’Écologie held in Lille (France) which featured an interesting array of speakers from a wide spectrum of specialist areas in ecology. The programme included a collection of sessions, symposiums, lunchtime workshops, poster sessions and special interest group meetings which shared and integrated the research of many across Europe and beyond. Here I will focus on a short overview of the event.

The Annual Meeting began with a Plenary Lecture by Dr Anne Larigauderie, Executive Secretary of the newly established Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). During her lecture, Anne outlined the IPBES’s current and future planned assessments to provide policy knowledge on international biodiversity and ecosystem services, its structure and functioning processes, as well as highlighting its four main objectives; 1) the need for further indigenous and local knowledge in the scientific community, 2) to conduct sub-regional, regional and global assessments, 3) thematic and methodological assessments on the values of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and 4) to communicate and evaluate research information effectively through policy support tools.

The past few days were filled with a total of 62 talk sessions and 10 symposia covering a diverse range of research disciplines from around the world. Some of these included celebrating citizen science, community ecology, global change ecology, plant-pollinator interactions, and complexity in food webs as well as linking aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Three which I found most interesting focused on citizen science, historical habitat surveys and freshwater river recovery.  Firstly, Helen Roy talked about the past 50 years since the opening of the Biological Record Centre in the UK which contains a series of long-term records of biodiversity indicator species collected by volunteers which were used as part of the governmental policy making process. Secondly, Keith Kirby spoke about the benefits of using diaries and photographs to monitor changes over time in Wytham Woods (Oxfordshire) due to conservation management and the potential of using social media to enable future habitat surveys. Finally, another talk which caught my attention was that by John Gunn which centred on the Sudbury case history of ecosystem recovery in freshwater river systems at a test site in the US when 95% of human induce pollution was removed and found that almost all species had recovered after 25 years except for populations of invertebrates which are crucial for the sustainability of this habitat.

Each lunch time, a series of participatory workshops was held, from EU policies on nature and their effective delivery, to doing and funding public engagement. One of particular interest was entitled ‘Modelling ecosystems on-line – Data model fusion and predicting/quantifying ecosystem consequences of various land use and climate change scenarios’, led by Zoltán Barcza and Ferenc Horvath. During this workshop session, presenters spoke and provided a demo of the open access online modelling tool, Biome-BGC MuSo, which can be used to assess and predict the functioning of natural and managed ecosystems across the globe.

In the main Exhibition Hall, poster sessions generated much discussion throughout the two first evenings, and included a poster presented by myself which focused on nature’s impact on human health and wellbeing through green volunteering activities. The main conversation topics I was engaged in focused on the privacy of data that will be collected by volunteers, the use of technology in outdoor conditions to monitor people’s health, how health benefits through connecting to nature links directly to ecosystem services as well as the current gap in knowledge that remains about the possible health benefits that might generate from green volunteering, both mentally as well as physically.

On the last day, GrrlScientist presented an inspirational Plenary Lecture on the small revolution of social media, citizen science and crowd funding that has grown in ecological research. From its historical roots to successful case studies, GrrlScientist explained the importance of these three aspects in promoting, progressing and sharing ecological knowledge, encouraging everyone to incorporate citizen science and social media into their future research as well as the pivotal role of citizens. GrrlScientist highlighted the different aspects that are associated with a citizen science project, and showed the similarities between crowd funded projects and crowd participatory projects as well as what was the role of scientists in each secenario.

Finally, for me this annual meeting was particularly special, speaking to supervisors and colleagues both past and present, as well as forging new future relationships across national boundaries and research disciplines.

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