Sunday, August 16, 2015

Monday at the 100th Meeting of the Ecological Society of America

I last attended a meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting in 2005.  That year, a few of my graduate students and I travelled to Montreal, Canada to present our research on insect diversity in New York City gardens.  I enjoyed reconnecting with friends and colleagues, but I left feeling like the ESA didn't have a place for us or our developing research program in urban ecology.

Fast forward 10 years:  I was thrilled to see that this year's meeting ~ the 100th meeting of the ESA ~ was full of opportunities to learn from and network with ecologists, engineers, geographers, designers, sociologists, educators and spiritual leaders who are keenly invested and involved in understanding how to build more sustainable, just and healthy cities.

What did I learn from #ESA100?  What inspired me?  Over the next few days, I'll put together my day-by-day impressions.  First up . . .

Monday, August 10, 2015

I started my morning by slipping into the Plenary session. Esteemed ecologists David Tilman and Margaret Palmer were joined by former US Representative and current Chief Executive of AAAS Rush Holt to set the stage for a conversation on 'what will a successful environmental agenda look like for the next 5, 10, 100 years?'.

Notables from the plenary session:

  • David Tilman on ethanol:  'I thought we'd be hard pressed to make a fuel worse than gasoline, but we've done it'.
  • David Tilman on the importance of agriculture to sustainability: suggested that to feed the world while conserving biodiversity, we need modern, precision agriculture and a healthier diet.
  • David Tilman on the impact of diet on the environment:  asked a rhetorical question 'how can we convince 11 billion people to change their diet?', and suggested that a Nobel Prize should go the chef who can create healthy, delicious and sustainable dishes.
  • Rush Holt on the status of science, today:  'Americans have lost their reverence for evidence.'
  • All speakers noted the importance of making science accessible to all.  I could not help but notice the irony of sitting in a hotel conference room with a mostly white audience . . . not too far from where the Baltimore riots occurred.  I grew up not too far from where we sat.  As a child, I didn't know anyone who was a scientist.  I never would have believed that *I* could be a scientist, if it weren't for a teacher who took the time to cultivate the confidence I needed to believe that a career in science was possible, for a kid like me.  Taking the time to reach out to others, inviting them to participate, and providing them with opportunities, mentoring and support is so incredibly important if we are sincere about diversifying science and the field of ecology.  Judging from the demographics of those at #ESA100, we still have a ways to go.
  • POTUS wished the ESA a happy birthday, and thanked ecologists for our contributions to society.  

In the afternoon, I moved between several different sessions.  Some interesting tidbits:

  • Lindell et al. 'Birds in orchards: economic, biological, and social aspects of ecosystem services':  birds such as starlings cause a lot of damage to fruit orchards.  The researchers installed nesting boxes to attract kestrels that might help control the fruit-eating birds.  Analysis of kestrel diet showed that they mostly eat insects and mammals, but that they occasionally eat starlings.  They then surveyed consumers to see what type of control they would prefer for pest birds.  Consumers preferred, and would be willing to pay more, for fruit that was protected from pest birds by kestrels . . . compared to the use of pellet guns or other deterrents for bird control.
  • Lopez et al. 'Drivers of plant species composition in an urban landscape: which variables matter most?':  looked at plant species composition in forest fragments along an urban gradient. Among other factors, researchers found that distance to urban centers was positively related to the prevalence of invasive species in forest fragments.  This suggests that horticultural use of non-native species played an important role in the introduction of invasive species into forest fragments.
  • Thorn et al. 'Quantitative scenarios for land cover change in New Hampshire: what is the potential impact on ecosystem services?':  for this series of simulations, ecosystem service degradation seemed to take hold when the percent of paved surfaces in the landscape surpassed 10%.
  • Cattell Noll et all. 'How does consuming organic products affect my nitrogen footprint?': the University of Virginia has developed an online tool that you can use to calculate your nitrogen footprint.  How cool!

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