Last week saw a delegation of Team Shrub travel all the way up north to Aberdeen – shamefully a first visit for many of us who clearly spend too much time in Edinburgh!
We attended the Scottish Ecology, Environment and Conservation Conference, which brought together graduate students, academics and policy makers from the universities of Aberdeen, St Andrews, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling, and from organisations like the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage.
The pretty streets of old Aberdeen
We were busy even before the conference started : members of Team Shrub who are also members of the Coding Club ran a joint workshop with the Aberdeen Study Group on analysing large biodiversity datasets (do it yourself!). We had a full room and everyone learned something new in R!
Three of us gave presentations that were very well received and praised for their graphic design – “visually stunning” as Gergana has a habit of saying.
Haydn Thomas – Decomposition patterns across the tundra biome: litters substrate explains more than environment. Haydn presented results from the Tundra Teabag Experiment, demonstrating how the quality of litter inputs influences decomposition rates a lot more than site conditions like temperature or moisture.
Gergana Daskalova – Are rare species more likely to be declining than common species? A common assumption, but the answer is nope! At least, not in the UK. Gergana showed that common metrics of rarity like habitat specificity are not linked to steeper slopes of population change, and that there is not even a declining trend for UK vertebrate populations: a lot of populations are also increasing or remaining stable. Gergana’s excellent talk was highly commended by the jury!
John Godlee – How do competitive interactions affect elevational range shifts of neotropical trees? John presented exciting results from his Honours dissertation, demonstrating that tree seedlings are negatively impacted by root competition from mature trees, but that the canopy of the latter might reduce plant stress in those same seedlings. Fascinating parallels with the stress-gradient hypothesis, a favourite topic of mine – and of the jury apparently, as John won first prize for the best talk presented at the conference! Congratulations John!
After mingling at the poster session, everyone went to the pub for more mingling, and Isla persuaded the staff to put on University Challenge on the big screen so we could watch the Edinburgh team play their last match: a sad outcome, but we are super proud of our very own Edinburgh Boyle (captain) and the rest of the team for an enthralling and edifying season!
The second day of the conference was full of excellent student talks on subjects as diverse as food preferences in hummingbirds, mysterious lichen taxonomy (baffling indeed), and sustainable management of tropical ecosystems, and everything in between. There was also a panel discussion on applying ecological science to conservation and environmental policy. The panelists were adamant that research is impactful and valuable to policy. As Georgina Mace put it, “the key is to find a question that is answerable, interesting and worthy”. Anne Glover emphasised the importance of timely thinking: “It’s incredibly important to communicate your science at the right time, not when the train has already left the station – look at which policies are coming up, which ones are due to be revised.”
Other words by Anne Glover resonated with us: “You can’t generate knowledge and not find a home for it. A home with just other scientists is not good enough”. This applies to policy, but I felt it also relates a lot to the many outreach events we have on at the moment with the Edinburgh International Science Festival. There is definitely much to be gained by sharing perspectives and opening up to new ideas.
Thanks to the organisers for putting together such an exciting programme. We are already looking forward to next year’s edition of SEECC!