INTECOL and the Role of Ecologists

Monday, August 17, 2009

G’day from Brisbane!  I’ve come here to attend and give an oral presentation at the 10th International Congress of Ecology or INTECOL.  The theme of this conference is Ecology in a Changing Climate: Two hemispheres – One world.  Hundreds of ecologists from 60 different countries are in attendance giving oral and poster presentations throughout the week.  As the conference theme suggests, many of the presentations are about climate change, but there are also general ecology talks about everything from Tasmanian devils, rhinos, and elephants to ecosystem resilience, riparian health, and conservation.  Every 15 minutes there are 9 oral presentations from which you can choose, plus a large number of posters.  Thankfully the venue at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Hall is not only beautiful and spacious, but it is arranged so that it is easy to move between rooms to catch talks in different sessions. 

One pervasive theme throughout the first day was one of the role ecologists can play to explain processes, inform policy makers, and shape decision-making strategies at this critical time in our world.  Mira & I attended a public lecture and panel debate last night about Urban Ecology, sustainable planning and development and the responsibility of ecologists in securing our future. After reading the latter, Mira turned to me and said, “Get with it, mom!”  So, in that spirit, I’m getting with it, cramming as much information into my brain as possible while at this conference.

Some of the most thought-provoking talks I’ve attended thus far are summarized below.  When comparing the native and invasive ranges in Australia of 26 species, there was not complete niche overlap.  Some of the invasive species expanded into completely different habitat types.  This research fuels the argument that it is not possible to predict what will or will not become invasive.

As in South Florida, other parts of the world are challenged to preserve native flora and fauna within urban settings.  Cape Town, South Africa has a particularly challenging task as it has nine endemic ecosystems within the city limits.  Although the mountainous areas have been well protected, the lowlands are at high risk.  Because some of the plants growing in these low areas are found nowhere else in the world, there is a push to have biodiversity protection integrated into city plans.  Those in the audience from Australia and other parts of the world sympathized that good urban plans often are not implemented.  One of the speakers implored the audience to form small vocal groups to let politicians hear their views.  

The Urban Ecology debate and panel reminded us that although ecologists have often avoided doing studies in areas that would be impacted by people, there is a great need to understand urban ecology.  There are heaps of people out there and many of our small fragmented systems struggle in urban settings.  Just ask Sam Wright how exasperating urban ecology can be sometimes!   

Besides the conference being in Australia is like being in a toy store for this ecologist.  It’s a treat to see so many new plants and animals!