In recent years, the analysis of interaction networks has grown popular as a framework to explore ecological processes and the relationships between community structure and its functioning. The field has rapidly grown from its infancy to a vibrant youth, as reflected in the variety and quality of the discussions held at the first international symposium on Ecological Networks in Coimbra—Portugal (23–25 October 2013). The meeting gathered 170 scientists from 22 countries, who presented data from a broad geographical range, and covering all stages of network analyses, from sampling strategies to effective ways of communicating results, presenting new analytical tools, incorporation of temporal and spatial dynamics, new applications and visualization tools.1 During the meeting it became evident that while many of the caveats diagnosed in early network studies are successfully being tackled, new challenges arise, attesting to the health of the discipline.
community ecology; food webs; interaction matrix; interactome; spatio-temporal network dynamics
The use of human and veterinary pharmaceuticals is increasing. Over the past decade, there has been a proliferation of research into potential environmental impacts of pharmaceuticals in the environment. A Royal Society-supported seminar brought together experts from diverse scientific fields to discuss the risks posed by pharmaceuticals to wildlife. Recent analytical advances have revealed that pharmaceuticals are entering habitats via water, sewage, manure and animal carcases, and dispersing through food chains. Pharmaceuticals are designed to alter physiology at low doses and so can be particularly potent contaminants. The near extinction of Asian vultures following exposure to diclofenac is the key example where exposure to a pharmaceutical caused a population-level impact on non-target wildlife. However, more subtle changes to behaviour and physiology are rarely studied and poorly understood. Grand challenges for the future include developing more realistic exposure assessments for wildlife, assessing the impacts of mixtures of pharmaceuticals in combination with other environmental stressors and estimating the risks from pharmaceutical manufacturing and usage in developing countries. We concluded that an integration of diverse approaches is required to predict ‘unexpected’ risks; specifically, ecologically relevant, often long-term and non-lethal, consequences of pharmaceuticals in the environment for wildlife and ecosystems.
wildlife; endocrine-disrupting chemicals; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; vultures; risk prediction; bioindicators
Natural history as we have known it is in decline. A growing movement is emerging across disciplines, to understand its decline, and nurture its rebirth. A network of like-minded scientists, resource managers, educators, writers and artists—natural historians—recently convened four consecutive Natural History Initiative workshops to move past the forensic study of natural history, and instead focus on solutions, conspiring to identify opportunities that dovetail the practice of natural history with essential needs of modern science and society, and suggest ways forward. This series of workshops occurred at various locations in the western United States during the winter and spring of 2011, and recently culminated in a Synthesis Summit on 20–24 June 2011.
naturalists; biodiversity; open space meeting
Most studies that forecast the ecological consequences of climate change target a single species and a single life stage. Depending on climatic impacts on other life stages and on interacting species, however, the results from simple experiments may not translate into accurate predictions of future ecological change. Research needs to move beyond simple experimental studies and environmental envelope projections for single species towards identifying where ecosystem change is likely to occur and the drivers for this change. For this to happen, we advocate research directions that (i) identify the critical species within the target ecosystem, and the life stage(s) most susceptible to changing conditions and (ii) the key interactions between these species and components of their broader ecosystem. A combined approach using macroecology, experimentally derived data and modelling that incorporates energy budgets in life cycle models may identify critical abiotic conditions that disproportionately alter important ecological processes under forecasted climates.
climate change; ocean acidification; global warming; species interactions; ecosystem shift; productivity and consumption
On 12–15 May 2011, a diverse group of students, researchers and practitioners from across Canada and around the world met in Banff, Alberta, to discuss the many facets of biodiversity science at the 6th Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution.
Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution; biodiversity; conservation; interdisciplinary; taxonomy; ecological monitoring
The interdisciplinary workshop ‘Analysis and Visualization of Moving Objects’ was held at the Lorentz Centre in Leiden, The Netherlands, from 27 June to 1 July 2011. It brought together international specialists from ecology, computer science and geographical information science actively involved in the exploration, visualization and analysis of moving objects, such as marine reptiles, mammals, birds, storms, ships, cars and pedestrians. The aim was to share expertise, methodologies, data and common questions between different fields, and to work towards making significant advances in movement research. A data challenge based on GPS tracking of lesser black-backed gulls (Larus fuscus) was used to stimulate initial discussions, cross-fertilization between research groups and to serve as an initial focus for activities during the workshop.
GPS; movement ecology; segmentation; tracking; trajectories; visual analytics
conservation; ecology; evolution; ornithology; North American Ornithological Conference
A meeting on Biodiversity Technologies was held by the Biodiversity Institute, Oxford on the 27–28 of September 2012 at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford. The symposium brought together 36 speakers from North America, Australia and across Europe, presenting the latest research on emerging technologies in biodiversity science and conservation. Here we present a perspective on the general trends emerging from the symposium.
conservation; citizen science; bioacoustics; genomics
Divergence dating studies, which combine temporal data from the fossil record with branch length data from molecular phylogenetic trees, represent a rapidly expanding approach to understanding the history of life. National Evolutionary Synthesis Center hosted the first Fossil Calibrations Working Group (3–6 March, 2011, Durham, NC, USA), bringing together palaeontologists, molecular evolutionists and bioinformatics experts to present perspectives from disciplines that generate, model and use fossil calibration data. Presentations and discussions focused on channels for interdisciplinary collaboration, best practices for justifying, reporting and using fossil calibrations and roadblocks to synthesis of palaeontological and molecular data. Bioinformatics solutions were proposed, with the primary objective being a new database for vetted fossil calibrations with linkages to existing resources, targeted for a 2012 launch.
molecular clocks; palaeontology; bioinformatics; database
The 13th Conference on Australasian Vertebrate Evolution Palaeontology and Systematics (CAVEPS) took place in Perth, Western Australia, from 27 to 30 April 2011. This biennial meeting was jointly hosted by Curtin University, the Western Australian Museum, Murdoch University and the University of Western Australia. Researchers from diverse disciplines addressed many aspects of vertebrate evolution, including functional morphology, phylogeny, ecology and extinctions. New additions to the fossil record were reported, especially from hitherto under-represented ages and clades. Yet, application of new techniques in palaeobiological analyses dominated, such as dental microwear and geochronology, and technological advances, including computed tomography and ancient biomolecules. This signals a shift towards increased emphasis in interpreting broader evolutionary patterns and processes. Nonetheless, further field exploration for new fossils and systematic descriptions will continue to shape our understanding of vertebrate evolution in this little-studied, but most unusual, part of the globe.
vertebrate palaeontology; evolution; systematics; Quaternary extinctions; ancient DNA
‘Trench Connection’ was the first international symposium focusing primarily on the hadal zone (depths greater than 6000 m). It was held at the University of Tokyo's Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute in November 2010. The symposium was successful in having attracted an international collective of scientists and engineers to discuss the latest developments in the exploration and understanding of the deepest environments on Earth. The symposium sessions were categorized into three themes: (i) new deep-submergence technology; (ii) trench ecology and evolution; and (iii) the physical environment. Recent technological developments have overcome the challenges of accessing the extreme depths, which have in turn prompted an international renewed interest in researching physical and biological aspects of the hadal ecosystems. This bringing together of international participants from different disciplines led to healthy discussions throughout the symposium, providing potential opportunities and realizations of where the future of unravelling hadal ecology lies. Hadal science is still at relatively rudimentary levels compared with those of shallower marine environments; however, it became apparent at the symposium that it is now an ever-expanding scientific field.
hadal zone; trench ecology; deep-sea biology; deep submergence technology
On 9 March, over 150 biologists gathered in London for the Centre for Ecology and Evolution spring symposium, ‘Integrating Ecology into Macroevolutionary Research’. The event brought together researchers from London-based institutions alongside others from across the UK, Europe and North America for a day of talks. The meeting highlighted methodological advances and recent analyses of exemplar datasets focusing on the exploration of the role of ecological processes in shaping macroevolutionary patterns.
diversification; fossil record; trait evolution; molecular phylogenetics
Abrupt and rapid ecosystem shifts (where major reorganizations of food-web and community structures occur), commonly termed regime shifts, are changes between contrasting and persisting states of ecosystem structure and function. These shifts have been increasingly reported for exploited marine ecosystems around the world from the North Pacific to the North Atlantic. Understanding the drivers and mechanisms leading to marine ecosystem shifts is crucial in developing adaptive management strategies to achieve sustainable exploitation of marine ecosystems. An international workshop on a comparative approach to analysing these marine ecosystem shifts was held at Hamburg University, Institute for Hydrobiology and Fisheries Science, Germany on 1–3 November 2010. Twenty-seven scientists from 14 countries attended the meeting, representing specialists from seven marine regions, including the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Barents Sea, the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the Bay of Biscay and the Scotian Shelf off the Canadian East coast. The goal of the workshop was to conduct the first large-scale comparison of marine ecosystem regime shifts across multiple regional areas, in order to support the development of ecosystem-based management strategies.
climate change; ecosystem regime shifts; eutrophication; fisheries; trophic cascades
Inland fisheries are a vital component in the livelihoods and food security of people throughout the world, as well as contributing huge recreational and economic benefits. These valuable assets are jeopardized by lack of research-based understanding of the impacts of fisheries on inland ecosystems, and similarly the impact of human activities associated with inland waters on fisheries and aquatic biodiversity. To explore this topic, an international workshop was organized in order to examine strategies to incorporate fisheries into ecosystem approaches for management of inland waters. To achieve this goal, a new research agenda is needed that focuses on: quantifying the ecosystem services provided by fresh waters; quantifying the economic, social and nutritional benefits of inland fisheries; improving assessments designed to evaluate fisheries exploitation potential; and examining feedbacks between fisheries, ecosystem productivity and aquatic biodiversity. Accomplishing these objectives will require merging natural and social science approaches to address coupled social–ecological system dynamics.
inland fisheries; ecosystem approach; research agenda
The symposium ‘What is Macroecology?’ was held in London on 20 June 2012. The event was the inaugural meeting of the Macroecology Special Interest Group of the British Ecological Society and was attended by nearly 100 scientists from 11 countries. The meeting reviewed the recent development of the macroecological agenda. The key themes that emerged were a shift towards more explicit modelling of ecological processes, a growing synthesis across systems and scales, and new opportunities to apply macroecological concepts in other research fields.
macroecology; spatial scale; process-based model; theory; ecosystem; disease
At the end of May, 17 scientists involved in an EU COST Action on Conservation Physiology of Marine Fishes met in Oristano, Sardinia, to discuss how physiology can be better used in modelling tools to aid in management of marine ecosystems. Current modelling approaches incorporate physiology to different extents, ranging from no explicit consideration to detailed physiological mechanisms, and across scales from a single fish to global fishery resources. Biologists from different sub-disciplines are collaborating to rise to the challenge of projecting future changes in distribution and productivity, assessing risks for local populations, or predicting and mitigating the spread of invasive species.
conservation physiology; species distribution; modelling; climate effects
A Marine Climate Impacts Workshop was held from 29 April to 3 May 2012 at the US National Center of Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara. This workshop was the culmination of a series of six meetings over the past three years, which had brought together 25 experts in climate change ecology, analysis of large datasets, palaeontology, marine ecology and physical oceanography. Aims of these workshops were to produce a global synthesis of climate impacts on marine biota, to identify sensitive habitats and taxa, to inform the current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) process, and to strengthen research into ecological impacts of climate change.
climate change; marine science; detection and attribution
The 5th Symposium on Frugivores and Seed Dispersal, held in Montpellier (France), 13–18 June 2010, brought together more than 220 researchers exemplifying a wide diversity of approaches to the study of frugivory and dispersal of seeds. Following Ted Fleming and Alejandro Estrada's initiative in 1985, this event was a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the first meeting in Veracruz, Mexico. Frugivory and seed dispersal are active research areas that have diversified in multiple directions since 1985 to include evolution (e.g. phylogenetic diversity and dispersal adaptations), physiology (e.g. sensory cues and digestion), landscape ecology (movement patterns), molecular ecology (e.g. gene flow, genetic diversity and structure), community ecology (e.g. mutualistic interaction networks) and conservation biology (effects of hunting, fragmentation, invasion and extinction), among others. This meeting provided an opportunity to assess conceptual and methodological progress, to present ever more sophisticated insights into frugivory in animals and dispersal patterns in plants, and to report the advances made in examining the mechanisms and consequences of seed dispersal for plants and frugivores.
conservation biology; dispersal; fragmentation; frugivory; hunting; movement ecology
An international and interdisciplinary Radar Aeroecology Workshop was held at the National Weather Center on 5–6 March 2012 on the University of Oklahoma campus in Norman, OK, USA. The workshop brought together biologists, meteorologists, radar engineers and computer scientists from 22 institutions and four countries. A central motivation behind the Radar Aeroecology Workshop was to foster better communication and cross-disciplinary collaboration among a diverse spectrum of researchers, and promote a better understanding of the ecology of animals that move within and use the Earth's lower atmosphere (aerosphere).
radar; aeroecology; phenology; migration
The notion of chemical communication between plants and other organisms has gone from being viewed as a fringe idea to an accepted ecological phenomenon only recently. An Organized Oral Session at the August 2010 Ecological Society of America meeting in Pittsburgh examined the role of plant signalling both within and between plants, with speakers addressing the remarkably wide array of effects that plant signals have on plant physiology, species interactions and entire communities. In addition to the familiar way that plants communicate with mutualists like pollinators and fruit dispersers through both chemical and visual cues, speakers at this session described how plants communicate with themselves, with each other, with herbivores and with predators of those herbivores. These plant signals create a complex odour web superimposed upon the more classical food web itself, with its own dynamics in the face of exotic species and rapid community assembly and disassembly.
plant signalling; body odour; plant–herbivore interactions
The international conference ‘Models in population dynamics and ecology 2010: animal movement, dispersal and spatial ecology’ took place at the University of Leicester, UK, on 1–3 September 2010, focusing on mathematical approaches to spatial population dynamics and emphasizing cross-scale issues. Exciting new developments in scaling up from individual level movement to descriptions of this movement at the macroscopic level highlighted the importance of mechanistic approaches, with different descriptions at the microscopic level leading to different ecological outcomes. At higher levels of organization, different macroscopic descriptions of movement also led to different properties at the ecosystem and larger scales. New developments from Levy flight descriptions to the incorporation of new methods from physics and elsewhere are revitalizing research in spatial ecology, which will both increase understanding of fundamental ecological processes and lead to tools for better management.
dispersal; individual movement; fat tails; biological invasion; pattern formation; synchronization
It is now widely accepted that the climate of our planet is changing, but it is still hard to predict the consequences of these changes on ecosystems. The impact is worst at the poles, with scientists concerned that impacts at lower latitudes will follow suit. Canada has a great responsibility and potential for studying the effects of climate changes on the ecological dynamics, given its geographical location and its scientific leadership in this field. The 5th annual meeting of the Canadian Society for Ecology and Evolution was held in the International Year of Biodiversity, to share recent advances in a wide variety of disciplines ranging from molecular biology to behavioural ecology, and to integrate them into a general view that will help us preserve biodiversity and limit the impact of climate change on ecosystems.
CSEE; annual meeting; biodiversity; molecular ecology; behavioural ecology; global warming
This meeting report presents the cutting-edge research that is developing around the waterflea Daphnia, an emerging model system in environmental genomics. Daphnia has been a model species in ecology, toxicology and evolution for many years and is supported by a large community of ecologists, evolutionary biologists and ecotoxicologists. Thanks to new advances in genomics and transciptomics and to the sustained efforts of the Daphnia Genomics Consortium (DGC), Daphnia is also rapidly developing as a model system in environmental genomics. Advances in this emerging field were presented at the DGC 2010, held for the first time in a European University. During the meeting, a plethora of elegant studies were presented on the mechanisms of responses to environmental challenges using recently developed genomic tools. The DGC 2010 is a concrete example of the new trends in ecology and evolution. The times are mature for the application of innovative genomic and transcriptomic tools for studies of environmental genomics in non-model organisms.
Daphnia magna; environmental genomics; transcriptomics
Hormone analysis is a precise and widely accepted tool for monitoring reproductive function and responses to stressors. Although hormones are present and can be measured in various biological matrices, non-invasive methods have gained popularity over the past 30 years as a more practical approach for assessing ovarian, testicular and, more recently, adrenocortical activity in intractable wildlife species. Non-invasive hormone monitoring also has been key to understanding biological mechanisms related to observed behaviours of captive and free-ranging animals. Despite the increasing popularity of this research field, wildlife endocrinologists have not had a specific forum for sharing and discussing their latest findings, technical developments and common challenges. To provide such a communication platform, the International Society for Wildlife Endocrinology (ISWE) was established in 2010, followed by an international meeting held on 3–4 November 2011 at the Toronto Zoo, Canada. Over several sessions, keynote speakers and participants discussed recent developments of new and innovative methods for hormone monitoring, as well as the latest advances in basic endocrinology as applied to adrenal function, reproductive physiology, animal health, ecology and evolution. Here, we introduce ISWE to the scientific community and discuss how this new society will serve as a resource for wildlife endocrinologists worldwide.
non-invasive hormone monitoring; behavioural endocrinology; environmental endocrinology; conservation endocrinology; reproductive hormones; stress hormones
Understanding the drivers that dictate the productivity of marine ecosystems continues to be a globally important issue. A vast literature identifies three main processes that regulate the production dynamics of such ecosystems: biophysical, exploitative and trophodynamic. Exploring the prominence among this ‘triad’ of drivers, through a synthetic analysis, is critical for understanding how marine ecosystems function and subsequently produce fisheries resources of interest to humans. To explore this topic further, an international workshop was held on 10–14 May 2010, at the National Academy of Science's Jonsson Center in Woods Hole, MA, USA. The workshop compiled the data required to develop production models at different hierarchical levels (e.g. species, guild, ecosystem) for many of the major Northern Hemisphere marine ecosystems that have supported notable fisheries. Analyses focused on comparable total system biomass production, functionally equivalent species production, or simulation studies for 11 different marine fishery ecosystems. Workshop activities also led to new analytical tools. Preliminary results suggested common patterns driving overall fisheries production in these ecosystems, but also highlighted variation in the relative importance of each among ecosystems.
production modelling; triad of drivers; ecosystem comparisons; trophodynamics; biophysical forcing; fisheries