INTECOL 2013

The 11th INTECOL Congress, Ecology: Into the next 100 years**

Advancing ecology and making it count.

18th to 23rd August 2013

This year marked the 100th year since the establishment of the British Ecological Society (BES) in 1913. The birthday has been celebrated during the course of 2013 through a number of events and campaigns, but perhaps the jewel in crown was the 11th International Association for Ecology (INTECOL) Congress held at the ExCeL exhibition and convention centre, London. The conference, jointly organised by the BES and INTECOL, was a huge success and was attended by 2105 delegates from around the world during the six day event. INTECOL featured 43 symposia, 31 interactive workshops, 56 oral sessions and 11 plenary speakers as well as two dedicated poster sessions.

Highlights from the conference included some inspirational plenary talks. Nancy Grimm (Arizona State University) discussed dramatic global change brought about by urbanisation and the compounding impact of climate change. She continued to speak about how we will need to find new solutions to improve the resilience of the cities of tomorrow, explored through the lens of urban water systems. Ilkka Hanski (University of Helsinki) proposed several questions worthy of further study to improve our understanding of the spatial structure of populations and discussed how the species-fragmented area relationship (SFAR), which is an extension of the familiar species-area relationship (SAR), can be used to assess the threat to biodiversity from habitat loss and fragmentation. David Tilman (University of Minnesota) gave an extremely thought-provoking talk on the overwhelming importance of biodiversity in biomass production and the ecological puzzle of creating sustainable agriculture. Former and current BES presidents Georgina Mace (University College London) and Bill Sutherland (University of Cambridge) gave equally accomplished and inspiring talks on the gradual shifts in ecological thinking and research towards the maintenance of future form, function and resilience of ecosystems and the importance of evidence in conservation decision making. Further, from a hydrology/ecohydrology/hydroecology approach (depending on your flavour) a number of talks were of interest throughout the conference.

On day 1, 18th August 2013, Franz lker (Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries) assessed the impact of artificial lighting upon aquatic insect dispersal by monitoring the effect of artificial lights as dispersal traps. In the first Aquatic Ecology session, Nishikant Gupta (King’s College London) discussed the significant threat posed to Himalayan Rivers and the endangered Golden Mahseer (Tor putitora), which provides socio-economic benefits to local communities. The conservation of critical fish habitats could be achieved using a flagship species approach, with support from recreational anglers. Caitlin Pearson (Cardiff University) presented how the physico-chemical effects of intensive pastoral agriculture result in altered invertebrate communities, which have an increased reliance on terrestrial leaf litter as a basal resource. Alexei Ryabov and Bernd Blasius (University of Oldenburg) demonstrated a striking difference between competition mechanisms in uniform systems and deep aquatic environments. Phytoplankton traits, which lead to alternative stable states in uniform environments, favour coexistence in the deep layers of a water column, and vice versa. The species composition depends on the level of resource supplies, rather than their ratio. Luca Marazzi (University College London) discussed key drivers to algal species richness in the Okavango Delta (Botswana), which were found to be habitat diversity and, to a lesser extent, flooding frequency. David Harper (University of Leicester) described alternative states in the East African River Valley lake ecosystems which are buffered by lake water level. Interestingly such a switch can result in a pelican community rather than that of flamingos. Kieran Monaghan (CESAM) revisited Taylor’s Power Law for freshwater macroinvertebrates and research presented by Per Hedström (Umeå University) suggested that climate change may, counter intuitively, have negative effects on fish recruitment due to temperature dependent increase in energy requirements in fish in relation to the net effects on ecosystem productivity.

During day 2, 19th August 2013, in the second Aquatic Ecology session, Hino Takafumi (Hokkaido University) showed how coarse woody debris provided protection for endangered aquatic plants from sika deer (Cervus Nippon yesoensis). Matthias Liess (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research) called for more interaction between ecotoxicologists and ecologists. Ian Thornhill (University of Birmingham) presented the results of a study of urban ponds. He found that, despite considerable habitat loss, urban ponds can be highly diverse and that local physical habitat factors e.g. tree-shading and unsympathetic engineering had a significant impact upon community structure. Mark Urban (University of Connecticut) presented a recent paper on local adaptations of a meso-predator (Ambystoma maculatum) to an apex predator (Ambystoma opacum), which can strongly mediate effects from apex predation on local food webs. Consequently, community ecologists might often need to consider the evolutionary history of populations to understand local diversity patterns, food web dynamics, resource gradients and their responses to disturbance. Heather Moorhouse (University of Nottingham) showed how regional precipitation has predominantly driven past shifts in algal communities through the delivery of atmospheric pollutants to upland tarns, and the hydraulic flushing of nutrient enriched lowland lakes. Lee Brown (Leeds University) discussed how vegetation burning in the UK uplands for the management of recreational game birds could impact aquatic biota. The results suggested a significant impact upon the macroinvertebrate community, which is similar to community responses to terrestrial fires (wild and prescribed) found across northern Europe, North America and South Africa.

On day 3, 20th August 2013, Leonard Sandin (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) discussed the long-term effects of warming and nutrients on the invertebrate community in a lake mesocosm experiment. Eoin O’Gorman (Queen Mary University of London) discussed new research from a geothermally-heated stream system in Iceland, which shows that warming induces a shallower whole-stream mass-abundance relationship, in direct contrast to predictions based on metabolic theory and temperature-size rules. Andrew Dolman (Brandenburg Technical University) answered the question ‘when, where and why do lake phytoplankton become nitrogen limited?’ and James Rouquette (The Open University) discussed how we can manage urban river corridors to enhance species richness across multiple taxonomic groups.

On day 4, 21st August 2013, Phil James (Salford University) demonstrated how ecosystem services associated with the River Irwell varied over time and how those changes related to the aspirations of the Rivers Return Partnership. In his research, Lars Högbom (Skogforsk) found that by leaving a forest buffer along the stream, concentrations of both ammonium and nitrate was substantially reduced in the run-off, whilst total-P was not affected and Hiromo Uno (Berkeley) reported an unusual mayfly migration in California, Ephemerella maculata (Ephemerellidae), which develop in the productive main-stem but as adults migrate and oviposit in tributaries. In an experiment it was shown how the resource subsidy provided by the dead adult mayfly helps to sustain steelhead trout populations in otherwise food limited tributaries.

Each day also sported several workshops which ranged from early career workshops, organised by the International Network of Next Generation Ecologists (INNGE, www.innnge.net), to biodiversity and ecosystem services in a changing world and ecological data handling. We personally attended the early career workshops, which provided some useful insight into potential funding sources and in particular, how to improve your social media profile. Ian also attended ‘Rethinking the basis of the current conservation paradigm’ and ‘Hands-on citizen science’. As an urban ecologist, these two workshops strongly resounded with Ian. As urbanisation increases, there is a clear need to consolidate society with conservation objectives. The first workshop discussed the intrinsic value of nature and the worrying disconnection of people from nature in urban areas. The second, in many ways, provided a means by which urban populations can become reconnected with their environment, whilst being an active and potentially powerful component of scientific research.

An intriguing and progressive aspect of INTECOL was the consistent encouragement for delegates to engage with Twitter (#INT13), particularly for submitting questions to plenary speakers. This refreshing approach left a minority of delegates in the cold, but for the majority it was embraced and provided equal opportunity for all to voice their queries; not just those with the confidence to raise their hands. The use of Twitter also meant that delegates could be passively present in other sessions (through the Twitter feed), that those who could not attend could still be kept up to date on the key points and that delegates were more engaged with one another. A total of 10404 tweets were sent using the hashtag #INT13 during INTECOL, with 1202 contributors!

Overall the conference was intensely stimulating, with a packed schedule of high quality talks, posters and workshops that covered a huge range of topics. On top of this were plenty of opportunities to meet and network with like-minded people over coffee breaks, wine receptions and several evening ‘mixers’ and the centenary party held at Old Billingsgate. The conference has no doubt left an impression on the attendees, which was most evident through feedback which can be found through the Twitter-feed and the BES website. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the BHS for making this event possible for us as it has provided much in the way of inspiration, links and prospects for the future.

Ian Thornhill (www.ianthornhill.com / @ThornyIan)

Gavin Williams (GMW809@bham.ac.uk / @DriStream / @drought_impacts)

                The University of Birmingham

**Written for the monthly British Hydrological Society newsletter ‘Circulation’

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