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The 97th Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting, Oregon, USA 5th – 10th August 2012
The ESA 2012 annual meeting took place in Portland, Oregon. Portland is known as one of the most progressive and greenest cities in the USA and has become a model for utilisation, sustainability and preservation of the urban ecosystem which perfectly fitted the conference theme; Life on Earth: preserving, utilising and sustaining our ecosystems. On a larger scale, Oregon has a huge diversity of ecosystems from temperate rainforest to rocky coastal habitats and high altitude coniferous forests. The week began with a field trip on vegetation sample allocation in the Cascades. The group of around 30 participants travelled to Mount Hood and walked through subalpine parklands into the dense forest near White River.
The trails traversed multiple vegetation types where existing field plots were evaluated and the efficiency of sample allocation techniques discussed in detail, building on the theory session from the previous day. It was a great way to explore this hugely attractive and ecologically interesting area whilst acquiring new field sampling skills.
The conference began the following day with sessions ranging from paleoecology, biogeochemistry, conservation ecology, evolutionary biology and human ecology to name but a few. The sheer size of the Oregon conference centre and the number of oral sessions (220) and delegates (4000+) was quite awesome for someone who had previously attended relatively small conferences. The sessions on agroecology, plant defence and sustainable agriculture session were of particular interest to me and included interesting oral presentations by people such as Adam Cobb (Oklahoma State) on linking arbuscular mycorrhiza to sustainable agricultural production through increases in phosphorus and nitrogen. Tobias Zust (University of Zurich) showed how herbivores can maintain plant genetic diversity if variation exists for defence response. Wolfgang Weisser (TU Munich) used the Jena grassland biodiversity experiment to show how plant functional trait diversity influences herbivore abundance and diversity.
John J. Stachowicz (UC Davis) presented a paper on the effects of genet ic diver s i ty on seagrass productivity. They found more diverse mixtures to be the most productive due to trait complementarity. This work is of particular interest to me as I am investigating similar relationships in both model and agricultural systems. I presented my work in an oral session on ecological stability and resilience.
The study used Arabidopsis as a model for crop varietal mixtures and involved growing phenotypically dissimilar genotypes of Arabidopsis in monocultures and mixtures under high levels of competition for abiotic resources. The findings indicate that a phenotypic screen could improve the selection of suitable components of genotypic mixtures in agriculture intended to be resilient to environmental stress. My talk was well received with a range of questions arising from an audience of scientifically diverse backgrounds.
The end of conference party provided an excellent environment to discuss my research with scientists from all over North America and also some further afield. Networking was heavily facilitated by the ample supply of social lubricant from three excel lent microbrewery stands. I would strongly recommend attendance to these conferences which can be highly valuable for those in search of work in North America. I am extremely grateful to the BSPP for part-funding my participation in ESA 2012, the presentations and discussions at the conference have greatly benefited my PhD project and future career plans.
Henry Creissen John Innes Centre