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The beautiful Irish coast

Gathering inspiration in Ireland

Last week I had the opportunity of attending, together with two other ConFoBi researchers (Carlos Landívar from project D2 and Nicole Still from project C1), the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is the largest ecological conference in Europe, and a unique chance to get to know what´s happening right now in research within the many fields of ecology, and, of course, the people behind it (along with a pint of Guinness). Besides, Carlos had a very successful talk on the area-heterogeneity tradeoff in Andean bird communities, and it was nice to be present to cheer him!

It was inspiring to attend whole sessions dedicated to the fields of ecological networks and spatial connectivity. Both have a strong link with my work in the Black Forest, as I will be looking at how trophic relationships of birds are affected by forest structure and the wider landscape, and if that explains patterns in abundance and diversity. For instance, one of the talks (by Andrew Barnes, from Waikato University in New Zealand) approached similarly a specific element of the ecosystem as a function of its wider trophic framework. Specifically, abundance of herbivores (and intensity of herbivory) in grasslands seemed to be reduced by the joint influence of both bottom-up and top-down mechanisms, as plant diversity increased. This kind of research sheds light into the “why?” behind patterns we see in human-modified ecosystems (be it agricultural landscapes or, in my case, managed forests), and consequently helps us better tune how to modify those ecosystems to improve their biodiversity value.

Apart from this, and as I was not presenting, I felt free to soak in fascinating new advances in topics as varied as dead wood decomposition by termites in tropical forest gaps, or spatial analysis of changes in wildebeest migrations and how they´re connected with rampant safari tourism. There was a wide variety of presentation styles, and that made me and Carlos realize that a talk can be made captivating and stimulate a scientific audience without an obsession for technical details and statistics (this can always be discussed afterwards in the coffee break!).

In between all keynote speakers, talk sessions, posters and cups of coffee, we managed to find time for some workshops. A short lunch time workshop helped me refresh some concepts of population matrices from “back in the day” and introduced the Compadre and Comadre demographic databases. A longer one before the official conference start introduced me and Nicole to tips and perspectives on doing a career in science, in particular on the transition to post-doc positions after the PhD and on the transition to a permanent position after that. As we arrived to Belfast, we also had the chance to attend a very dynamic panel debate on rewilding in the island of Ireland, including very constructive contributions from different stakeholders – it is certainly a topic that, as with the ConFoBi contribution to forest management, benefits greatly from inter- and transdisciplinarity approaches.

Participating in such a conference at the early stage of the PhD can be overwhelming, but it was overall a very positive experience, setting the ground for future conferences in which I will be bringing in my own results. There were also plenty of social activities which made it easier to interact with the many participants – a science stand-up comedy show, a conservation pub quiz, the conference dinner (with Irish dancing included!) and after-conference excursions (to the world-famous Giant’s Causeway, on the beautiful Northern Irish coast). It was for sure a good way to end my first half-year as a ConFoBi PhD student!

by João Manuel Cordeiro Vale Pereira (B6)