Best of #ESA2020

Today marks the end of this years conference with the Ecological Society of Australia. Having attended talks ranging from Indigenous land management to Functional Ecology, this is my unashamedly biased list of best talks from the conference (feat. guest appearances in pictures by other speakers I enjoyed).

Vanessa Cavanagh, UOW @nessscavvv

Vanessa is a Bundjalung and Wonnarua Aboriginal woman and a PhD candidate (academic profile here) and Associate Lecturer in the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, University of Wollongong. Her #ESAus20 talk was about the importance of involving Aboriginal women in fire management, and fostering cultural burning as a way of caring for Country.

Vanessa has a powerful way of synergising her years of experience in environmental management and heritage conservation with her cultural knowledge and academic background. Vanessa writes for The Conversation (e.g. here) and her other published works can be found on Google Scholar (e.g. this).

“It’s not like we lost our wallet or our keys. It’s was deliberately removed from us.” “We are looking to build a critical mass of indigenous people caring for country.”

– Vanessa Cavanagh

Belinda Medlyn, University Western Sydney @b_medlyn

Professor Belinda Medlyn (academic profile here) researches how forests respond to carbon dioxide and climate change. At #ESAus20 she presented a synthesis of work from her research group, systematically examining evidence for and against a link between the health of Australia’s iconic eucalyptus tree and different physiological stressors, including rising temperatures and drought.

Her talk concluded with a discussion around the critical importance of water supply for eucalyptus trees that are coping with high temperatures; that eucalyptus becomes at risk when heat waves are coupled with long-term drought. She also made the nuanced point that because eucalyptus increase transpiration at higher temperatures in an effort to keep cool, the water stress they feel will increase at elevated temperatures – even when the amount of rainfall remains unchanged (i.e. even in lieu of drought). This means that the thresholds for water stress will become lower as temperatures increase. You can read the research group’s blog here.

Pieter Arnold, ANU @pieter_arnold

Pieter is a postgraduate student in the Research School of Biology, Australian National University. His research focuses on traits relating to thermal plasticity, and at #ESAus20 he spoke about how trait plasticity in response to environment is often non-linear. Because of this non-linearity, it is extremely important to measure trait variation across the breadth of environmental gradients, and to properly account for non-linearity when modelling trait responses.

Check our Pieter’s most recent publications, which include a widely acclaimed systematic review of plant thermal tolerance and theoretical piece on how to approach measuring plant phenotypic plasticity, which I have used as a guide in my own PhD research.

Ali Chauvenet, Griffith University @AChauvenet

Ali Chauvenet is a Lecturer at Griffith Uni (academic profile here). At #ESAus20, Ali presented work that demonstrates a clear positive relationship between personal wellbeing and the number of visits to parks. Get in your green spaces people!

Ali and her coauthors conducted a survey of some 20,000 people in Vic and South Australia on their use of green spaces and their sense of personal wellbeing. From these survey results, they estimated that green spaces contribute roughly $100 billion in free mental health services to Australians. You can read a global-scale approach to this information in her Nature paper here.

Sue Baker, UTAS @Forest_Sue

Sue Baker is a research fellow (academic profile here) with the University of Tasmania, working on forest ecology and conservation. At #ESA2020, Sue presented new work comparing the successional patterns of different taxa during forest recovery.

She showed that the successional patterns and rapidity of recovery both differ considerably among taxa. This is important work because it highlights the fact that different taxa (e.g. frogs versus vegetation) probably indicate different elements of forest recovery following disturbance. We need to be careful about assuming that the recovery of vegetation is the best indicator of forest recovery as a whole.

A too-cute video showing Sue’s participation in a primary school forest education project. Can I come? This video was produced by Daisy Pyefinch from Lenah Valley Primary School.

Kate Johnson (UTAS) @KatePlantPhys

Kate is a PhD student with the University of Tasmania (Research Gate profile here). At #ESAus20 she presented work on xylem cavitation in three drought resistant Australian tree species. First, she compared optical and micro-CT techniques for monitoring embolism events, and found that the cheaper optical technique–also more suited to high throughput–generated comparable results to micro-CT.

She then described her approach testing how cavitation spreads, and whether it is related to the degree of lateral connectivity of vessel conduits. You can read about the results of Kate’s work here.

Mark Westoby, Maquarie University @WestobyMark

Mark Westoby is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, Maquarie University. I went through undergraduate study in plant ecology reading seminal papers coauthored by Mark, and it was a privilege to speak alongside him in the #ESAus20 Functional Ecology session.

Mark started with the issues of taking a categorical approach to understanding trait strategies and went on to discuss that it is preferable to work directly with traits rather than trying to delineate which traits align with which categories. We can do this by conceptualising a multi-dimensional trait space in which multiple traits co-correlate and all ecological strategies can be characterised. The focus of Mark’s talk was archaea and bacteria, but he also drew comparisons with vascular pants. You can find Mark Westoby’s blog here.

Berin Mackenzie, Dpt of Planning, Industry and Environment (NSW) @berinmack

Berin is a scientist with the NSW Department, and a PhD student with the Centre for Ecosystem Science (@CES_UNSW), University of New South Wales. Berin presented work at #ESAus20 on the fire ecology of Wollemi pine – a relict tree species otherwise known as the ‘dinosaur’ tree, that was thought to have Beene xtinct for some 10,000 years until being rediscovered in the NSW ranges.

Berin described that the surviving wild population comprises only 49 adult trees. Their greatest threat is fire (read here on the fight to save these trees in the recent Summer fires), and although the recent fires triggered prolific basal copicing & the germination of seed stock, Berin argued that we need to consider at least 50 years of fire exclusion in the valley in order to support the recovery of injured trees and allow for juvenile trees to reach the canopy and mature.

Hannah Carle, ANU @hj_whiterabbit

I promise this isn’t a scam. I include my talk here because it was a highlight of the conference for me. Not watching the pre-recorded video on playback. Not sitting in my office instead of being in a lively conference room. Your questions on the science I presented made my talk a highlight.

I received a number of really interesting questions in the talk Q&A, a great question during live Q&A, and a number of questions in personal messages and on Twitter after the fact.

I found people’s thoughts and interest extremely stimulating. At a time when COVID has hugely disrupted the progression of my PhD research and my motivation is in danger of waning, the interest from other people in my research helped me see this work with new eyes. It helped me understand which elements of the project are of most interest to people. It helped me reflect on potential weaknesses in the analysis and interpretations.

For all of you who attended the talk and connected me during or afterwards – thank you!

If you’d like to know more about my work, please head to my online CV, or connect with me on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

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