BES Macroecology 2018: Macroecology and Data

Post provided by Faith Jones

© Matthew Leonard

© Matthew Leonard

The annual BES Macroecology Special Interest Group conference took place on the 10th and 11th of July. This year the meeting was in St Andrews, Scotland. Over 100 delegates came together in this old University town to discuss the latest research and concepts in macroecology and macroevolution.

Remote Sensing, Funky Koalas and a Science Ceilidh

The conference opened with a plenary by Journal of Applied Ecology Senior Editor Nathalie Pettorelli from ZSL. She talked about how remote sensing can be used in ecological and conservation studies. In the other plenary talks, we heard from:

  • Methods in Ecology and Evolution Senior Editor Bob O’Hara from NTNU on, among other things, how useful occupancy models are when “occupancy” is such a broad term
  • Anne Magurran from the University of St Andrews discussing turnover and biodiversity change
  • Brian McGill from the University of Maine talking about the data-driven approach to the “biodiversity orthodoxy” and challenging the conventional wisdom about macroecological change

We also hosted a student plenary speaker, Alex Skeels, who gave a lively talk about diversification and geographical modelling using some pretty funky disco koalas. In addition to these talks, there were 60 short 5 minutes talks and 20 posters.

Getting ready to dance ecological succession, our custom designed macroecology dance, with the Science Ceilidh Band. © Laura Antao

Getting ready to dance ecological succession, our custom designed macroecology dance, with the Science Ceilidh Band. ©Laura Antao

No conference in Scotland is complete without a ceilidh (traditional Scottish dance), and BES Macro 2018 was no exception. The Science Ceilidh Band put on a wonderful event, starting with a workshop on communicating science using art, in particular how to write a ceilidh dance on ecological succession. Delegates performed this dance, as well as more traditional dances, in the evening ceilidh.

The Importance of Field Data

On the second afternoon, we had a discussion session where important issues in macroecology were considered in small groups. One important topic that came up was the use of field data in macroecology. Increasingly complex statistical methods are being applied to ever larger compilations of data. Delegates in this discussion were concerned that more and more analysis is simply being applied to broadly the same data.

Group discussions taking place in the garden at BES Macro 2018. © Tom August

Group discussions taking place in the garden at BES Macro 2018. ©Tom August

This limited pool of data might bias results. For example our understanding of community change comes mostly from Northern Hemisphere temporal data. Data on rare species, tropical communities, or deep-sea systems and more may hold interesting and potentially very useful information that we’re overlooking.

The value of meta-analyses of already recorded data is undeniable, but a need for further targeted data collection is also important. We raised concerns about difficulties in obtaining such data. The increasingly “publish or perish” state of science, and consequently the lack of funding for fieldwork, has made this more and more of an issue.

Macroecologists, and anyone else who benefits second-hand from fieldwork, need to do more to support on-the-ground data collection. The discussion group came to a practical suggestion on how to achieve this goal: improve data citation and acknowledgement. Studies can include full lists of data sources in ways that count towards citation statistics. This increases the exposure of the field studies. Citing data needs to go beyond just a citation of the aggregating database if field workers are to get appropriate credit, and emphasise the importance of their work. This, hopefully, should help with further funding and personal progression.

More Information and BES Macroecology 2019

Exhausted but happy macroecologists just before the last dance. © Lewis Hou

Exhausted but happy macroecologists just before the last dance. ©Lewis Hou

If you’d like to read more about the BES Macroecology meeting 2018, check out the conference hashtag, #BESMacro2018, or read our round-up of all conference tweets. Next year’s conference will take place in Cornwall, and more information will be available on the Macroecology SIG web page closer to the time . We hope to see you all there!

 

 

 

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