My BES Annual Meeting highlights (2016)


Christmas did indeed arrive early – though I ate plenty of mince pies all through December, the real festive and jolly spirit didn’t hit me till the British Ecological Society Annual Meeting in Liverpool. 2016 was a great year for dreams coming true, one of them being presenting a talk at the BES conference. At the conference last year in Edinburgh, I thought that it is just so cool, and I made a wish to someday present myself. I tend to be rather impatient when it comes to achieving goals, this being probably the one time that I reached a target sooner than I thought I would.

I got very helpful feedback on my talk from my supervisors (Dr Albert Phillimore and Dr Allan Perkins) and TeamShrub (where I’m a research assistant now, check out their blog full of fieldwork stories and great science), edited, rehearsed and edited again, and after a pleasant train journey from Edinburgh to Liverpool, there I was – at a real conference with real scientists. And I was one of them. Having just wrapped up Coding Club for 2016, it seemed very appropriate to start the BES conference with their Best Practices for Code Archiving workshop. I was very keen to learn more about code archiving, but I also wanted to see how other people teach coding and organise workshops. I will be leading a GitHub and version control workshop for Coding Club soon, and I’m looking forward to sharing the knowledge and skills I gained at BES with the Coding Club members.

czacjgzwiaalapbThe Coding workshop communicated a great message – writing reproducible code and archiving it is not hard. I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s certainly not hard, either, and it’s something we all could (should) do. I particularly liked this graph, as it conveys what we’ve been trying to tell Coding Club members (and ourselves) – little investments in learning good coding practices can deliver big benefits. It’s even better if there is a community around you which is also keen to learn. When I was wrapping up my dissertation, I was feeling a bit intimidated by Markdown and decided that I couldn’t learn it in a day (since the dissertation was due the following day). This year, I went to a Markdown workshop led by PhD students from the Australian National University, and after and hour, I could make a beautiful report of my code and results. It was great to see students pick up Markdown quickly at the Coding Club workshop, too – if you are keen to learn it as well, check out our online tutorial here. Similarly, syncing RStudio with GitHub doesn’t take long, and is a great way to keep track of your code and its many versions.

There were many great talks in the following days, and I was particularly impressed by the PhD talks. It was so interesting to learn about Francesca Mancini‘s interdisciplinary conservation research on how social media images can be used to infer eco-tourism hotspots – and good to know that my photos on Flickr could have been used for science! Sarah Scriven gave a very well presented talk on butterfly movement through oil palm plantations (and in the spirit of #BEScode, the data and code are publicly available). Great to highlight not just connectivity between fragmented landscapes, but also functional connectivity – even if butterflies can move through agricultural land, their larval host plants might not occur there, thus preventing breeding.

czjqnpewiaa8hnmThe conference was great at prompting me to think about topics that hadn’t crossed my mind before – for example, whether mountain bikes are good at seed dispersal, and what implications that might have for plant colonisation and perhaps even the spread of invasive species. Prof Anne Chao delivered a fantastic plenary talk on biodiversity estimators and rarefaction, from which we all learned a lot, and I’ve put down exploring the R package, iNEXT, as a reward for after I’ve finished the first draft of my manuscript. You can also check out their Shiny app online, where you can upload your own data and get plots and values for the different biodiversity estimators. I also got to meet Prof Chao at the Meet the Speaker session after the plenary talk, which only inspired me further for biodiversity analyses.

In addition to pondering issues I hadn’t considered before, of course it was also fantastic to learn more about topics I do think about a lot – agro-ecology and conservation, in particular the evaluation of conservation policies such as the EU’s agri-environment schemes. There were talks on hedgerows, tillage, grassland land management options, pesticide application, and of course my favourite part were the discussions on how to evaluate scheme performance and improve it. Questions like: “Are the right land management options implemented in the right place (or scale)?” hint that local factors and the complexity of the surrounding landscape can play an important role in mediating AES effectiveness. The Conservation Evidence initiative has gathered an impressive database of evaluations of conservation actions, including those implemented on farmland, so you can browse through and see how different land management options are performing. I’d be interested to also see how those options are performing together – is there a winning combination, a cost-effective set of options, and how would that set of options vary across space (as a universal solution seems improbable to me)?

Chatting with keen ecologists over lunch was super fun (and the food was tasty, too!), the Science Comedy Slam was hilarious, and in general I loved the dynamic of the whole conference – I came home inspired and thankful that I get to be a part of the ecology research community. I’m writing this blog post almost a month after the conference (can you tell that I didn’t attend the workshop on organisation and managing stress?), to keep a record of the first major conference I presented at, but also to thank all those who attended and all the organisers for being a friendly and welcoming community – you’re part of what makes science great!

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