This year BMC Ecology and Evolution followed the INTECOL 2022 congress online. INTECOL aims to act as an international advocate for the science of ecology. The association has held a congress once every four years for the past 13 years, attracting ecologists from around the world. With over 670 talks and 120 poster presentations, the 2022 congress provided a valuable opportunity to hear about the latest research, gain new perspectives and build relationships.
In this blog Jennifer Harman, the Editor of BMC Ecology and Evolution, will be sharing her highlights, discussing future directions for the journal and introducing speakers who have joined the Editorial Board.
Biodiversity, Ecosytem Services and Sustainable Development
Currently, BMC Ecology and Evolution is welcoming submissions to its ‘Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services and Sustainable Development‘ Collection, which aims to bring together research on the sustainable use of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Therefore, I was keen to learn about new areas related to this topic.
The impact of hydropower on aquatic ecosystems
I very much enjoyed a talk given by Dr Luiz Silva, a senior scientist developing an Ecohyraulics research group within the Institute for Environmental Engineering at ETH Zurich. Ecohydrology involves collaboration between ecologists, hydrologists and engineers to explore practical solutions to increase the capacity of the aquatic ecosystems to cope with human impacts. With the humans causing unprecedented change to the natural world, it is more important than ever to manage water resources sustainably to prevent further biodiversity loss.
Dr Silva introduced modelling techniques to research fish interaction with water infrastructure. He proposed a tool to quantify habitat shifts and pathways for fish to escape rapid flow changes such as those caused by hydropeaking. Hydropeaking describes the discontinuous release of water that introduce artificial flow fluctuations in rivers to increase hydroelectric power production at hydro dams to meet electricity demand. With hydropower becoming more widely used as we transition to renewable energy sources, it is becoming increasingly important to understand the impact of hydropower on aquatic ecosystems and to consider how to design hydropower technology with fish in mind. BMC Ecology and Evolution encourages submissions on this topic and is delighted to welcome Dr Luiz Silva as an Editorial Board Member.
Upscaling agroecology practices
A series of insightful talks on integrating ecological principles into the design and management of agricultural systems also piqued my interest. Dr Andreas Mayer, a new BMC Ecology and Evolution Editorial Board Member from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, discussed the need for transformative changes to increase the sustainability of agri-food systems and achieve the European Green Deal’s goal to become climate neutral by 2050. To understand what changes are feasible, we require a deeper understanding of which practices and changes are sustainable if widely adopted without risking supply shortfalls or burden shifting. We also need greater knowledge of synergies and trade-offs in the agricultural system.
Dr Mayer introduced the diagnostic biophysical land-system and Green House Gas (GHG) emission model BioBaM-GHG 2.0. The model aims to evaluate the feasibility and associated GHG emissions of large numbers of agro-food systems and land-use scenarios at various geographical scales. As an illustrative example, Dr Mayer described the use of the tool to analyse strategies for the expansion of agroecological measures in the European Union.
Plants under pressure: The impact of environmental change on plant ecology
The congress provided an invaluable opportunity to attend a number of talks on the impact of environmental change on plant ecology. As the human impact on the planet intensifies, plants are becoming increasingly under pressure. According to the IUCN redlist, one in five plant species are under threat of extinction. Life on earth depends on plants which provide food, fuel, shelter, medicine, clean air, absorb carbon dioxide, filter water, and supply the oxygen we breathe. Losing a plant species affects every organism that directly or indirectly relies on it. Therefore, research on the impact of human activity and climate change on plants is needed to help develop strategies to safeguard ecosystem services and reverse biodiversity decline. BMC Ecology and Evolution encourages submissions on this topic and is looking to recruit Editorial Board Members with expertise researching the impact of environmental change on plant ecology. If you have expertise in this field and would like to join the Editorial Board, please reach out to Jennifer Harman <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Dr Isabel Barrio, an ecologist at the Agricultural University of Iceland, gave an eye opening talk on plant-herbivore interactions in the changing north. Plant-herbivore interactions play a vital role in the functioning of alpine and Arctic tundra ecosystems through their effects on biodiversity, energy flows and nutrient cycling. However, these ecosystems are rapidly changing due to global warming. As climate change threatens to destabilise these ecosystems, collaborative research on plant-herbivore interactions is needed to develop management strategies, set conservation priorities, preserve ecosystem services and protect biodiversity. Dr Barrio leads the UArctic Thematic Network on Herbivory – an international network consisting of over 200 members that brings together researchers investigating the role of herbivores in alpine and arctic ecosystems. The researchers suggest that plant damage by insects will likely increase in a warmer Arctic as you can find insects throughout the tundra, and insect herbivory rises with temperature. For a full list of Herbivory Network publications, click here. In 2023, BMC Ecology and Evolution looks forward to working with Dr Barrio to launch a call for papers relating to this research area.
Paleoecology of extinct species
A personal highlight was a talk given by Professor Anusuya Chinsamy-Turnan from The University of Cape Town. Anusuya elegantly introduced how information locked within the bones of extinct species can provide glimpses into long-lost worlds.
For example, the presence of medullary bone in fossil birds, a tissue unique to reproductively active female birds, can be used to identify female specimens. This knowledge was used to show that deposits of Dromornis stirtoni specimens ((a.k.a the Thunder Bird) containing two forms was due to sexual dimorphism. Bone histology has also revealed new information about the life history of the dodo, which shows that this iconic bird adapted its lifestyle to Mauritius’s cyclone season (from November and March). Dodo bones exhibit repeated lines of arrested growth, indicating periods of food shortage during stormy weather. Similar to modern birds living on the island, the breeding season of dodos was likely to have been in August. Once chicks hatched, they grew quickly to sexual maturity before the cyclone season began. Cavities indicative of bone resorption, which accompanies new feather growth, suggest that dodos molted between March and July.
Given the attention that recent BMC Ecology and Evolution paleoecology articles have received, it is clear that our readers are also captivated by research that furthers our understanding of extinct species. These BMC Ecology and Evolution paleoecology papers can be found linked below:
In 2023, BMC Ecology and Evolution aims to drive growth in this area. If you have expertise in paleoecology and would like to join the Editorial Board, please reach out to Jennifer Harman <email@example.com>.