As I begin to write this blog entry, there’s a buzz of voices around me, excitedly discussing future research or past results, or saying goodbye to friends and colleagues, old and new. It is the last day of SCAPE 2012, the annual meeting of the Scandinavian Association of Pollination Ecologists (or “for Pollination Ecology” or “for Pollination Ecologists” – the name seems to have drifted over the years). SCAPE was the first overseas conference I attended, as a young and enthusiastic PhD student, in 1991. Older but no less enthusiastic, SCAPE is for me a regular fixture in the calendar. Even if I can’t always attend, I try to send my good wishes to the organisers, with a promise to be there the following year.
SCAPE was founded in 1986 as an informal get together of Swedish research students who were all broadly interested in questions of pollination ecology. Since then it has been held every year, maintaining the informal organisation and circulating between Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway, which is the venue for this year’s meeting in Skjærhalden in the beautiful Ytre Hvaler National Park. Attendance in recent years has varied between 50 and 80 participants, peaking when it’s one of the 5 yearly anniversary specials. One of the many great things about SCAPE is that it’s a very friendly, open hearted conference at which new research students rub shoulders with established researchers, and can present their provisional research findings safe in the knowledge that they will receive constructively critical feedback. Those established researchers can expect to have their conclusions challenged, as good scientists should, but it’s never done with malice.
The talks this year have spanned the usual wide range of geographical localities (Brazil, Israel, Spain, Ireland, as well as Scandinavia), scales of research focus (from the genetics of self incompatibility to landscape scale assessments of pollinator diversity), and quality of presentations (overuse of laser pointer on text-dense slides to textbook examples of how to deliver a message in 15 minutes).
Although I enjoyed the whole meeting and gained new knowledge from every presentation, there have been some talks which really stood out for me because I appreciated the overall approach, the message that was being delivered, or the insights it gave into questions I’d not previously considered. These include Dara Stanley’s estimate that bumblebees from 800 different nests were foraging on a single field of oil seed rape; Achik Dorchin’s account of the staggering number of bee species in small habitat fragments in Israel (totalling more than in the whole of Britain); a dissection of the question of when pollination can be a limiting ecosystem service for crops by Ignasi Bartomeus; and Robert Junker’s initial account of the huge diversity of bacteria associated with different flower organs. There were many others I enjoyed, of course, but that gives a taste of how diverse the subjects were.
Although I wasn’t speaking this year, two members of my research group were: André Rodrigo Rech talked about his PhD work on pollination of Curatella americana in Brazilian savannahs; and Stella Watts presented some of her postdoctoral work on honey bee versus unmanaged bee pollination in an endemic Iris species in Israel. This last work was undertaken with Amots Dafni, one of the doyens of pollination ecology. Amots attended the conference and told us he’d finally decided, in his 68th year, to retire from formal university teaching, administration and supervising research students – and begin a new project! Enjoy your “retirement” Amots!
Karin attended SCAPE with me and enjoyed scientist-watching, a hobby that gives me frequent insights into how we work as a community, and gives her insights into what makes me tick. Half a day of travel saw us back home at 2am Monday morning; I then had to be in university for a 9am seminar with students on my final year Biodiversity & Conservation module. Despite being tired the seminar went well, perhaps fuelled by the post-conference buzz I usually feel after these events. The seminar finished early to enable me to drive up to Park Campus, the university’s other site, for a brief meet-and-greet with the head of Sandtander Universities and his team. Banco Santander’s higher education arm has been funding scholarships and research activities at the university for several years now and it was a small grant from them that enabled André to attend SCAPE. Seemed only polite to say thank you.
A highlight later that week was Thursday, which was taken up with our annual first year undergraduate trip to Oxford Botanic Garden, part of my module Biodiversity: an Introduction. I also wrote about this in March but for the current academic year we have brought the trip forward. Our visit was hosted by the superintendent, Timothy Walker, who engaged the students for an hour as we walked the gardens, covering everything from the medical importance of plants such yew trees (Taxus spp.) in providing treatments for cancer, to the importance of specific trees for two Oxford writers, JRR Tolkien and Phillip Pullman. Timothy also described how much of the planting is laid out in beds according to plant families as defined by the latest phylogenetic research the (APG III system) stressing the importance of modern systematics to understanding biodiversity. If you want to know more about this, Timothy wrote and presented a recent television series called Botany: A Blooming History which remains the best account I’ve seen of the history of plant taxonomy and why it is relevant to modern plant sciences.
That evening Karin and I attended the opening of a show at the university’s gallery called “Encounters with Drawing” by artist Angela Rogers. There’s some very thought provoking material in the show and I recommend a visit if you are local and have time – it runs until 30th November. We chatted with Angela about the “drawing conversations” she has with people and some of her comments about “how much space do individuals need” chimed with familiar ideas from ecology about intra- and inter-specific competition in organisms and niche theory.
I’m going to end this entry with a link to a video post by my friend K.-D. Dijkstra (who I introduced in an earlier blog). It’s not often that the actual moment that a species new to science is discovered gets captured for everyone to see, but here’s K.-D. doing just that!