Saved by a bee: a true story, with reflections and photos from PopBio2017


The blog has been a bit quiet of late, due to a lot of traveling on my part, starting with field work in Tenerife, then a weekend away with friends on the Isle of Wight, followed by the topic of this post: PopBio2017 – the 30th Conference of the Plant Population Biology Section of the Ecological Society of Germany, Austria and Switzerland in Halle, Germany.  And I’d like to begin with a story….

The organisers of PopBio2017 had invited me to be one of five keynote speakers at the conference and I was due to deliver a talk on “The macroecology of wind and animal pollination” first thing (09:00) on Thursday morning.  So the night before I duly set my phone’s alarm for 07:00, thinking I’d have enough time to get ready, have breakfast, then take the tram to the venue (a 15 minute ride/walk).

It was a very hot night and I left the windows open, but my mind was restless with thoughts of how to deliver the talk most effectively.  So I kept waking up during the night, and actually slept through the alarm.  The next thing I know it is 07:45 and I am being woken up by an urgent buzzing noise….from a bee!

I swear this is true: a bee had flown in through the window, buzzed for a few seconds right in front of my face, and woke me up in time to deliver my talk on pollinators!  It then turned around and flew straight back out of the window.

It actually wasn’t until I’d jumped out of bed and into the shower that I’d woken up sufficiently to appreciate what had happened…and wondered if anyone would actually believe me!  Anyway, I got to the venue with 15 minutes to spare, the talk seemed to go well, and it’s a story I think I’ll enjoy telling for some time to come.

The conference was really fabulous, with some very impressive science on show.  It was a good mix of postdocs, PhD students, and established researchers talking on a diverse range of plant ecology topics, not just “plant population biology” (whatever that really is – there was some discussion on that score).   The organisers had arranged the programme so that the keynotes in each session were followed by shorter talks broadly related to that topic, so I was followed by a series of presentations on pollination biology.  And very good they were too.

Here’s some photos from the week:

A slightly blurry audience waiting for my talk to begin (not as blurry as me after the dash to the venue however…):


I was fascinated by the coypu that are common in the River Salle which flows through the city of Halle.  They are classed as an invasive species, but are very, very cute:


Indeed so cute I couldn’t resist taking a selfie…


Some interesting urban greenery including swales for flood defence:







Wall plants surviving the graffiti:


Halle’s most famous resident, Handel:


There’s a Harry Potter feel to some parts of the town:


The fabulous double-double-spired cathedral:


There had to be a spiral or two, of course:


On the Saturday after the talks had finished we took an excursion to the fascinating “Porphyry Hills” dry grasslands – unique western extensions of plant communities and species normally found in the east, including many plants of the steppe:


These rocky outcrops have become exposed as agricultural ploughing caused the surrounding soil level to drop:


Some of the grassland areas have very thin soils with resultant high plant diversity:



Lots in flower, though not as many pollinators as I would have liked:




On the last evening a couple of us had a private tour of the university’s botanic garden, and well worth a visit it is too:

It was a thirsty conference – “To beer or not to beer….”?


Finally thanks to the organisers of PopBio2017 for the invitation to speak, and to all of the conference attendees who made it such a special meeting.

15 thoughts on “Saved by a bee: a true story, with reflections and photos from PopBio2017

  1. Renate Wesselingh

    Jeff, none of your posted photos came through, so I had to google coypu to see if it was the same animal the French call ragondin (it is).

  2. Helen

    I’m interested to know why thin soil leads to greater biodiversity?

    Anyway, I love the story about you being saved by a bee 😊

    1. jeffollerton Post author

      Good question, I didn’t really explain it. Generally speaking there is a negative relationship between soil fertility and plant diversity: the more nitrate, phosphate, etc. in a soil, the fewer plant species there are. That’s because very aggressive species such as many grasses, nettles, docks, etc. are very good at snaffling up the nutrients, growing quickly and out-competing other species. So plant diversity is at its highest when soil fertility is quite low, as in thin soils: it allows more species to co-exist. This is what you see in the UK on chalk grassland with thin-soils, for instance. It also means that woody plants generally can’t grow there and shade the others out.

      1. Helen

        Thank you for the explanation, Jeff. So, how thin is ‘thin soil’?

        I ask because I think I have thin soil – but nettles and docks happily grow in it. Mind you, so do silver birches (although I do pull them out when they are seedlings, so I don’t know if they would have a hard time growing to any mature size).

      2. jeffollerton Post author

        The sort of thinness I’m thinking of is 5cm or less. But it will also depend on whether an area has been fertilised of course.

      3. Helen

        Okay, my soil is thicker that that (more like 10 cm) and I am building up the organic matter in it, too. Thanks for the info – so much to learn but very useful!

  3. spamletblog

    Nice story and photos, but no way did any bee fly straight back through a window!  😉 From: Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity BlogSent: Friday, 26 May 2017 14:09To: steve.a.hawkins@ntlworld.comReply To: Jeff Ollerton’s Biodiversity BlogSubject: [New post] Saved by a bee: a true story, with reflections and photos from PopBio2017

    a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; }

    /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */

    jeffollerton posted: ”

    The blog has been a bit quiet of late, due to a lot of traveling on my part, starting with field work in Tenerife, then a weekend away with friends on the Isle of Wight, followed by the topic of this post: PopBio2017 – the 30th Conference of the Plant P”

  4. Mary Endress

    I hope you did the right thing and thanked the bee in the acknowledgements at the end of your talk.

  5. afrenchgarden

    Coypu are invasive in France too. They are hunted as they are said to destroy the banks of the rivers and waterways and end up in homemade pâte in this area. No I have not tried it. Amelia


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