Mid-week at the ESA annual meeting: Revisiting the Holy Grail

Listening to presentations at ESA 2012, more so than at most other meetings, provides a cornucopia of all that’s best in ecology. So much information and new material is thrown at you over the period of a few days that it’s difficult to assimilate and make sense of it all. But, sometimes a presentation, or a number of presentations, really helps crystalise and clarify a particular topic. And, so it was the case with the presentations that I listened to in Tuesday’s symposium, “Revisting the Holy Grail: Using Trait-Based Ecology as a Framework for Preserving, Utilizing, and Sustaining our Ecosystems.”  I didn’t catch all the presentations, but those that I did really convinced me of the utility of a trait-based approach. I finally get it. Not only do we need to characterize communities by the traits exhibited by the component species, but, as pointed out by several of the speakers, we need to include quantification of the intraspecific variability in trait values. As Justin Wright said in his presentation, “Species vary in trait variability.” This complicates things and means that we may need a lot of data to effectively quantify a community using species traits in comparative studies. Fortunately, there are a number of databases available, including the massive TRY database that includes 70,000 species with 750 traits. But, again, as Jens Kattge pointed out in his presentation there are limitations as the database is incomplete, most species have data for only about 5 traits, and the global coverage is impressive but spotty.  Trait-based ecology is at an exciting stage in its development and I look forward to seeing and reading more about it. At Journal of Ecology, we’ll be addressing some of these topics in a forthcoming Special Feature on Ecosystem Services by Sandra Lavorel.

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One thought on “Mid-week at the ESA annual meeting: Revisiting the Holy Grail

  1. As a brief follow up, I left ESA2012 energized and excited about ecology, again. I heard some very interesting talks (see above, and Jerry Franklin’s great keynote on Forests, Fish, Owls, Volcanoes…), and caught up with a lot of old friends and colleagues. It seemed that there was something going on every evening including the Journal of Ecology Centenary Reception, a Journal of Ecology editors dinner, and the Oxford Bibliographies in Ecology Reception that I attended. I wished that I could have attended the Vegetation and Plant Population Ecology section mixers but they clashed. Hopefully, I can pass on some of the excitement from the meeting to my students as I teach Principles of Ecology this semester.

    There are some post-ESA2012 reflections on other blogs. Here are a couple that I’ve come across:

    bit.ly/Qqwmv7 by Bruce Byers
    bit.ly/SKNMow by Distributed Ecology

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