Greetings from… Kagoshima!

This is a guest post by Associate Editor Rich Shefferson, from the University of Tokio, who attended the Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of Japan last week in Kagoshima.

Greetings from Kagoshima, the site of the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of Japan! Kagoshima is located at the southern end of Kyushu, the third largest and westernmost of the four major islands in the archipelago. Quite far from Tokyo, it represents a unique cultural and historical identity within Japan. It was the political capital of a sprawling and often uncontrollable area of sea and islands between Honshu and Okinawa, was key to Japan’s trade with continental Asia, and was even home to Japan’s homegrown pirate culture at around the time of the European Renaissance. It also served as a stronghold of the samurai counter-revolution against the Meiji Restoration, which modernized Japan in the 1860s through the removal of the shogun and the creation of a parliamentary constitutional monarchy under the Meiji Emperor.

Sakurajima_IMG_3504

Active volano Sakurajima

Ecologically, the city is quite interesting for the presence of Sakurajima – a very active volcano close enough to the city to occasionally spew boulders on the buildings (the city’s various museums are eye-opening in their documentation of such events), and to acidify Kagoshima Bay. Although the last truly major eruption was in 1914, the volcano has had minor eruptions for the last 6 years. Lava flows are under study by ecologists interested in ecological succession and other processes, and by geologists interested in the growth of volcanic islands. Kagoshima is also the gateway to the amazing islands to the south, including Yakushima, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its old-growth forest of Japanese cedars (Cryptomeria japonica), some of which are over 2000 years old.

This year’s meeting has strong symposia and organized sessions, some very much in line with the setting. For example, a session on volcanic ecology documented fascinating research on life on the roughly 10% of the world’s volcanoes that fall within the country’s borders, and the abundance of islands in the country (>6000 total) made island and marine ecology very common themes. Japan’s urban culture also made sessions devoted to urban ecology and ecosystem management particularly abundant and fascinating, and the Fukushima disaster yielded a strong outpouring of research in radio-ecology (e.g., the impacts of cesium contamination on ecological processes at all levels). Journal of Ecology readers would no doubt have been fascinated by strong sessions on more global themes as well, including plant-soil

Highschool ecology poster session at the Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of Japan

Highschool ecology poster session at the Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of Japan

interactions, plant and animal evolutionary ecology, regional perspectives on the management of ecosystem services and processes, eco-evolutionary dynamics, speciation, and the management of invasive species. And the Friday poster sessions included one gymnasium devoted to research conducted by high school students – I’ve never seen so many high school students present so much good science!

Very strong science by Japan’s up and coming stars was on display. Of particular interest to me, and potentially to other readers of Journal of Ecology, were the talks and posters devoted to eco-evolutionary dynamics. Masato Yamamichi, who has recently authored a number of papers in American Naturalist, Ecology, and Evolution dealing with the community and ecosystem impacts of rapid evolution and integrated timescales to ecological and evolutionary processes, won one of the 4 Suzuki Prizes, given to young investigators for outstanding work. Shunsuke Utsumi, whose work on eco-evolutionary dynamics in plant-herbivore systems is slated for possible inclusion in an upcoming special issue of Journal of Ecology, also presented his work. And Kenji Suetsugu also won a Suzuki Award for his work on the ecology and evolution of mycoheterotrophic plants – plants that have lost the ability to photosynthesize and instead parasitize mycorrhizal fungi.

As a Japanese speaker, and an ecologist living and working in Japan, I find the ESJ meetings to be informative and fun opportunities to advance ecology, and more selfishly, my own research. Similarly to BES meetings, the participants are not afraid to have fun, and this year’s shochu-tasting contest (in which Journal of Ecology editor Richard Bardgett and I both participated) was typical in how much fun ESJ can be. Although ESJ meetings themselves are typically in Japanese, Japanese ecologists are a very inviting and fun-loving bunch, and so even non-Japanese speakers can enjoy themselves immensely. But the society is also currently considering how to bring more ecologists from around the world to Japan for its annual meetings, and for collaborative research in general.

The society is progressively making efforts to open the meetings to ecologists from around the world, and so more than 10% of talks at this year’s meeting were in English. There is hope that this will increase with time, and the society is now particularly open to input on how to achieve a greater international showing. This year, special guests were on the bill, including the Journal of Ecology’s very own Richard Bardgett, who gave a fascinating lecture on plant-soil feedback impacts on ecosystems processes (the Journal of Ecology editorship was well represented!). We anticipate that this trend will continue to bring in more great ecologists from around the world over the coming years.

Next year’s meeting will be held in Sendai, which was the site of some of the worst damage during the 2011 tsunami. This is the largest city in northern Honshu, and serves as a gateway to the Tohoku region. Ecologists wishing to see mainland Japan’s remnant old-growth birch forests and spectacular volcanic mountains, and to learn about research on ecological themes related to the tsunami disaster, should come next year to experience Japanese science at its finest, and to network and collaborate on a global scale.

Rich Shefferson
Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology

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