The last few weeks have been a very exciting time for ecology here in the down under. Two major events, the annual meeting of the New Zealand Ecological Society (NZES 2015) and the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA 2015), brought together ecologists from New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia and all over the world to discuss and exchange their new research findings on ecological conservation, community and population ecology, and global change issues. Associate Editors Matt McGlone, Peter Bellingham & Matthew Turnbull participated in the NZES conference held in Christchurch and kindly agreed to share their impressions on the event (below). Also stay tuned for our next blog post, where Associate Editor Michelle Leishman will also give an overview of the ESA conference, which took place in Adelaide this year with over 600 participants.
Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology
New Zealand Ecological Society conference 2015
The annual meeting of the New Zealand Ecological Society took place few weeks ago (Nov 16-19th 2015) and attracted a diverse but congenial mix of scientists, conservation professionals, consultants, amateurs, and staff of NGOs, government ministries and local government organisations. A set of symposia focused on public participation and policy issues made this a larger (350 participants) than usual show.
New Zealand, settled only in the late 13th century, has made up for lost time by burning, clearing and introducing a range of the world’s worst pests: rats, stoats, cats, ferrets, possums, wasps, ants, pines etc., etc. New Zealanders have now enthusiastically adopted the aspirational goal “Pest-free New Zealand”. No surprise then that c. 70% of the 200-odd papers presented dealt one way or another with applied conservation, and many with pests, and how to fence them out or kill them. The controversial but highly effective pest poison sodium monofluoroacetate (1080), even got its own Symposium.
The symposium Non-government Approaches to Conservation reflected the astounding growth in private and NGO initiatives ranging from local neighbourhood pest eradication and restoration schemes to construction of large, predator-proof fenced sanctuaries and reconnection of native ecosystems across many km of settled country. The technology is developing quickly with new traps, fencing and monitoring devices. However, visionary plans and on-the-ground action are surging ahead of the science. John Innes and Andrea Bryom showed that few studies have taken advantage of decades of pest-control to assess long-term outcomes and value for dollar invested. There are successes: Kevin Parker, researcher and owner of a thriving animal translocation business showed in his stimulating plenary address, endangered native animals (mostly birds) can be safely and efficiently moved to populate sanctuaries. But, as he also warned, it is not a long-term solution and the country must find ways to rewild its extensive but pest-infested natural landscapes.
Citizen Science is also booming, despite New Zealand not having a strong tradition of systematic amateur nature observation. Colin Meurk reported that, in its first 3 years, NatureWatch NZ has made 150 000 observations on 12 000 taxa. However, what will be done with information that often consists of the public uploading shots of native plants and animals is unclear. A warning note was sounded by Myfanwy Emeny, who in an analysis of the Great Kererū (native fruit pigeon) Count, demonstrated that the scientific component had been marginalised in the service of public engagement.
A controversial initiative by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (the main science agency, though hard to discern in its title) has created several large radical initiatives called “National Science Challenges”. The recently launched Biological Heritage Challenge was show-cased at the conference. Government science institutions, universities ministries, and the public have undertaken to coordinate their activities to better address the chronic ecological problems of the lowland landscapes. Challenge protagonists see it as an unprecedented opportunity to set priorities, link existing research programmes, and better engage the public, including Māori. Its detractors have called it “Stalinist”. Regardless, it is on its way, and will be a major player for the foreseeable future.
Matt McGlone, Peter Bellingham & Matthew Turnbull
Associate Editors, Journal of Ecology