Insights into the EcoSummit Congress 2016 on Ecological Sustainability – Engineering Change

The 5th International EcoSummit Congress, hosted by INRA and IRD, and organized by Elsevier, took place last week (Aug 28th – Sept 1st) in the Corum in Montpellier, France. I believe that everyone enjoy coming to the South of France for a conference, especially in Montpellier in summer. Indeed, the conference brought together around 1400 lucky scientists from 75 countries. The city of Montpellier, which was founded in 985, is organized as a labyrinth of narrow streets that hide a multitude of restaurants and bars, as well as various squares hosting entertainment every night (music, dance, acrobats, etc.) – truly amazing! 

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Blue sky in Montpellier for the EcoSummit 2016 congress! (credit: A. Vitra)

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘EcoSummit2016 – Ecological Sustainability: Engineering change’ and aimed at better understanding ecological concepts and methods for a more holistic use of ecology in environmental management in a changing world. To tackle theses challenges, the organizers did a very good job at inviting some famous plenary speakers in a broad range of disciplines. The conference opened with two excellent talks from JP Grime (see also his blog post here) and Sandra Diaz on functional diversity and plant traits research. It’s always impressive and inspiring to listen JP Grime talking about 55 years of research in plant ecology, starting from the basics, with the CSR theory and comparative plant ecology, but also discussing his 23-year long experiment on functional diversity and climate change at the Buxton Climate Change Impacts Laboratory in North Derbyshire (UK). Sandra Diaz followed with an interesting talk describing the global spectrum of plant form and function recently published in Nature (Diaz et al. 2015). Other well-recognised scientists punctuated the week with plenary sessions, such as Sandra Lavorel, Peter Vitousek, Stephen Hubbell, etc.

I particularly enjoyed the plenary talk from Connie Hedegaard, previous European Commissioner for Climate Action (2010-2014). During a 30 min talk, without slide presentation (and it was surprisingly a good thing), this very inspiring woman, explained the unknown side of policy makers – for example, the difficulty in prioritising ecological concerns over socio-economic issues. But her message was clear: We, as scientists, should continue to communicate research outcomes and ecological issues to policy makers, again and again, until it gets heard – There is hope!

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Inspiring John Philip Grime presenting 55 years of research on functional ecology! (credit: P. Mariotte)

Surprisingly, there was no plenary talk about below-ground ecology, but this was more than made up for by the parallel sessions – there were sessions on: Soil diversity and ecosystem services; Soil carbon; Soil bioengineering systems; Soil fauna; Plant-soil feedbacks (organised by me and Paul Kardol); Soil-plant interactions; Soil and water conservation, etc. Based on the other sessions I went to, it was also nice to see that soils, roots, and microbes are taken into account much more than previously in plant studies, from functional traits, ecosystem services and agro-ecological research. This interest in soil pushed me to interview some leading soil scientists such as Richard Bardgett, Marcel Van der Heijden and Gerlinde De Deyn to talk about soils, soil biodiversity and plant-soil feedbacks – Podcasts available soon in the Blog.

Climate change was obviously a ‘big topic’ during the conference. Warming, CO2 increase, and rising sea levels were important concerns, but I felt that most climate change experiments were focused on drought perturbations. For example, Melinda Smith, professor at Colorado State University and Principal Investigator of the Drought-Net project, presented the results of a long-term experiment with several successive periods of drought and recovery to evaluate the resistance and resilience of a grassland system. Her main finding was that drought history seems to have no impact on plant community resistance (in terms of biomass) after successive drought events but more results should be coming up soon!  

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EcoSummit participants enjoying the sunset at the BBQ Beach Party (credit: P. Kardol)

All together, I feel that EcoSummit 2016 was a success! One criticism would be that, in spite of an official #EcoSummit2016 twitter link, pictures were not allowed and Wifi was not available in the conference rooms – this considerably limited the shares on social media! Also, many people, including me, were a bit shocked by the lunch bag – the french food was very good, but the amount of plastic and cardboard packing the food was not acceptable for a conference entitled ‘Ecological Sustainability’, especially due to the lack of recycling bins in the conference centre! 

My insights are somewhat limited to the sessions I went to and to my specific interest, but feel free to comment and share your own impressions about EcoSummit2016! And stay tuned for my podcast interviews from the conference.

Pierre Mariotte
Blog Editor, Journal of Ecology

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One thought on “Insights into the EcoSummit Congress 2016 on Ecological Sustainability – Engineering Change

  1. Pingback: The Soil and its Diversity of Organisms: Actor of a Sustainable Future? | Journal of Ecology blog

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