10 August 2011

ESA 2011, Day 2

Today, I learned how to tell mink poop from otter poop.

I also learned that there are about 100,000 beavers at Tierra del Fuego at the southern end of South America. They are there because 50 pairs were introduced about 60 years ago to try to create a fur trade (which failed).

This were not something I expected, or indeed wanted, to learn. But this is why we have scientific conferences: for serendipitous learning.

And for me, there is a lot of serendipitous learning going on. Ecologists are nice, but they are not my people. I’ve been very aware that I don’t know the literature and the lingo of contemporary ecology. For instance, I keep seeing the word “phenology,” but I am going to have to look it up.

And I’ve also felt a little out of place for another reason. An impression that had started forming yesterday solidified today. I’ve never been to a meeting that was so heavily into plants. At one point, I thought, “Contemporary ecology is about plants.” I wonder if animal ecologists are drawn away to like conferences like the Animal Behavior Society meeting instead.

In my session, my talk was one of only two talks out of ten to look at animals. My talk wasn’t horrible. But I know I could do better, and I hate knowing I could have done better.

The fun part for me was to have someone come up after the talk and tell me, “You used one of my pictures.” Turned out this was Matthew Bradley, one of the people behind Invasivore.org. There is a nice feature about cross-cultural crayfish research he and colleagues did in Asia a few years ago on the NSF website. I have used pictures and information from that article in several of my talks, so it was great to find the source.

Incidentally, Austin takes its reputation as a live music capital so seriously that they have artists in the Convention Center around lunchtime. In Hollywood, "How's your screenplay going?" In Austin, "How's the band going?"

My favourite talk today was an afternoon talk by Michael Singer on butterfly evolution in real time. Butterflies feed plants, but what plants are available for them can be easily disrupted by human activity. He’s been able to track the adaptive changes in the butterflies over he space of about 30 years. The examples he had to give were very cool. In one case, the butterflies adapted so well to a new host that when it got harder to find, the population went extinct. In another, the butterflies started to take to a new host, then backed off and went back to the original host.

Dinner tonight was Asian food again, in Koriente, a nice little place that was described to me as an “Asian fusion” restaurant.  was the name, I think, and it was fast and quite good. Not sure I ordered the right dish for me, though.

And now, because I warned people on Twitter that I would do this...

The Comic Sans name and shame campaign!

Valenzuela and colleagues from Centro Austral de Investigaciones Cientificas, for their extensive (but not exclusive) use of Comic Sans, the cane toad of type in their presentation, “Native southern river otter (Lontra provocax) versus invasive American mink (Neovision vision) in the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego Island.” (And yes, this is the talk where I learned how to tell apart the turds of these two mammals. The mink's, if I remember right, is a small finger like scat, while the otter's is just a big pile. Thanks, audience member who asked the question!)


sicklydrooping said...

HAPPY that you enjoyed my talk

FYI phenology means timing, it's much in the news cos timingh of spring flowrring, arrival of migrating birds, etc., is advancing with warming climate. Not all species are advancing at the same rate, so the "phenological synchrony" of ineracting species is being altered.

I have a paper about this with parmesan in Phil Trans Roy Soc 2010. It contains a BAD JOKE, which is not so easy to do in scientific publishing, so I'm proud of it
Mike Singer the Elder

Kyle said...

I guess the beaver was an even trade for the Nutria?

sarcozona said...

The musicians in the evening in the conference center are ecologists! It's great to see people like Nick Gotelli and Ben Bolker as, well, people instead of super amazing intimidating ecologists!