Posted by: Jeremy Fox | August 6, 2011

Blogging the ESA: Talks to see on Tuesday

8:20 am, room 4: Smith et al. on coexistence of cryptic species of amphipods. Cryptic species are a great testbed for coexistence theory. If we can’t tell them apart without sequencing, they must be functionally identical and therefore neutrally-stable, right? Well, no, actually, according to this talk (though I’m wondering why the speakers didn’t vary initial relative abundances in their experiment in order to really nail down the stability of coexistence—maybe it was just too much work?)

8:40 am, room 18D: Perry and Bohannan on bacteria-phage coevolution. Using whole-genome sequencing to link mutations to their population and community-level consequences. Cool.

9:50 am, room 18D: Gonzalez and Bell on evolutionary rescue. I’ve actually seen this talk, but y’all should see it too. Like Perry and Bohannan, a cool microbial microcosm experiment that would be impossible to perform in almost any other system. Gonzalez and Bell identify the conditions under which a population can adapt to a deteriorating environment, thereby increasing its absolute fitness and preventing the extinction that would otherwise occur. And Andy Gonzalez is a very good speaker.

10:10, room 9AB: Parent et al. on metacommunity phylogenetics. Recent empirical work in metacommunity ecology is dominated by attempts to use observational methods like ordination to identify the dominant process structuring the metacommunity. I’m skeptical of this approach for a variety of reasons, one of which is the fact that, as far as I know, it’s never been validated on simulated data structured by known forces. But I’m prepared to be convinced otherwise. Parent et al. will apparently be using a phylogenetically-informed version of this approach, which is novel.

11:10, ballroom F: Tal and Avgar on the value of optimism in habitat selection. Organisms rarely have perfect information about the quality of other habitat patches, relative to their current patch. Tal and Avgar will be using a simple model to make a simple, clever point: when you don’t have perfect information, it’s better to be an “optimist” and explore new patches, because you thereby gain more information than a “pessimist” who just stays in one place. The grass may not be greener on the other side of the fence—but you won’t know it if you don’t climb the fence to check. One can of course imagine conditions under which this principle doesn’t hold (sometimes “ignorance is bliss”), and I’ll be curious if there’s any discussion of that.

11:10, room 4: Farrior et al. on ESS plant strategies and the outcome of competition. Interesting-looking theoretical talk (with an all-star list of co-authors, including two MacArthur Award winners) on competition among plants which make optimal allocation decisions between structures which obtain different limiting resources (water, N, light). As you know, I’m very interested in work like this, which asks not just about how system dynamics depend on parameter values, but also asks which region of parameter space the system should be expected to occupy.

11:30 am, room 15: Miner and Kerr on the genetic mechanisms underpinning adaptive divergence in UV tolerance among Daphnia populations. Another cool study, this time in the field, linking adaptive phenotypic evolution to the underlying genetics.

1:30 pm, room 17A: Melbourne and Hastings on the stochastic dynamics of spatial spread. Another sophisticated bring-awesome-data-from-a-model-system-to-bear-on-sophisticated-dynamical-models study. The focus is on predicting rates of spatial spread (e.g., as an invasive species spreads out over a new area) from knowledge of the (stochastic) demography and movement of individuals. Also sounds like it’s going to be a nice refutation of the oft-voiced claim that microcosm experiments are too simple to surprise us or teach us anything new.

2:10 pm, room 5: Leibold et al. on compensatory dynamics in plankton communities. I like Mathew Leibold’s casual style in the short ESA talk format. His seemingly off-the-cuff remarks are more interesting and incisive than most people’s most finely honed efforts (including my own).

2:30 pm, room 16A: Haynes and Leibhold on spatial synchrony of gypsy moth outbreaks. Spatial synchrony is what I do, so I need to see this one. Sounds like an interesting comparative study of synchrony in periodically-forced vs. aperiodically-forced systems, with some mechanistic modeling thrown in.

4:20 pm, room 9AB: Edwards et al. on 3-way trade-offs in phytoplankton. The paper (or a paper, anyway) has already been published, but I still want to see the talk. A literature compilation of (I believe) microcosm data on phytoplankton growth reveals a 3-way trade-off between cell size, competitive ability for N, and competitive ability for P. A nice example of how microcosm data can inform us about the dynamics of specific systems, as well as test general theoretical ideas. Also an outstanding example of the increasingly-popular “trait-based” approach to community ecology. Importantly, the traits weren’t chosen because we already happen to have data on them, or because they’re easy to measure. Rather, the traits in question were chosen on theoretical grounds—we have good a priori reason to believe, based on well-tested dynamical theory, that these traits determine competitive outcomes.

4:20 pm, room 16A: Westhus and Camilo on the scale transition in mosquito population dynamics. “Scale transition” is basically jargon for rigorously (i.e. correctly!) scaling up from what you know about small-scale processes to their large-scale consequences. This sounds like a nice applied example.


  1. I see you have a break in your schedule at 9:00, which would let you come over to see my presentation on marbled crayfish in room 13. 😉

    End plug.

    • Sorry, it’s not actually a break in the schedule, I just chose not to highlight whatever’s on my schedule at 9. 😉

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