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Top 12 Highly Anticipated Contributed Talks at ESA 2019

Grab your reusable coffee mugs and your best pair of Chacos; pack your vintage tote bag and your most ecologically-on-point knitting project. The Ecological Society of America meeting is next week!


ESA is an overwhelming, exhausting, inspiring, coffee-fueled rush; your closest colleagues, mentors, and friends are all in one city, and yet you can’t find anyone who is free for lunch on the same day.

“In the spirit of collaboration, inclusion and cross-disciplinary science, the Ecological Society of America will be holding its 104th Annual Meeting in partnership with the United States Society for Ecological Economics (USSEE)”

I’ve had extraordinary luck stumbling — literally wandering the hallways — into wonderful people and incredible talks at ESA over the years. As a newly-minted master’s student at ESA 2010, I found a mentor who became my academic sibling* and suggested I consider pursuing research in Acadia National Park (spoiler alert: I still work in Acadia, it’s become my research home). I serendipitously saw Robin Wall Kimmerer in an organized oral session** at ESA 2012; two years later she published the instant conservation classic Braiding Sweetgrass. (This year, you should catch Kimmerer’s Recent Advances plenary on Thursday).


I began writing for the PLoS Ecology Community as an ESA Reporting Fellow in 2016, and I wanted to mark the occasion of ESA this year with another kind of report. While my schedule is too packed for pure wandering this year, I love the feeling of finding those hidden gems when the sprawling community of ecologists comes together like this — a talk in another subdiscipline, a potential collaborator, a nugget of advice that you didn’t realize you really needed. So, I did my wandering ahead of time; I paused my #365papers reading last week to pore over the ESA 2019 Program.


Here, I compiled a top twelve list of highly anticipated Contributed Talks. The talks are wide-ranging, covering topics in marine, terrestrial, temperate, and tropical ecology, spanning forests and grasslands, arthropods and humans, but ultimately the list reflects my personal preferences. As I write in my coverletter, “I’m a broadly trained ecologist.” I chose these talks because they are a little bit out of my wheelhouse, but — to stretch this baseball metaphor to the limit — I can hold my own, foul off a few balls, and raise the pitch count before popping an infield fly. This is a terrible metaphor; science is not baseball. If ESA is a buffet of endless dishes, I love to pile my plate with a bite of everything. So while I think these talks all sound fascinating, your mileage may vary.


The criteria for this list were: 1) I couldn’t know the authors. This had to be the analog of wandering into a room because the title posted outside sounded interesting. 2) Contributed talks only, no Organized Oral Sessions, Symposia, or Inspire talks. Inspire talks are my favorite format as an audience member but when I attend them I intentionally choose an Inspire Session, arrive early for a good seat, and stay. Usually I follow the same pattern with Organized Oral Sessions and Symposia. 3) Ignore the rules of time. Some of my top 12 are scheduled concurrently; I’m going to channel Hermione Granger circa Prisoner of Azkaban and invest in a time-turner.


In order of appearance, the Top 12 Highly Anticipated Contributed Talks at ESA 2019:

  1.  Marine soundscapes indicate kelp forest condition (COS7-1), presented by Benjamin L. Gottesman. Monday, August 12, 2019 01:30 PM – 01:50 PM Kentucky International Convention Center – L011/012
  2.  Soil health, agriculture and climate in New England: Scientific findings, farming practices and policies (COS1-8), presented by Josephine Watson. Monday, August 12, 2019 04:00 PM – 04:20 PM Kentucky International Convention Center – M101/102
  3. No lake left behind: Do protected areas facilitate biological connectivity among lakes? (COS14-1), presented by Ian M. McCullough. Tuesday, August 13, 2019 08:00 AM – 08:20 AM Kentucky International Convention Center – M101/102
  4. A survey on the interpretation and application of the terms ‘trait’ and ‘functional trait’ among ecologists (COS18-6), presented by Alexander Duthie. Tuesday, August 13, 2019 09:50 AM – 10:10 AM Kentucky International Convention Center – M111
  5. If you plant it, they won’t come immediately (COS25-8), presented by Natalie R. Harris. Tuesday, August 13, 2019 10:30 AM – 10:50 AM Kentucky International Convention Center – L015/019 (side note: I really hope Natalie Harris and the authors of COS49-8, “If we build it, will they come? Arthropod communities as indicators of restoration in an urban prairie network” get a chance to talk to each other in Louisville)
  6. Do you have a better idea? Conceptual framework of programs focusing on multiple species conservation (COS21-8), presented by William Stewart. Tuesday, August 13, 2019 10:30 AM – 10:50 AM Kentucky International Convention Center – L013
  7. Bringing the ecology back: Transformation of a landscape from a one hundred year old golf course into a nature preserve (COS39-5), presented by Suzanne R Hoehne. Tuesday, August 13, 2019 02:50 PM – 03:10 PM Kentucky International Convention Center – L015/019
  8. Gender-responsive labor policy in protected areas: Lessons from boosting women’s roles in the management of the World Heritage Site Serra da Capivara National Park, Brazil (COS35-5), presented by Diele Lobo. Tuesday, August 13, 2019 02:50 PM – 03:10 PM Kentucky International Convention Center – M101/102
  9. Things that go bump in the light: Introduction of artificial light at night increases abundance of predators, detritivores, and parasites in arthropod communities (COS42-2), presented by Jeffrey A Brown. Wednesday, August 14, 2019 08:20 AM – 08:40 AM Kentucky International Convention Center – L010/014
  10. Phenology as a process rather than an event (COS68-7), presented by Brian D. Inouye. Wednesday, August 14, 2019 03:40 PM – 04:00 PM Kentucky International Convention Center – L010/014
  11. A pulse of petals: Impacts of coffee (Coffea arabica) flower petals on leaf litter community and leaf litter decomposition rates (COS57-7), presented by Lauren Schmitt. Wednesday, August 14, 2019 04:00 PM – 04:20 PM Kentucky International Convention Center – M111
  12. Using circuit theory to map connectivity of the U.S. Great Lakes coastline (COS98-3), presented by Lindsay E. F. Hunt. Friday, August 16, 2019 08:40 AM – 09:00 AM Kentucky International Convention Center – L007/008

Some observations from the experience of reading through contributed talk titles: We, as ecologists, can be kind of boring and vague in our talk titles. We like Hamlet (“to ___ or not to ____”), Game of Thrones (“winter is coming”), and hot takes on whether or not to befriend the enemy of our enemies. I have to tip my hat to Jamie Harrison (current Templer student), Pam Templer (my former committee member), and Andrew Reinmann (fomer Templer student): they basically created their own organized oral session in COS30 by submitting three nearly-identical talk titles: “Effects of climate change across seasons on ______ in a northern hardwood forest.” I imagine sitting in this session will be like watching a lab synchronized swimming routine (since it’s the Templer lab, would it be a synchronized snow shoveling routine?). Finally, the ESA 2019 program is overflowing with talks that sound amazing and this list is by no means exhaustive. After my first pass through the program, I had 67 talks starred***! This conference promises to be another overwhelming, exhausting, inspiring, coffee-fueled rush of amazing ideas and stand out speakers. Hope to see you there!



*Academic sibling = I joined the lab where he completed his PhD

**This was before I instituted my personal pick-a-session-and-stay-in-that-room rule for Organized Oral Sessions. I remember on that particular day, I was feeling a little burnt out from long phenology sessions and so I just started aimlessly walking around the conference center and I literally stumbled into the room right as Kimmerer began speaking.

***And that’s just total strangers! How am I going to see my friends? Where do I get a time turner?


Banner image: Benjamin Horn, Creative Commons.

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