Policy-Relevant Ecology: Thoughts from the 4th Conference of the Norwegian Ecological Society

The city of Tromsø, in which the NØF 2019 Conference took place last week (Image Credit: Mark Ledingham, Tromsø kommune. Image slightly cropped, CC BY 2.0)

I spent last week up in Tromsø, Norway, for the 4th Conference of the Norwegian Ecological Society. A two-hour flight further north might not seem like a big deal, however if I were a species alone to myself, my northern distribution limit based on temperature would be Trondheim, where I currently reside. It’s just too damn cold for an Australian in the Arctic Circle! Yet Tromso was surprisingly mild last week, coming off the back of a particularly warm winter. And whilst that might sound great, warming temperatures in the Arctic may cause a plethora of negative effects on local wildlife, including starving local reindeer populations and reducing the vital mosquito population.

So it seems fitting that the theme of the conference was Towards Policy-Relevant Ecology. Communicating ecological science is more important than ever in the face of political inaction on climate change (and something I’m obviously quite keen on, as evidenced here), and several of the plenary talks focussed on that issue. Dr Prue Addison of the University of Oxford gave key insights into encouraging businesses to embrace sustainability goals (check out an earlier talk here) and Dr. Andrew MacDougall shared his experience working to improve the farming industry in Canada. We look forward to sharing our interviews with both researchers in the coming weeks, as well as our interview with Terra Insecta author Anne Sverdrup-Thygesen.

The second day saw a fantastic talk on the nature of uncertainty in science by Dr. Sandra Hamel, a topic I feel very strongly about. There was also an interesting panel discussion concerning public interaction, led by Prue Addison and Sabima’s Christian Steel, which my colleague Tanja Petersen was fortunate enough to sit on.

Naturally, there was some pushback to the overt focus on policy, with some comments indicating that such a conference should be dedicated purely to sharing ecological science. Whilst I understand that these conferences are inherently academic, I think that ecological science is made relevant by its effective communication to stakeholders, policy makers and the general public, and a portion of any good ecological meeting should always be dedicated to an attempt at collective improvement. There was also frustration at the lack of interest displayed by the media in the conference, however I believe this is a product of the traditionally insular nature of academia, and won’t be solved by ecologists shrugging our shoulders and not bothering to reach out in the future.

It was enjoyable to see such a diverse range of research from across Norway in one place, and also to see how well my home institute of NTNU was represented. My colleagues Jonatan Marquez and Tanja Petersen both gave excellent talks on their projects, both of which we will be bringing you more information about soon. I am certainly looking forward to next year’s Nordic Conference in Reykjavik.

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