The 2020 Oikos Write-Up: Ecology in the Anthropocene

My lord Iceland is gorgeous. There could not have been a better setting for the 2020 Nordic Oikos Society’s Annual Meeting. Driving through deserts of snow that ring of the kind of quiet isolation you’d expect from a town in a depressing British murder mystery was a wonderful experience.

As was the conference itself, of course. So let’s recap some of my highlights from this year’s meeting, titled ‘Ecology in the Anthropocene’.

The Social Side

I feel like at every conference I go to these days, there’s an increasing appreciation of the ability of social science to further environmental causes. Given that this year’s theme was all about the anthropocene – more on what that is here – you would expect some focus on humans. So it was great to see plenty of researchers present this year who had used some aspect of social science to either accumulate data and knowledge on their study system or disseminate their research to an audience who needed it. Theresa Henke‘s poster on invasive flatfish populations was backed up with a section that demonstrated the importance of the issue to Icelandic residents, while Kimberly Coleman made an appeal to the scientific community to find creative ways to teach the general public about the causes of wildfires. Rachel Guindon (who won the Speed Talk prize), had some fascinating anecdotes about her meetings with Inuit groups to talk about the reintroduction of musk ox to their local area.

On top of this, the two plenary talks on the final day had heavy leanings into the social sciences. Professor David Lusseau (with whom I had a fascinating interview that I’ll share in the coming weeks) talked at length about the tourist industry and its effect on marine ecosystems. Children’s author Andri Snær Magnason also gave a fantastic talk that leaned heavily on climate communication with both older and younger generations (more on that later).

Invasive Species

I was fortunate enough to give a 12-minute talk at this year’s presentation, showing off our forecasting framework for freshwater species invasions. I was followed by Lennart Edsman, who was performing similar research on the invasive signal crayfish, introduced in Sweden to make up for population drops in the noble crayfish. He summed up both our talks very well, with the following slide:


On this note, the climate-driven invader is starting to come to the forefront in ecology. Myself, my Master’s student Bastian Poppe, the aforementioned Theresa Henke, keynote speaker Professor Vigdis Vandvik and her postdoctoral researcher Dagmar Egelkraut all spoke about species encroaching on novel environments. The debate concerning what to do with these species is becoming really prominent at the moment. It’s also the basis of the fourth chapter of my PhD, so email me if you want to discuss it.

Large Herbivores

Another increased scientific trend the world over is the attempt to understand and take into account the often negative interactions between large herbivores and humans. With those negative effects going both ways, and the mammal species in question often in serious trouble, management solutions need to be identified and adapted quickly. It’s a theme that an entire session was devoted to at the conference, with both Anne Mehlhoop and Benjamin Cretois talking about the interactions between large ungulates and European forests in the context of human populations.

On another continent, Chris Gordon of Aarhus University also delivered one of my favourite talks of the conference. He spoke about the need to define management objectives when considering the reintroduction of large herbivores, showing that whilst the reintroduction of elephants to regions in South Africa benefited some species, it had negative effects on others.

From the Plenaries

I’ve mentioned Vigdis Vandvik’s talk about invasive plant species, but it was her words on the state of the world which really hit home for me. Vigdis took inspiration that while things were admittedly getting worse for global ecosystems, people could at the very least no longer ignore it. She pointed out that biodiversity loss and climate action failure were plastered all over the World Economic Forum’s top ten risks to the world’s economy, a result largely driven by last year’s IPBES report. I also had time to interview Vigdis during the conference, another interview I’ll share at some point in the next few weeks.

Whilst climate change has appeared on WEF’s list of threats to the world economy before, this is the first time biodiversity loss has appeared there (Image Credit: World Economic Forum)

Arni Snaer Magnasson’s plenary talk to round out the conference was surprisingly touching. I was particularly struck by his reminder that my generation’s grandchildren will potentially be around in the year 2140, a time when we will really be feeling the full extent of climate change. The plaque he had inscribed on an Icelandic tourist destination talked about our generation’s fight to halt the effects of environmental degradation, with the words ‘Only you will know if we did it’ somewhat haunting.

Closing Remarks

It was great to see so many members of my own institute at the event, particularly the number of Master’s students that were around. Conferences are always a madcap baptism of fire into the world of scientific research, and I know I would have benefited hugely from this sort of thing earlier in life.

Did I miss anything? If you felt something deserved mentioning, please write it down in the comments and I’ll add it to a longer list. It could be something as small as a comment made by a fellow researcher that stuck with you, to a positive (or depressing) trend that you saw at the conference.

Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist currently completing his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who honestly can’t believe he still gets to interview proper ecologists. You can read more about his research on his Ecology for the Masses profile here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Title Image Credit: Sam Perrin, CC BY 2.0

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