For like someone like myself, interested and enthused by ecological models, this INTECOL meeting has been incredibly pleasing. The number of talks about models, and particularly the application of models to real-world applied problems, has been genuinely impressive. Here I just want to highlight a few of the key themes from the modelling sessions at INTECOL.
Adaptive management (basically and iterative approach using the lessons from previous /current management to improve decision making) is one ‘hot’ topic. Brendon Wintle in his talk “adaptive management needs beautiful models” made a convincing case for the role of modeling in implementing this, and this seems to be a growing and successful area with plenty of examples of this being done.
The theme of the meeting is climate change – and there has been no dearth of models for predicting the effects of climate change. My colleague Mark Ooi has been keeping an eye on this area and its development over recent years, he commented:
A methodological leap forward highlighted during this conference has been the concerted shift from predictions made in the past based on bioclimatic-habitat models, to new approaches incorporating ecological processes and mechanistic responses of biota to climate change.
This shift is an understandable progression, considering the complex nature of the impacts that climate change will have, and the factors incorporated have included demographic, physiological, genetic and abiotic.
However, as seems to have been the messages from several conferences past, there is still a lack of such mechanistic data available. The development and rapid dissemination of these emerging methods is important, both to pre-empt the wave of climate change response data due to roll in, better predict global change scenarios and to provide a platform for the development of effective conservation strategies.
There was a really interesting session yesterday on modelling, and in the opening talk there was a terrific quote from Prof Hugh Possingham:
“If you don’t know what a differential equation is you are not a scientist”
His talk was on prioritizing protection versus restoration. He explained how an elegantly simple model could be used to predict how finances should be directed to minimize the loss of species via the extinction debt. A great example of a simple model combined with some basic ecological knowledge (the species area relationship).
So for anyone interested in models, methods and applications to real-world problems, this has been an incredibly interesting meeting so far.