INTECOL09 – a ‘model’ meeting

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.

INTECOL 2009 – What will journals look like in 10 years?

As I have just been involved with setting up a new journal with Wiley-Blackwell and the BES, I was asked to contribute to a planning session for Austral Ecology considering the question, “what will journals look like in 10 years?” Here are some of my thoughts that I contributed.

First, we should be clear that if we look back 10 years, journals have changed a lot: back in 1999 Ecology Letters revolutionized the editorial process by sending reviews and decisions by fax(!!). Science and Nature used Fedex to speed things up a bit. Submitting an MS meant a big drain on the printer and photocopier, and sending hard copies by snail mail.

Things were a bit less primitive for readers: pdf versions were increasingly available for mainstream journals, although a regular trip to the library was necessary to keep up with everything.

Now of course, the whole process is online, from submission to decision, through post decision processing, to the final access of the MS. At least 90% of journal access is online, and most subscriptions to journals are ‘online only’. For a new journal there is no compelling argument for producing a print version and new journals launched in the past few years do not have one (e.g. PLoS journals, Evolutionary Applications, Conservation Letters).

So what is going to happen? In predicting the future I think it is important to look at how biology is taught. Students use online resources all the time, be that online teaching material, Wikipedia or online textbooks and journals. Universities are adapting fast – for example, iTunesU is used for advertising courses and research. Youtube also has lectures. Videocasts and Podcasts are now routine tools in teaching. The current generation of undergrads are soon going to be PhD students and postdocs, and will want this type of resources in their research.

The Journal of Visualized Experiments is the current pinnacle of this trend: the key element of this journal is a video demonstration of the research and there are ecological studies already in this journal.

This imaginative use of online resources will be a major trend. However, having said this, I think the core values of publication will remain: the need for rigorous, fair review, publication prestige and speed of process will remain important to authors and readers alike.

Welcome to & see you at INTECOL

This is the new blog for the new Methods in Ecology and Evolution journal from the British Ecological Society and published by Wiley-Blackwell. This blog will highlight content in the journal, new research in ecological and evolutionary methods, as well as provide a sounding board for developments in the journal and publishing. Updates will be provided by members of the editorial team.

One of the first places we will be promoting the new journal is at the INTECOL meeting in Brisbane. Look out for us on the Wiley-Blackwell stand, we will be running updates from the meeting including summaries of sessions at which the journal editor is participating and highlights of talks with interesting methodological content.

Rob Freckleton