From 11 to 14 December 2017, the British Ecological Society, the Ecological Society of Germany, Austria and Switzerland (GFÖ), NecoV (the ecological society of the Netherlands and Flanders) and the European Ecological Federation organized a ‘border-crossing event’ in the historic city of Ghent, Belgium. A full-house, with over 1500 delegates from across the globe delivering about 600 presentations spread over 72 parallel sessions. Ecology Across Borders was a 72-hour period of fantastic science, meeting old friend, making new ones; all in the setting of wonderful and picturesque Ghent.
A Wintery Grip
Crossing Borders for this event proved to be a difficult challenge in reality. The Winter weather took grip on North-West Europe. Many delegates, especially from the UK, and then especially those travelling by plane, did not make it for the ‘Welcome Mixer’ on Tuesday evening. Some were even only able to get to Ghent the next day, some did not make it at all. On Twitter, I saw people taking it with humour, and the organization was flexible enough that it could adjust the program at the last minute (Sue Hartley gave the first plenary lecture for the delayed Iain Couzins, for example). I myself took the Eurostar from Southampton to Ghent and made it with only a slight delay. My luck was rewarded when I stumbled across a small crew from Lancaster at London St. Pancras, who took me for a Champagne breakfast. What a great start to the meeting!
A fantastic scientific program
Ecology Across Borders brought together many ecologists with many different interests, and at times the choice of talks and topics was overwhelming. ; When I was younger I moved from talk to talk, afraid to miss anything exciting. Nowadays, my strategy is to choose a session and ride the wave. Very often, I am surprised by fantastic talks that are just a bit out of my scope, and which – based on the title – I would not have initially chosen. I further loved the poster session, and to me, the vibrant ambiance at this year’s poster session is just the perfect example of what an inclusive and open group of people we are. I really enjoyed discussions with presenters and was amazed by the creativity and thoroughness of many of the posters.
This year’s plenaries were awesome. I particularly enjoyed Sue Hartley’s plenary talk about the role of silicates in plant defence. Another personal highlight was the plenary lecture by Iain Couzins. He really blew my mind with a fantastically engaging talk about collective behaviour. His talk showed how ideas can start small and eventually grow into mind-blowing ideas, like experiments with holographic fish that affect the behaviour of ‘real’ fish. What a delivery of a talk as well– just amazing!
Meet old friends, make new ones
Ecology Across Borders was the perfect place for networking. The programme contained many (long) breaks where delegates could meet and chat. These breaks are the perfect moments to meet your old friends, make new ones, and chat with your ecology heroes! During the breaks, there were plenty of opportunities to take part in one of the numerous workshops, which ranged from outreach workshops and wellbeing workshops to the science of population modelling and Bayesian statistics. Something to suit everyone’s taste! The latter was not the case for the food, as I understood from talking to some of my colleagues (who did not like the sandwich style buffets). I thought the food and the catering was great, but then again, I am Dutch. Sandwiches with cheese is what we have for lunch; as do the Flemish. That said, it was interesting to see how food availability was distributed across the floors. I particularly like the analysis of one of the delegates, who drew a function showing availability of food against the distance from the entrance during the Gala Dinner.
I enjoyed my first Gala dinner in years. Normally, I am a bit allergic (read: shy) to these events as they are rather static – at least the eating part – and I always seem to end up next to or opposite of just that person with whom I do not click. I do not exactly remember who talked me in this year’s Gala dinner, but I am grateful to this person. The set-up was brilliant; the buffet style made it possible to interact with many, and the availability of different types of food from all parts of the world was actually real nice. The Gala dinner smoothly evolved in a nice party. Many hit the dance floor and beer and wine flowed richly. One could only notice that this was a bunch on ecologists (often seen as stiff, right?) when the VJ pulled up footage of Plant Earth II. The crowd started cheering and applauding the iguana that miraculously escapes the many racer snake attacks. Wonderful!
Just like after the ‘normal’ annual meetings of the British Ecological Society, I left the meeting with an enormous positive and energized feeling. I think the four partners had pulled together a great event that was unique in its broadness serving the interests of the hugely diverse ecological community. I am already looking forward to the next BES annual meeting in Birmingham; although … let first come spring and summer.
Bjorn Robroek is the blog editor for Functional Ecologists.