INTECOL this week in Brisbane

The 10th International Congress of Ecology is taking place this week in Brisbane, Australia. This conference happens once every four years and aims to bring together ecologists from all corners of the world. The theme is “Ecology in a Changing Climate - Two hemispheres, one globe.” With the conference being held down under and hosted by the Ecological Society of Australia and the New Zealand Ecological Society, a lot of the presentations by the 1200 attendees are focused on southern hemisphere ecology.

Here are some highlights:

Tasmanian devils are actually pretty social – and it’s killing them. Tasmanian devils, small-dog-sized, ferocious carnivorous marsupials endemic to the Australian island state of Tasmania, were thought to be mostly solitary creatures. They’re nocturnal and burrow extensively underground, where they do their mating – not very conducive to behavioral studies. Rodrigo Hamede of the University of Tasmania radio-collared the little beasts and gave the collars a special function: they record whenever they’re within about a foot of another collar – close enough to bite. Biting each other on the face is one of the ways they spread facial tumor disease, an affliction which has led to a massive decline in devils in recent years. Hamede’s results show that the animals bite each other most frequently when they’re mating. This presents a catch-22: they have to mate to keep up their numbers, but mating spreads the fatal disease. See more in this Australian Broadcasting Corporation article.

First case of insects in southern hemisphere experiencing phonological shifts. The golden sun moth and the common brown butterfly have life cycles that are speeding up because of climate change, according to Natalie Briscoe of the University of Melbourne. Thus far, only birds have been documented as experiencing life cycle timing shifts in response to climate change in the southern hemisphere.  This adds to the growing body of phonological work documenting phonological change in response to climate perturbations.

Losing rare birds not as bad as losing many common ones. When one thinks about it, this seems like a no-brainer: Losing large numbers of common birds has a higher impact on the environment than losing fewer rare birds. But Kevin Gaston of the University of Sheffield  points out that the conservation status of common species is often overlooked because they are widely distributed and found in large numbers. Any ecologist could tell you that common species often make up the backbone of a functioning food web, keeping community structure intact. But often our policies don’t reflect that, with people preferring to save the cute or rare animals. Sheffield said in a statement:

Conservation should look more closely at the trade-off between species extinctions and the depletion of populations. We are losing between 100 and 140 million of the most common forest birds around the world annually but don’t hear about it.

Learn more about INTECOL and see the entire program here.

Author: Christine Buckley

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