103rd Annual Meeting: Preview and Highlights

Extreme Events, Ecosystem Resilience and Human Well-being

June 12, 2018
For Immediate Release

Contact: Zoe Gentes, 202-833-8773 ext. 211, gro.asenull@setnegz

Extreme events – such as heat waves, droughts, floods, fires and storms – are made worse by human activities. For example, past civilizations, such as the Maya and Mesopotamians, apparently exacerbated the droughts that caused their demise through deforestation and agricultural practices similar to our own. These events challenge populations, communities, and ecosystems, as well as our human health and living conditions. The ability of ecosystems to respond depends on how resilient they are, a characteristic also undermined by land-use practices that increase effects of extreme conditions. Clearly, the sustainability of ecosystem services – the benefits that people derive from nature and natural capital – and human well-being depends on ecosystem resilience to extreme events. The following selected sessions and events at the Annual Meeting delve into this year’s meeting theme.


Organized Oral Sessions

Pastoralism in the 21st Century: Assessing Climate Change Impacts and Adaptations (OOS 4)

Monday, August 6: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM; Room 344

Pastoralism (the practice of raising of livestock) occupies 30% of Earth’s land area and contributes to the livelihoods of 2 billion people. Pastoral systems typically exist on lands characterized by scarce and varying resources– conditions that are likely to be intensified by warmer temperatures and altered precipitation associated with climate change. The session will discuss climate change as the ‘breaking point’ for the pastoral lifestyle, fundamental plant resource responses to climate change, strategies that are being employed to adapt to climate change, and how previous pastoral activities have impacted current and future sustainability.


Ecophysiology of Drought Resilience and Recovery (OOS 16)

Wednesday, August 8: 8:00 AM-11:30 AM; Room 346-347

Drought events present opportunities to study how plants respond to and recover from climate extremes. A key to forecasting these dynamic effects on plant communities is understanding their mechanistic (physical) responses to both sustained and sudden or severe stressors. However, major uncertainties remain in how and when plants may experience reversible versus irreversible shifts in resilience. This session seeks a better understanding of drought constraints on future terrestrial ecosystems. Topics include technology and methods, drought ecophysiology, hydraulic safety, phloem transport, photosynthesis gain versus hydraulic risk, tree-ring based mortality warning signals, and plant water uptake.



Exploring Links between Cities and Surrounding Landscapes: Can Cities Enhance Regional Resilience and Biodiversity in an Era of Climate Change and Extreme Events? (SYMP 6)

Tuesday, August 7: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM; Room 350-351

The ecological and evolutionary dynamics – as well as conservation, planning, and stewardship activities – that occur in cities can influence biodiversity in the surrounding ecosystems. This discussion will address how unique conditions in cities may bolster regional resilience and facilitate recovery from extreme events. It will address five main themes: urban evolutionary dynamics and adaptation, population dynamics, landscape heterogeneity, socio-ecological linkages, and ecological design and planning. Topics include biodiversity and ecological resilience in Silicon Valley, urban green spaces, gene flow in urban infrastructure and socioeconomics, environmental stewardship practices and networks, and modeling extreme event scenarios in US and Latin Cities.


Advancing Coastal Ecological Resilience and Climate Change Adaptation (SYMP 15)

Thursday, August 9: 1:30 PM-5:00 PM; Room 350-351

Coastal areas are increasingly vulnerable to climate change impacts of storm surge flooding, erosion, and sea level rise. There is demand for new strategies for greater climate resilience and coastal process management amidst new urban development in low-lying coastal areas. Advancing the resiliency and stewardship of these areas requires critical involvement from ecologists and extensive research into design and planning. Coastal cities and towns like New Orleans, with their heavily populated, low-lying waterfront settlements, are ideal sites for exploring climate change adaptation strategies that incorporate management for wetland hydrology, deposition, and erosion and other critical functions. This symposium brings together an interdisciplinary group of coastal and wetland ecologists, land planners, and landscape architectsto discuss the strategies and challenges of land development for climate change adaptation of coastal systems.


Field Trips

How is Ecological Understanding Informing Protected Area Management in the Rapidly Subsiding Freshwater Wetland Landscape of the Mississippi Delta? (FT 5)

Sunday, August 5: 8:00 AM-4:30 PM; Lobby E, New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center

Expert ecologists will provide an orientation to this New Orleans’ major river delta landscape, its geological and human management history, and the major challenges in protecting and conserving essential ecological and environmental values in these predominantly freshwater coastal wetland ecosystems. Following an introduction at the Barataria Preserve Visitor Center, the trip will visit the estuarine edge of the Preserve via swamp tour boat. Participants may be able to get out onto a floating peat marsh and (later) walk to the edge of a bald cypress swamp. After lunch at a picnic area on the natural levee ridge of the Mississippi River distributary, the trip will explore bottomland hardwood forests growing on higher elevation terrain and bald cypress swamps inhabiting natural levee backslopes. Ecologists with long-term research programs in the park will lead these trail walks. In addition to enjoying these lush wetland ecosystems and their abundant biota, the trip will visit one of the park’s elevation and hydrology dynamics monitoring stations, and will learn about other ongoing research and monitoring programs.


Green Infrastructure and Extreme Events in the New Orleans Urban Ecosystem (FT 6)

Monday, August 6: 8:35 AM-12:30 PM; Lobby E, New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center

Since its founding 300 years ago, New Orleans has constantly negotiated its relationship to water through the use of pumps, canals, and levees – grey and blue infrastructure that work to move rain and floodwater out of the city’s unique topography. Since the catastrophic flooding during 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, city officials have slowly begun designing and implementing large-scale green infrastructure projects. These initiatives are intended to capture precipitation during intense rainfall, relieving pressure on the city’s aging and problem-prone municipal drainage system. Retaining water on the landscape may also decrease soil subsidence, a critical problem for a city that is largely below sea level. Further, these interventions are slated for implementation on large tracts of vacant urban land, abandoned in Katrina’s aftermath. Public health concerns over mosquitos, rodents, and invasive vegetation represent serious challenges in the design and maintenance of the projects. This fieldtrip brings ESA members to multiple urban sites where major green infrastructure projects have been implemented or are under construction. Led by local urban ecologists engaged in the design and monitoring of the projects, participants will also meet with city officials and project designers working toward an understanding of the promise and limits of green infrastructure in a city known for its water management dilemmas.


Special Sessions

Two Sides of the Coin: Conversations on Resilience between Planners, Designers, and Ecologists in Louisiana (SS 20)

Monday, August 6: 10:15 AM-11:30 AM; Room 346-347

This Louisiana-centric special session will discuss the difficult questions about how ecosystem services can be delivered at the scales of the region/watershed, the city, and the site of the state’s coasts. Researchers and policy-makers or managers can sometimes talk past one another due to the different goals, timeframes, and terminology across practice and research. This session is designed to straddle these divides and provide a space to compare and contrast experiences working on urban development projects and to discuss potential integration. Examples from coastal Louisiana will not only serve as focal points of conversation but also demonstrate the national relevance of key challenges in this area at regional, city, and site scales.


Inspire Sessions

The Role of Ecologists in Disaster Management (INS 20)

Wednesday, August 8: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM; Room 244

Ecological communities are often structured by the variability and predictability of key environmental drivers. Although disturbance regimes (extreme events that disturb the ecosystem) are key subjects for nearly every ecological sub-discipline, ecologists tend to play an indirect role in the management of natural hazards and disasters. It is unsurprising that ecological study is of secondary priority in the immediate aftermath of life-threatening disasters; yet, failure to learn from exceptional events may subject communities to greater risks from future occurrences. This session explores the current and potential roles of ecological knowledge in response to a diversity of natural disturbances (e.g., flood, fire, drought). Case studies are presented from investigators working in ecologically, geographically, and socio-politically diverse systems to create contrast in the approaches and experiences of disaster management. 


2018 Annual Meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana
5–10 August 2018

Ecologists from 50 U.S. states, U.S. territories, and countries around the world will converge on New Orleans, Louisiana this August for the 103nd Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America. Up to 4,000 attendees are expected to gather for thousands of scientific presentations on breaking research and new ecological concepts at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center  August 5th – 10th, 2018.

ESA invites press and institutional public information officers to attend for free. To apply, please contact ESA Public Information Manager Zoe Gentes directly at gro.asenull@setnegz. Walk-in registration will be available during the meeting.


The Ecological Society of America (ESA), founded in 1915, is the world’s largest community of professional ecologists and a trusted source of ecological knowledge, committed to advancing the understanding of life on Earth. The 9,000 member Society publishes five journals and a membership bulletin and broadly shares ecological information through policy, media outreach, and education initiatives. The Society’s Annual Meeting attracts 4,000 attendees and features the most recent advances in the science of ecology. Visit the ESA website at https://www.esa.org.