106th Annual Meeting: Preview and Highlights

July 14, 2021
For Immediate Release

Contact: Heidi Swanson, (202) 833-8773 ext. 211, gro.asenull@idieh

Ecologists seek to understand the vital connections between plants and animals and the world around them. Collectively, research shows that ecological connections are critical for maintaining ecosystem function and resilience in the face of change. Similarly, human connections are vital for science: connections between mentors, students, and collaborators, connections with community stakeholders, and connections with our friends and family.

The sessions and events on this curated list delve into the ESA 2021 Annual Meeting theme: Vital Connections in Ecology. These presentations will be available for registered meeting attendees to view on-demand beginning on July 26, 2021, and live discussions and events will begin on August 2. ESA invites press and institutional public information officers to attend the ESA Annual Meeting for free. To apply, please contact ESA Public Information Manager Heidi Winstead at gro.asenull@idieh.

Additional information and links to individual presentations within these sessions will be available soon. Check back at https://www.esa.org/longbeach/ for updates.


Organized Oral Sessions

Connecting Wildfire, People and Global Change in the Pacific Northwest
Live discussion: Monday, August 2, 2021 | 8:30 AM-9:30 AM Pacific Time

In 2020 multiple fast-moving wildfires burned 400,000 hectares in Oregon, destroying over 4,000 homes and resulting in many fatalities. These fires were rare but catastrophic events, raising questions of whether the fires are connected to climate change – or whether they arise from poor fuels management. What are the connections between people, forests, wildfire and global change in the Pacific Northwest? What will the future bring, and are we prepared? This session includes two presentations featuring in-depth examinations of the 2020 wildfires: an exploration of weather and climate, and an exploration of the long-term ecological context for the fires. It also includes presentations that explore fires more generally, by examining how fires blow up, what fire severity patterns result, what refugia they leave behind, and how catastrophic fires intersect with human infrastructure, both in urban and rural settings. The session will also highlight an emerging dynamic, where invasive species create new connections between forests and non-forests on the forest mosaic landscape.


Climate Intervention: Risks, Effects and Predicted Impacts for Biodiversity and Ecological Systems
Live discussion: Thursday, August 5, 2021 | 1:30 PM-2:30 PM Pacific Time

One approach to climate intervention – also known as geoengineering – is solar radiation management (SRM). The goal of SRM is to reflect incoming solar radiation, thereby increasing Earth’s albedo and reducing or stabilizing global surface temperatures. Many climate projections have considered possible scenarios that include stratospheric atmosphere intervention (SAI), a proposed approach to SRM in which particles would be injected into the stratosphere, mimicking volcanic eruptions. However, almost nothing is known about predicted ecological impacts of SAI. This session will explore a range of different SAI scenarios and how they might affect natural systems in comparison with anthropogenic climate change scenarios. If it was possible to use SAI to stabilize temperatures while also working to minimize GHG emissions, is this worth the risks and uncertainties, relative to ongoing anthropogenic climate change? Are risks of climate intervention for humans and ecological systems more uncertain than the risks of anthropogenic climate change scenarios? What ecological systems, taxa and regions would be most helped, and which ones would face greater risks should SAI be developed and implemented? The answers critically require the input of ecologists to inform future decisions about potential implementation.



Root and Rhizosphere Processes Under Drought: Digging Deeper to Enhance Ecosystem Resilience
Live discussion: Thursday, August 5, 2021 | 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM Pacific Time

Frequent and intense droughts present a major threat to plants in both natural and managed ecosystems. Roots and the rhizosphere are home to countless microorganisms that can shape plant responses to drought and hence ecosystem health and resilience. This session will focus on how root traits and rhizosphere microbiomes respond to drought in both forest and agro-ecosystems. A deeper knowledge of these vital connections between rhizosphere processes and ecosystem health under drought stress can inform sustainable forest management practices and drought-resilient crop production. Talks in this symposium will examine recent advances on the morphological, physiological and chemical plasticity of fine roots of different tree species under drought, which is indispensable for tree health. Presenters will also discuss the impact of drought on the rhizosphere microbiome, root phenotypes that mitigate drought effects on crops, and the rhizosphere microbiome might be harnessed to impart drought-resilience in crops.  


Racial Bias in Ecological Citizen Science
Live discussion: Monday, August 2, 2021 | 1:30 PM-2:30 PM Pacific Time

Is there a racial bias in citizen science and, if so, why does it persist? What are the consequences for data quality and for justice? How can we reduce the racial bias? Top-down, large-scale citizen science projects engage predominantly white participants. Grassroots, community-driven projects engage BIPOC. Citizen science activity is racially segregated across projects that differ by scale, goals, priorities, and power dynamics. Top-down, crowdsourcing projects with large numbers of volunteers, however, allow volunteers autonomy in selecting where and how frequently individuals collect data. Consequently, citizen science datasets can have significant spatial bias of data obtained from opportunistic and haphazard locations based on the preferences of the volunteers, and the bias is compounded by lack of standardized volunteer effort. Another common feature of volunteers in large-scale citizen science projects is that they are overwhelmingly white and affluent. Consequently, citizen science data has a racial-spatial bias, which results in data quality issues and environmental justice issues. 


Inspire sessions

Unregulated Contaminants: What’s Our Next Step with Microplastics, Pharmaceuticals, PFAS, and More
Live discussion: Thursday, August 5, 2021 | 2:30 PM-3:30 PM Pacific Time

Although ecologists use the term “emerging contaminants” to describe the numerous chemicals associated with modern human lifestyle which have inadvertently worked their way into terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, the better term is “unregulated contaminants.” Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) as well as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) often fall into the category of “unregulated contaminants,” because policy only focuses on how they may affect the patient or consumer rather than the fate of these contaminants in the environment. Tackling the larger problem of how we reduce environmental impact, without restricting access to treatments for diseases and safer cosmetics, requires perspectives from researchers across disciplines. The talks in this session will include speakers from both inside and outside the policy-making process and will present novel research on unregulated contaminants including pharmaceuticals, new pesticides, and microplastics. Speakers will present a variety of methods to address this complex problem as well as ways that their work can be translated into policy goals with a focus on aquatic and marine ecosystems. In the spirit of this year’s theme, this session aims to bring a holistic approach to the problem of unregulated contaminants by showing where we are, where we can go, and all the steps being taken by academic researchers and regulatory agencies to get us there. 


Ecology “Hacks” for Restoration Success
Live discussion: Tuesday, August 3, 2021 | 1:30 PM-2:30PM Pacific Time

This session explores the role that ecological knowledge and theory can play in the design and enhancement of ecosystem restoration strategies under challenging conditions. Ecological restoration is the process of assisting recovery of a community, population, or ecosystem that has been degraded or damaged. Yet while the word “ecological” appears in the name, restoration practice is not always based on ecological theory. Restoration projects often take on more of an agronomic character, guided by knowledge about which plants can most easily be grown under existing conditions and assuming that if a new plant community is established, the rest of the ecosystem will come along eventually. This session focuses on situations when that approach is not sufficient. Speakers will present examples of how ecological knowledge truly matters, describing situations where they have been able to use an ecological principle or relationship to improve restoration success in a situation where success had been hard to achieve. They will describe ecological influences on restoration success in a variety of geographic, ecosystem, and management contexts, from the California coast to southern Michigan and from streamside riparian areas to forest understories to arid soils.


Special sessions

Microbiomes and Social Equity
Live discussion: Thursday, August 5th, 2021 | 9:30 AM – 10:30 AM Pacific Time

Microbiomes are increasingly seen as critical physiological, developmental and ecological mediators within and among organisms – including humans – as well as between organisms and their abiotic environments. Therefore, it is no surprise that microbial communities may be altered, depleted or disrupted by social and economic determinants. Disparities associated with socioeconomic inequality — including nutritional access, environmental pollutants and green space availability — can contribute to differences between microbial communities, often to the detriment of human and ecosystem health. This special session will be organized as a panel discussion with break-out groups in order to provide participants with the opportunity to discuss the ways that social inequity interacts with microbiomes, and how we might intervene as scientists and communities to protect and restore favorable microbiomes while advancing social equality.


Connecting Disease with Movement Ecology in Humans and Animals: An Integrated Approach?
Live discussion: Thursday, August 5th, 2021 | 9:30 AM – 10:30 AM Pacific Time

This session will explore how movement is integrated into studies of infectious disease spillover and transmission in humans and wildlife. Animal movement ecology and human mobility science can shed light on the linkages between disease processes and movement, and have advanced largely in parallel. However, human activity has all but removed the spatial and temporal barriers that historically separated places, populations, and species. The human footprint is also changing animal movements globally on scales from foraging movements to migrations. An interdisciplinary approach is critically needed to understand the vital connection between host movement and disease processes, and how to integrate human-wildlife approaches to these questions in a rapidly changing world.

2021 Virtual Annual Meeting
Vital Connections in Ecology

August 2 – 6, 2021

Ecologists from around the world will gather online this August for the 106th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America. The plenary talks will be open to the public and viewable on YouTube, and will also be accompanied by live Q&A for conference attendees. Other sessions will be available for viewing on demand with live video Q&A and/or on-demand text Q&A.

The opening plenary will feature Brenda Mallory, the 12th chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) for President Joe Biden. Other plenary and keynote speakers include Dr. Patrick Gonzalez, a forest ecologist, principal climate change scientist of the U.S. National Park Service and associate adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley; Dr. Kelly S Ramirez, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at El Paso; and Dr. Nalini Nadkarni, a biology professor and forest ecologist at the University of Utah.

Meeting plenaries and symposia will explore the meeting theme, “Vital Connections in Ecology.” The ecological sciences seek to understand the vital connections between plants and animals and the world around them. During times of crisis, such as the recent COVID-19 global pandemic, ecologists have also found novel ways to create and maintain vital human connections. Scientific sessions at this year’s meeting will explore the ways in which ecological connections are critical for maintaining ecosystem function and resilience in the face of change.

ESA invites press and institutional public information officers to attend for free. To apply, please contact ESA Public Information Manager Heidi Winstead directly at gro.asenull@idieh.



The Ecological Society of America, 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 ecological science. Visit the ESA website at https://www.esa.org.

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